How to Cope with Menopause at Work? It's a Hot Topic!


Dr Lesley Trenner shares her expertise on managing the menopause while keeping your career on track.

Is this you? Things are changing: you sleep badly, feel anxious, your menstrual cycle is all out of kilter and you get very hot and bothered.

You think it's the menopause or the perimenopause.  But what's the best way to handle it when work already feels stressful?

What is the Menopause and How Does it Differ from the Perimenopause?

The menopause is a normal part of the female life-cycle linked to a decline in oestrogen levels. Monthly periods stop and natural reproduction comes to an end. The average age for menopause in the UK is 51 although it can come earlier or later. Symptoms can continue for some years after periods have stopped.

Perimenopause

The perimenopause starts about four years before the actual menopause, usually between age 40 - 50. Periods come less frequently and can be lighter, although for some women they come more often and can be heavier.  It's not always clear when perimenopause has started. Ironically, some of the symptoms - poor sleep, headaches, mood swings, weight gain - can feel similar to being pregnant or just getting older!

What are the Symptoms of Menopause?

Some women sail through with few problems but most of us experience a few symptoms. Others have a really difficult time and find that the menopause significantly impacts their physical and mental health. The most common symptoms are:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats and interrupted sleep
  • Loss of libido
  • Anxiety and mood swings
  • Poor memory and difficulty concentrating

Although the list can look daunting, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Menopause and Positive Ageing

Many women are now starting to 'reclaim' the post-menopausal phase of life and celebrate the advantages of being an older woman in today's society. It certainly feels as if we're at the start of a seismic shift in attitude to menopause, with some employers beginning to recognize the effects of this life phase and trying to support their female employees through it.

This has simultaneously led to menopause becoming less of a taboo subject. Celebrities such as Mariella Frostrup, Louise Minchin and Sharron Davies point out that there are many advantages to being an older woman such as:

  • Freedom from contraception and periods
  • Increased self confidence and a desire to try new things
  • A new feeling of strength and empowerment
  • Being better at looking after our bodies

But while you're going through it, you may want help to manage your symptoms. Luckily there's now quite a variety of options out there...

Non-Medical Management

If you want to avoid taking medication, the best ways to manage the menopause involve the usual suspects - losing weight, exercise and a healthy lifestyle!

Diet

  • Eat food that contains calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones. Examples are: dairy foods, green veg and oily fish
  • Have more fruit and veg generally - this helps avoid weight gain and heart disease
  • Make sure your diet includes protein to help prevent muscle loss and improve sleep
  • Try soy beans, tofu, sesame seeds and foods high in so-called phyto-eostrogens. The evidence is mixed but these foods are common in countries like Japan where menopausal symptoms are rare
  • Avoid processed food, sugar, refined carbs and things that can trigger hot flushes like spicy food and caffeine
  • Eat regular meals - feeling hungry can make things like memory fuzziness and mood swings worse

Embrace a Healthy Lifestyle

  • Although regular exercise can't 'cure' menopausal symptoms, it's good for sleep, is a mood enhancer, often reduces anxiety and helps with weight control
  • Try not to drink too much alcohol which can affect mood, sleep, need to urinate and hot flushes
  • Identify and try to avoid stressful situations and stressful people!

Pros and Cons of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

If your symptoms are severe, talk to your GP about HRT which replaces the lost hormones.  HRT comes in the form of pills, patches, gels or implants and has many benefits. It relieves most of the worst symptoms of the menopause such as hot flushes and sweating. It can also help prevent osteoporosis and heart disease.

But HRT can also have uncomfortable side effects and it has been linked with a slight increase in breast cancer. Recent news articles have again drawn attention to this risk. However, the British Menopause Society points out that women should not lose sight of the benefits. To put the risk into context, a woman has greater risk of developing breast cancer if she is overweight or obese compared to taking HRT.

Alternative Medicine

With worries about HRT and a desire to manage the menopause in a more natural way, many women turn to alternative medicines. Popular remedies or supplements such as red clover, black cohosh and evening primrose oil are widely advertised. However, it's not clear how safe they are especially if you're also taking other medications and there's not yet much scientific evidence that they have any effect beyond placebo.

Tips for Managing Menopausal Symptoms at Work

  • Wear, light clothing, preferably natural fabrics and layers that can removed quickly and gracefully when necessary!
  • If you find yourself getting stressed out or overwhelmed in a meeting, find an excuse to leave the room temporarily to calm down. If you are lucky enough to have showers at work, sneak off for a shower to cool down physically and psychologically
  • Buy a hand-held electric fan, preferably one that includes a cool water spray. See if it's possible to sit near cooling fan or air-con vent
  • Bring in healthy snacks to share with colleagues. Avoid office junk food!
  • Use breaks or lunchtime to practice mindfulness, or go for a walk
  • If you have a visible hot flush, either ignore it - most likely others haven't noticed - or you may want to make a joke about 'having a senior moment' or, as Kay Burley recently revealed, she calls it, 'a power surge'.
  • If anxiety is a regular problem, talk to Occupational Health or ask your GP about talking therapies like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

---

Meet the seven celebrities who have shared their personal experience with menopause

Kirsty Wark: 'Let's talk about the menopause'

Dr Lesley Trenner, Mid-life coach and MFC Speak to an Expert consultant