They say that music soothes the savage beast, but can it also soothe a miserable, menopausal woman? A recent study suggests yes.
From trouble sleeping to aching joints, women can experience a range of symptoms related to the onset of menopause. These can make life unpleasant. A Turkish study, though, has found that “music might be helpful,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, who wasn’t involved in the research. She’s the director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic and of The North American Menopause Society, which published the study last month in its journal Menopause.
The new research involved postmenopausal women ages 40 to 65, which means the participants hadn’t had their periods for at least 12 months. To start, all participants rated the level of their menopause symptoms, from their irritability to how bad their hot flashes were. They also rated their level of depression: for example, did they feel like failures or cry a lot? Roughly half the women were then asked to listen to music for the next six weeks—at least 18 sessions that were 15 minutes long—in a quiet environment. The other half weren’t given any instructions. After the six weeks, all completed the surveys again.
The women who listened to music fared better than those who hadn’t. After their listening sessions, they rated their menopause symptoms significantly lower, and their depression levels dropped over the course of the study. The women in the control group didn’t show this same improvement.
Why would music have such an effect? “It’s probably calming, and it’s helping your brain release good chemicals that are making you relaxed and happy,” such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, and oxytocin, says Faubion. It can also decrease stress hormones like cortisol. These all affect blood pressure and heart and respiratory rates.
Indeed, the study authors noted that the Büzürk mode of Turkish classical music “comforted and calmed” listeners.
These effects are “hardly surprising,” says Faubion. “Music therapy has been shown to be helpful with regard to mood in other studies.” For example, one study used music alongside muscle relaxation training to help mental health patients sleep better and control anger. Listening to music has also been shown to boost mental health and well-being in pregnant women, and to have a positive impact on employees in the workplace.
Faubion says that music therapy would likely work just as well for women in perimenopause—the transitional years leading up to menopause. And while the study was small, she believes the results should hold true for a larger group, too. “What is, I guess, surprising is that we haven’t thought of this before, as it’s a simple and easy thing to do,” she says.
However, if you do choose to turn to music, don’t expect a session or two to be a long-term fix. Rather, plan to do this therapy on a regular basis. Plus, while there’s no harm in trying this method, keep in mind that “music therapy may not be enough for the control of menopause symptoms for some women,” Faubion says.
There are additional safe and effective strategies to cope with symptoms. Faubion notes that hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy have both been shown to be promising, probably because they reduce the anxiety associated with some menopause symptoms.
As for interventions like yoga or meditation, Faubion says, “There may be some anecdotal evidence that these mind/body therapies may be helpful, but the data are inconsistent.” Still, “There’s little risk in doing yoga or doing some meditation to help with menopause symptoms.”
And don’t hesitate to turn to your medical provider if you continue to suffer. “If the symptoms are getting in the way of work or relationships or sleep, or functioning during the day, that’s the time for people to seek additional help.”
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