You get a rush of heat. Then, you start to sweat. Out of nowhere, it feels like your body temperature has gone up 10 degrees. There’s no doubt about it, you’re having a hot flash.
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Naturally, this could set off another alarm in your body: anxiety.
The real question is: Could these two be connected? Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause and perimenopause. But could anxiety — the feeling of intense worry and nervousness — be a trigger for making them worse?
Gynecologist Ibrahim Sozen, MD, breaks down the connection between anxiety and hot flashes — and how you can manage both.
If you’re approaching or in the midst of menopause, you’re likely no stranger to hot flashes.
A hot flash is a common vasomotor symptom that occurs during menopause and perimenopause. It usually feels like breaking out in a sweat and feeling suddenly very hot, like you just walked into a sauna. You may also start experiencing night sweats, which come hand-in-hand with hot flashes like a sneaky dynamic duo.
While the “why” behind hot flashes and night sweats aren’t exactly clear, they’re likely linked with decreasing estrogen levels.
“The ovaries gradually produce less and less estrogen when someone is in their mid-40s,” explains Dr. Sozen.
During this time, these hormone changes can affect your body’s ability to control its own temperature.
If you experience anxiety, you know it can feel like a fire drill going off in your head. Suddenly, even the smallest worries become the biggest catastrophes.
As your body is going through a period of stress and uneasiness, it’s common for anxiety to also trigger certain physical symptoms in the rest of your body.
A 2016 study suggests that anxiety may be a good predictor of a hot flash coming. This same study pointed out that people with somatic anxiety symptoms (somatic meaning you have physical reactions to anxiety, like stomach aches, headaches and dizziness) had a higher chance of experiencing hot flashes as well.
But more emotional-related anxiety or worry didn’t have as strong of a relation to hot flashes. In other words, simply feeling nervous over a job interview isn’t enough to trigger a hot flash.
“This connection to hot flashes is especially true for events like panic attacks, where your heart rate and breathing rate are likely to spike even more,” notes Dr. Sozen.
Some examples of physical anxiety symptoms are:
What came first? The chicken or the egg? Anxiety or hot flashes? The answer is … it can go both ways.
“Anxiety can trigger a hot flash. And the opposite is also true — a hot flash can lead to feelings of anxiety,” explains Dr. Sozen. “The sudden rush of warmth and other physical symptoms of hot flashes can be really distressing.”
Hot flashes tend to hit you — well, in a flash. So, when you experience a rise in temperature, you may be caught off guard and, understandably, feel a twinge of anxiety or nervousness.
In one study published in 2005, researchers followed 436 premenopausal women for six years and found that people with anxiety were 3 to 5 times more likely to have hot flashes.
In other words, if something else causes a hot flash, it may cause a domino effect and trigger feelings of anxiety as well. And if you’ve been feeling hot flashes come and go for a long time, you may start anticipating these flashes to hit you at any moment.
Hot flashes can cause both physical and emotional anxiety, depending on the person. Here are some common signs of non-physical anxiety symptoms:
One thing is for sure: It’s a good idea to keep your stress and anxiety levels in check during menopause. If you’re experiencing intense anxiety, it’s probably touching many parts of your life. Reducing hot flashes is another benefit to treating your anxiety.
Here are some ways to keep physical and emotional anxiety symptoms at bay.
One type of therapy that Dr. Sozen recommends is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a structured form of talk therapy that can relieve both psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety.
“This type of therapy helps to correct illogical and harmful patterns of thinking,” explains Dr. Sozen. “It helps stress and anxiety and calms the nervous system.”
If your anxiety-induced hot flashes are getting especially severe, your healthcare provider may recommend certain medications to help tackle them. But Dr. Sozen warns that these options should be discussed with your healthcare provider first.
“Some medications such as antidepressants, benzodiazepines and beta-blockers are effective at reducing anxiety, but should be used with caution,” says Dr. Sozen.
There’s a variety of things to try, but the key is to ground your body.
If you’re struggling to stay cool throughout the day, chances are your hot flashes are also invading your bedtime. This sudden rise in heat can affect your sleep schedule, so it’s important to find strategies to get the rest you need.
“Forty to 50% of people experience sleep disturbances or insomnia during the menopausal transition,” Dr. Sozen adds. “Sleep disorders can cause anxiety, and anxiety can cause a person to sleep poorly.”
If you’re not able to get seven to eight hours of sleep, try these strategies to find relief for your night sweats, and take naps as needed to help with any lost nighttime sleep.
It may seem counterintuitive, but getting your body moving can help with hot flashes. According to various research studies, exercise helps train your thermoregulatory system (the part of your body that controls and adjusts to different temperatures).
Basically, moving your body helps these systems practice regulating your body’s temperature — so when you do get a hot flash, they’re more prepared to adapt to it.
But it’s also important to be careful to not overextend yourself during workout sessions, or it could cause the opposite effect. Try doing easy cardio exercises as a way to get your blood flowing and put your mind at ease.
Having anxiety about your anxiety? Try not to keep it bottled up. Find someone you can talk to about any anxious feelings you may be having. This could be a close friend who understands your situation or a licensed therapist (or both!). The goal is to find a way to make sense of any anxious feelings and how they’re affecting you emotionally and physically.
There are also steps you can take to address hot flashes directly, including:
You can also make small changes in your day-to-day life, like:
Whether your anxiety is causing your menopausal hot flashes to flare up or it’s the other way around, there are ways to cope with both. Use tactics to manage your hot flashes while also addressing your anxiety to see the best results.