Lack of self-control in perimenopause and menopause

Eileen Durward
Ask Eileen

11 September 2023

How can your self-control be impacted in perimenopause and menopause?

Do you find that, at some point, you're losing your temper a lot, you can't control your emotions, you're blurting things out before even thinking of them, and then thinking, "Oh, wish I hadn't said that?" Or do you find that you're really struggling to control your impulses to eat sweet things, drink alcohol, go shopping, or anything just to make yourself feel better? If you do then your self-control could be getting out of control!

So, what is lack of control? It's really the inability to restrain either your emotions or your desires. So, it's impulses where you struggle to not do things. You know, you want to do something, and then you're not thinking about, "How is this going to work out? Is this going to be bad for me once I've actually done this?" Or, sometimes, you're not even aware that you are getting that little bit out of control until maybe somebody actually points it out to you.

There are two main types of control: impulse control and emotional control.

Impulse control

Lack of impulse control would be where you do things without thinking. You're watching the telly, and you're reaching for another sweet or chocolate biscuit without actually thinking about what it's doing to you and what it's doing for you.

Do you find that you're reaching for another glass of wine at night because you're just so tired and you can't be bothered to do anything? You might find it has to do with impulse buying. You're going out, and every time you shop, you want to spend that little bit more because it makes you feel good at the time. And all of these things may do this for us at the time. But afterward, very often, you will be berating yourself because you feel you don't have any control, or you realise, “this isn't good for me. It's not good for my health.”

The problem with this situation is that other symptoms in menopause can exacerbate this particular one. You may not be sleeping well, and we know there's so much research out there showing that if you don't sleep well, that can affect your hunger, and your appetite control the next day. You're likely to eat more, but go for the carbs and the sweet things just because you haven't had a good night's sleep.

It could be that you've got the brain fog. It could be the fatigue. All of these factors will affect your rational decision-making. And, if you're so tired, you just think, "I want another cup of coffee to perk myself up," not realising at the time that that cup of coffee is going to keep you awake all night.

Emotional control

This is where you lose the ability to control your emotions. You might find you're overreacting. You're getting angry with everybody. You're losing your temper. You're getting frustrated. You're going into bad moods, and you're staying there instead of jumping out of them. And you might just get really overwhelmed by the intensity of these emotions. And that's something so many of you have commented on: you don't understand who you are. Suddenly, you're a different person because you're angry or snappy, or you just feel that you're not your usual self.

So, the reason why these things happen, as well as things like the poor sleep, is mainly to do with oestrogen. Oestrogen seems to support our thought control. It helps us to control our emotions. When our oestrogen starts to fall, however, that ability for us to hold on to our self-control decreases; and this is when we end up with the anger and everything else that feels out of control. It makes it much harder for us to think rationally about what we're doing and how we are behaving.

What you can do to help yourself

What can we do in this particular situation? Obviously, try and sort out the things that may be contributing to the problem, things like getting your water intake up, because dehydration will make everything worse, especially the emotional side of things.

It could be sorting your sleep out, getting a better night's sleep; and making sure that you're eating well, because if you're getting the carb cravings (and I have covered this before), then very often it's just because your nutritional needs are not being met.

It's also about exercise. You know, if you're getting out, if you're exercising, that's creating the really supportive, feel-good chemicals in the brain, and it's lifting you up that little bit more too.

Also, do ‘de-stressing’. Anything you can do to support your emotions and to de-stress, so, a little bit of "me time." Remember how important that is. You can look at herbal support such as the herbs Avena sativa or Passionflower. We also have our Flower Essences, maybe the Craving Essence, if you find that you're reaching for things and eating or drinking without actually thinking about what you're doing.

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Try to avoid situations that trigger you. I know it's not easy because, especially if you're losing your temper or getting really irritable at work, you often can't avoid situations like that. But sometimes, avoiding situations and people that are pulling the worst out of you can be really helpful. Or in your mind, you can sort of see what's going on, you can envisage what you may do if you're in that situation, so that you're already playing it out, behaving in a better way towards other people.

The other thing is to talk to people about how you're feeling. If you've suddenly started to get really snappy with your loved ones, they're not knowing what's going on, and they may be as worried about you as you are worried about yourself behaving in this way. Talking to them and explaining that it's not you, it's just your hormones at the moment, may make things easier. And then you're not going to be in that reactive situation where you're more likely to lose control of your emotions.

Don't multi-task. I just wish we could ban multi-tasking in perimenopause and menopause, because we're just putting too much pressure on ourselves, and something has to give at the end of the day.

You can look at meditation. If you're really finding it difficult to get things under control, you can also look at CBT, Emotional Freedom Technique, or NLP. You can learn how to do these in order to help yourself to feel more in control.

Be kind to yourself

Lack of self-control, either emotional or physical, is very often just one of the phases in menopause, and they do go eventually. But what do we do? We beat ourselves up. We feel guilty because we're not behaving the way that we think we should, and we put on extra pressure. We end up beating ourselves up because we behave in a certain way and we think that we shouldn't.

Don't do that to yourself. Be kind to yourself and just realise this is something that you're going through, but it will ease at the end of the day. And sometimes, it's also about embracing how you feel.

I had a friend going through menopause, and she went through the anger phase, and she said she loved it. It was the first time in her life that she was allowed to feel angry and be angry. And she said she found it so liberating. And she was actually quite disappointed when she came out of that phase.

So, some of these things, especially the emotional side of things that happen, is basically just the real us coming out for a little while; so, don't beat yourself up, and just realise that this is something that's likely to come and go.

I hope you found this helpful. And any thoughts on this? If you've had any experience with this, then please, please share them with us. I love reading all your stories.

And until next time, take care.

You may also find these topics helpful:

Emotional Menopause Symptoms: Why they can worsen or come back

Menopause anger and how to control it

Food cravings in perimenopause and menopause

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