ellen dolgen blue depressionFor menopausal women, the New Year feels anything but happy.

In fact, at this time of year, up to 30 million Americans (four out of five of whom are women) suffer from a depressive condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), marked by symptoms including fatigue, weight gain, and dwindling sex drive, according to a report published in American Family Physician.

Add perimenopause or menopause to the 2014 mix, and things for women can get even worse. “Menopause is one of several times in a woman’s life in which levels of estrogen and progesterone are in flux. Because these hormones are also neuromodulators, rapid changes can trigger mood symptoms,” says Dr. Julia Frank, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University. Common emotionally draining menopause symptoms include hot flashes, insomnia, and fatigue.

What’s more, signs of menopause often come with plenty of life stressors. Aging children, ill parents, multiplying wrinkles, and other life changes can make the passing of another year particularly painful.

Want to ring in the New Year with all of the happiness of your younger years? Here are five tips for a 2014 depression-free year:

1. Exercise

“Exercise, exercise, exercise is the best proven ‘natural method’ for fighting depression,” says Dr. Frank. “30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise three to four times a week is necessary to experience this effect, but you don’t need to sign up for a marathon or a boot camp—walking, biking, and swimming all work fine if you do enough of them.” In fact, a recent review published in The Cochrane Library found that exercise may be as effective at treating depression as psychological therapy and antidepressant medications are. Meanwhile, a recent study from the MsFLASH Research Network ­­shows that aerobic exercise positively affects sleep quality, insomnia, and depression in perimenopausal and menopausal women.

2. Let There Be 2014 Light (Therapy)

As our menopause moods dip along with the sunlight, light therapy can help quell raising levels of drowse-inducing melatonin and dipping levels of mood-boosting serotonin, according to Mayo Clinic. Light therapy boxes gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light to trick your body into pumping out the mood-improving chemicals it produces naturally on sunny, summer days. If you decide to invest in a light therapy box, Dr. Frank recommends using it for 30 to 40 minutes a day.

3. Meditate

Meditating for just 12 minutes a day has been shown to improve the moods of Marines during deployment. My bet is that if meditation can bring soldiers mental peace when heading into war zones, it can help you find 2014 menopause peace despite whatever’s waging war on your mental health, be it plummeting estrogen levels, menopausal weight gain, or seasonal affective disorder. According to research in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, regularly meditating can influence how your brain interprets emotional info even when you aren’t actively meditating, perhaps explaining the practice’s lasting feel-good effect.

4. Feed on the Right Fats

During the winter, fatty foods are in anything but short supply. Problem is, when we reach for high-convenience, low-performing, sugary, greasy, and creamy so-called comfort foods, their trans and saturated fats can trigger physical alterations in our brains, such as an increase in stress hormones and depression-inducing molecules, according to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Obesity. However, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are vital for brain function and which are primarily found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, are highly effective at preventing and managing depression, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Not a fan of fish? Try fish oil supplements or foods with labels that show they are fortified with EPA or DHA.

5. Ask About Antidepressants

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft, are particularly helpful in treating depression in early menopause and menopausal women, says Dr. Frank. “In some women, the combination of hormones (estradiol in particular) and antidepressants seems to be more effective than antidepressants alone.” Plus, on its own, hormone replacement therapy can help level off those common menopause symptoms such as mood swings and mild depressiveness, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

The best part of January is the chance for a new beginning and the opportunity to change things up! So if your menopause mood has been blue, now’s the time to make depression a thing of the 2013 past. Set goals to put your 2014 health and happiness at the top of your to-do list—and you’ll have the best menopause New Year ever!

Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN! 


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