The average age of the menopause is 51 and the state pension age for women is now 68. The proportion of women aged 50-64 in employment has risen by more than 50 percent in the last 30 years according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
A 2015 survey from Healthspan found 61 percent of women were suffering from anxiety due to perimenopause and menopause symptoms.
In a 2016 Tonight programme half of the women surveyed said their menopausal symptoms made their working life harder. A quarter said they had actually considered leaving their job as a result of them and in a new BBC poll reveals 70 percent of women have not told their employers they are experiencing menopausal symptoms. 44 percent of those polled said menopause had significantly affected their mood and mental health.
There are calls for employers to ‘normalise’ menopause in the workplace along with the lines of pregnancy and this week a recent report revealed that Nottinghamshire Police were bringing in ‘menopause crying rooms’ for policewomen.
Menopause can be a minefield – not helped by the fact that two women rarely experience it in the same way. Much like pregnancy or PMS, some women sail through it with no problems, others suffer terribly and most are somewhere in between. Defined as when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant (as oestrogen levels decline) menopause usually hits between the ages of 45-55 (although perimenopausal symptoms can start from the early 40s onwards). It can then last anything between two to 12 years and common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, interrupted sleep, memory problems, mood swings and anxiety.
As more and more women are working for longer navigating these symptoms at work can be tricky. There are practical steps you can take to keep yourself cooler like having a desk fan or access to an open window but just how you combat mood swings and anxiety and the feeling that momentarily you want to rip your colleague’s/boss’s head off and/or just sit there and cry is harder. These are difficult enough emotions to handle when you are in the comfort of your own home but at least your livelihood is not at stake here. So, what can practically help?
A.Vogel’s Menopause Expert Eileen Durward says she sees being menopausal as akin to being a ‘recycled teenager’ a kind of second adolescence. Those fluctuating hormones can create unexplained feelings of worry, dread, edginess and doom; sudden bursts of anger or weepiness and then possibly cravings for being alone and periods of introspection. If you have a job you can’t hide away in your bedroom and listen to The Clash or read existential novels. But this is a time when you do need to nurture yourself more. A healthy diet, exercise, trying to reduce stress, a good night’s sleep will all help. A.Vogel Menopause Support, £14.99 (includes magnesium which can help with both tiredness and feelings of anxiety and Vervain essential oil – a natural relaxant) plus there has been research around the benefit of sage supplements to help with reducing hot flushes and night sweats.
Walk it off
A 2008 study from Temple University in the US involving 380 menopausal women found that simply having a brisk walk can reduce stress, depression and anxiety. It was found that 40 minutes of walking five times a week is all it takes to make a significant improvement to mood during menopause. Dr Deborah Nelson, lead author of the study said, ‘Physical activity can help throughout the menopausal transition and afterwards.’ Walking to work or taking a lunchtime stroll will not only help reduce anxiety by helping you collect your thoughts it will also help keep your weight down.
Don’t suffer in silence
Consultant gynaecologist Tania Adib from The Medical Chambers Kensington in London says, ‘I see a lot of women struggling with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms including depression and anxiety. Data shows some women are just more sensitive to hormone levels, including reduced oestrogen than others. What we also know is that anxiety often co-exists with depression and that mid-life events like empty nest syndrome may also have an impact. That said, I see hugely successful women at the absolute pinnacle of their careers who lose the plot for no apparent reason – their self-confidence plummets, they become anxious and sometimes aggressive.’ What does she suggest? ‘As a first line of treatment giving back oestrogen – in the form of HRT. Talk it over with your GP. Alternatively, increase plant oestrogens in your diet (like alfalfa sprouts, tofu, chickpeas, sesame and pumpkin seeds and soy). Exercise. Seek the support of other people like a trusted colleague or manager. At work, bide your time when, say, responding to an e-mail that might seem ambiguous: if you are already feeling anxious and or depressed you can be reactive rather than responsive. It’s okay to say “I’ll get back to you.”’
