#MPoweredwomen founder Saska Graville was one of many women whose career was rocked by unexpected perimenopausal symptoms like anxiety and brain fog. “The worst things were a constant anxiety and sense of foreboding,” she says. “I had changed careers after 10 years at Red magazine, and moved to a PR agency, and I assumed my loss of confidence was because I’d made a huge mistake. It was as if, overnight, I lost my work mojo. Brain fog descended and I was unable to concentrate and get to grips with the new work world I found myself in. I felt completely and utterly out of my depth, it was awful.”
If that sounds familiar, here are five things you can do at work this week to start to feel better.
Recognise your symptoms
If you’re struggling at work with anxiety, lack of concentration, feeling tired, unconfident and generally low, you are not losing your mind. You do not need to quit your job and you can do something to feel better.
If you’re in your mid 40s, the chances are that you are perimenopausal. It’s not your ability, it’s your hormones, which means your GP can help you with the best ways to get your mojo back. So make an appointment and take back control.
Read up on it
“Many of the women that I work with are reluctant to talk about their symptoms in the workplace,” says health campaigner Diane Danzebrink. “Some fear being considered less able or productive. Or they have a male manager who they don’t feel able to approach. Other women prefer to keep their health concerns completely private and choose to not share them in the workplace, no matter how sympathetic the environment might be.
“Thankfully there has been a bit of progress in the last few years. There has been a Government report into menopause and its effects on women in the workplace. Also, the release of The Guidance on Menopause and The Workplace from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine.
“The guidelines provide some very helpful information and advice for both employers and women. These include considering flexible working and encouraging discussion. I would go further. Employers need to provide a supportive pathway for women and make everyone in the organisation aware that it exists.”
Do not quit!
“Yes, having time off work is good,” says Dr Louise Newson. “But actually, as most women can have HRT, it is even better to have their hormones balanced. They need to be given the right education and support, and the right combination of diet, exercise and wellbeing advice. This means that they can not only stay at work but they can probably do a far better job.
“Personally, if I hadn’t managed my menopause, I would not have been working because my brain was gone. My memory was poor, my concentration was poor, my motivation was reduced. So even if I’d had flexible working, with proper management, I would have stayed at home and stared at the four walls. Yet when it is managed probably, women thrive at work.”
Educate your workplace
“I regularly go into workplaces to deliver education sessions on menopause. The questions at the end are generally about treatment options, not how women can change their hours,” says Diane Danzebrink. “The underlying issue here is a lack of education for the general public and health professionals. This results in women and their employers often not recognising what is happening to them and not knowing what they can do to help themselves.”
So talk to your HR department and see what can be done to raise levels of awareness and understanding. They owe it to all employees to be better at supporting women through this.
Organise an event
Jill Ross, Accenture’s managing director for retail in the UK and Ireland worked with MPowered Women on Accenture’s first ever event on World Menopause Day (October 18) last year. She was the one to “challenge” the company. “I’m in my mid 40s and very aware of the next life stage I’m about to enter,” she says. So she wanted to do something to prepare herself. “Women are working for longer and we have more senior women than ever in the workplace. I thought, how do we start breaking the taboo?”
The event was a success on several fronts for Ross. it allowed Accenture to face the issue head on. It also created “a supportive and informative space for women”, she says. and for the men attending. It meant that the whole workforce was educated and aligned.
“A couple of women who attended then went back to their GP to discover what they thought had been anxiety around a new promotion had in fact been menopausal symptoms.”
Dr Newson says it is not unusual for line managers to attend similar menopausal awareness sessions, only to come out and realise that they too have been experiencing symptoms. So we can all benefit when information is shared.
Have you found ways to beat office brain fog? Share your experiences with the MPowered Women community at @mpowered_women