There’s no denying that menopause is tough, and for many women at midlife, they have to handle their difficult symptoms while working a full-time job.
An average of 27 million women aged between 45 and 64 experience menopause each year. That’s 20% of the American workforce, and a lot of those women are afraid to come forward about the debilitating effects menopause has on their life.
It’s not just hot flashes, night sweats, and mood disruption. Symptoms like memory loss, anxiety, and sleep deprivation can lead to a loss of concentration, which may result in lower performance. Menopause can also affect relationships with colleagues and cause women to feel less confident about themselves and their work.
Many women are afraid to bring up the ‘M word’ in front of their managers or bosses, especially if they’re younger or male. It’s considered an embarrassing, taboo topic, and women fear that their unavoidable situation will be linked to their performance.
In my Real Cost of Menopause survey, I found that 84% of the women interviewed, equal to about 8 million working women in the UK, believe their productivity at work was reduced because of menopause. Meanwhile, 75% feel that their productivity is reduced for over a week every month, which equates to 280 million less productive work days per year in the UK.
Yet only 20% admitted to taking time off to deal with their symptoms. This means that day after day, millions of women are working through tension headaches, fatigue, depression, foggy memory, mood swings, and many other menopause symptoms without saying a word.
Even though you shouldn’t feel as if you need to hide your symptoms, here are a few tips to help you deal with menopause at work.
Water is so important to your body, especially during this transition. You should drink plenty of liquids, preferably the equivalent of at least six glasses of water daily. A cup of cold water helps with everything from vaginal dryness to migraines to hot flashes, so keeping a bottle on your desk is a must.
Pack a nutritious lunch
Skip the vending machine or the cafeteria and pack your own, nutrient-rich lunches.
Research indicates that we eat influences our health and hormone function, and hormonal balance can be affected by the amount of fat, fibre, and nutrients we consume.
Opt for things like veggies, fruit, and fish over chips and sandwiches. Following a diet rich in phytoestrogens — a plant-based chemical that is similar in structure to oestrogen — can have very positive effects, as well. Phytoestrogens are considered to be a natural alternative to HRT, and can be found in everyday foods like flaxseed and soy.
Similarly, avoid things like spicy foods and caffeine. Spicy foods can bring on a hot flash like no other, and caffeine is known to cause jitters and heart palpitations, which may make your symptoms worse.
If you can, try to squeeze in a quick 20 minute walk on your lunch break. Not only does this keep your heart healthy, but it keeps you moving and allows you some time away from the office. Regular exercise helps control stress levels, and a change of scenery is never a bad idea.
Practice relaxation techniques
Work-related stress can make menopause symptoms worse, so learning how to relax and let go is key. Research indicates that 15-20 minutes of relaxation a day can reduce hot flashes up to 60%. Practicing techniques like meditation and deep breathing will help you deal with workplace stress and feel more in control.
Sometimes, just talking about menopause can help. Opening up to other female colleagues can relieve some of the stress, embarrassment, and anxiety that’s building up. Other women in the company could be — and most likely are — going through the same thing. There’s power in numbers, and together, you could raise awareness and provide support.
Update your wardrobe
Layering is always a good idea. That way, if it gets too hot or too cold in the building, you can remove and add clothes whenever you feel a hot flash or chill coming on. Wearing looser fabrics, especially ones made of natural fibres like cotton, allow your skin to breathe.
Take it to HR
Last but not least, if you find that your work environment isn’t suitable for menopausal women, bring up the topic to HR. Though it may seem scary and even awkward talking about it, being honest and critical about workplace conditions could lead to proactive change in your company.
The truth is that many, many women are going through menopause, and many more will experience it at some point in their life. At times it may seem like it, but trust me, you’re not the only one suffering because of menopause. It’s important that companies understand that there are millions of women each year working while menopausal.
If you take these tips on board you can manage your menopause and keep on living a successful, healthy, happy work life.