Avoid treating yourself with wine
A 2017 YouGov survey found 28 percent of women over 45 drank as much or more than their grown-up children. And whereas the booze can temporarily ease stress or anxiety at the end of the day it will likely disrupt your sleep as your body struggles to metabolise it, jolting you awake and making you feel groggy the next day and struggling to carry out even basic tasks. You can then become even more anxious about being seen as capable and on the ball at work. Alcohol, as we know, is also a depressant. Sadly, it is likely to exacerbate both the physical and psychological symptoms triggered by perimenopause and menopause.
Recent research by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving around 6,000 women between the ages of 50 to 55 found those who followed a typical Mediterranean diet and lifestyle were around 20 percent less likely to experience menopausal symptoms. Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutritionist advises: “A Mediterranean diet includes plenty of plant-based foods like fruit and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, olive oil and some fish and lean meat. Researchers suggest the high fibre in the diet can help stabilise oestrogen levels.”
Dr Megan Arroll, psychologist and co-author of The Menopause Maze (Jessica Kinglsey Publishers) suggests CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – a way of substituting harmful thought patterns with more positive ones) as ‘effective at reducing the impact of menopausal symptoms not just in themselves but also with regard to sleep quality, daily life and overall mood’. She adds that there are promising findings on how mindfulness (a kind of meditation that encourages us to slow down and be ‘in the moment’) can help with menopause and enhance the overall quality of life. There are many online tools to help too including Headspace to help you with mindfulness techniques and Mindshift designed to help you cope with anxiety (both iOS/Android). If you are feeling tearful or having a bit of a meltdown take yourself off for a few minutes and listen to one of these on your phone.
GP and Medical Nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer (drsarahbrewer.com) who has written extensively on the subject says, ‘Women have very different experiences of menopause. One in five quickly adapts to the lower levels of oestrogen. Of the 80 percent who do have symptoms around half manage them with diet, lifestyle, herbal supplements and/or HRT. HRT is effective but not everyone is willing or wants, to take it’ She adds, ‘Many find the emotional symptoms more difficult to manage than the physical ones. Black Cohosh and Sage leaf extract can help. Studies also show that regularly eating omega-3 rich foods like oily fish and seeds can regulate hormone production and ease depression and anxiety. B vitamins help support your nervous system to improve mood. Try Healthspan Opti-Omega 3, £12.95 and Vitamin B Complex, £8.95.
Indulge in self-care
This week a report by a skincare brand who specialise in skincare and hair products called Healthspan Nurture Replenish found fifty percent of women who were surveyed aged 50 and above said that going through the menopause impacted on their overall confidence and that three quarters of women declared that they felt unprepared for the huge negative impact the menopause had on their confidence. Dr Meg Arroll, summarises: “The key here appears to be self-esteem and confidence as the researchers took into account the women’s hormone levels. Therefore, in this study at least, feeling good about oneself actually made experiencing menopausal symptoms less likely. This is why self-care is so important – so do whatever makes you feel good, whether it is using a new shampoo that brings the shine back to your crowning glory or a high-quality moisturiser to refresh the skin.” Indulge in things that make you feel good and boost your confidence.
Dr Claire Hardy who is leading a research study at King’s College London in collaboration with the University of Nottingham looking at ways to improve menopause for working women suggests the possibility of more flexible working: ‘The woman might have been having trouble sleeping so having a later start to work might be feasible for some women, or just to miss the rush hour.’ If you feel you want to (and not everybody does want to talk about it – fearing they might be seen as weak or not up to their job) try having a word with your boss and/or HR to see if you can negotiate a later start or a shorter working week. You could also suggest an in-work menopause workshop (Ruth Devlin from Let’s Talk Menopause – letstalkmenopause.co.uk – has helped implement awareness-raising events in a range of workplaces) – which many younger women, and significantly men, say have helped them to understand what may be happening to their mum/partner/colleague/boss.Last modified: April 7, 2021