How to manage menopause at work

By Nicki Williams, dipION, mBANT, CNHC

Over 70% of women will experience symptoms associated with peri-menopausal hormone changes.

A study in 2011 showed that nearly half of women going through these years (35-55) have difficulty coping with their symptoms at work, yet two thirds would not dare to tell anyone about it. With women reluctant to talk about it at work, it is difficult for them to get the support they need.

This is an issue for the women involved obviously but also a growing problem for employers.  Common symptoms of fatigue, mood swings, brain fog, memory loss and PMS or hot flushes can often result in more absence, loss of confidence, increased stress, and loss of creativity and productivity.

And this can happen for many women at a time when they need to be operating at their very best. They might have worked hard for years to be where they are in the organization, and find themselves either struggling to maintain their position or gain that all important strived for next step.

After the age of 35, hormones start to decline and fluctuate. Symptoms can develop very gradually, so they may not be noticeable from one day to the next, but here are some clues as to how things may have changed;

  • You feel more tired and grumpy than usual – working long hours and then going out? Forget it…….
  • You can’t concentrate for long– day to day problems seem harder to solve.
  • Things seem a bit more stressful than they used to – did these things worry you so much before?
  • Your memory is letting you down – what the hell was that client’s name?!
  • You’ve put on a bit of weight and can’t shift it – your dress size is creeping up and you don’t feel so great in your clothes these days.
  • Your PMS is worse than ever – the mood swings, bloating and painful periods are really getting you down.
  • You’re having embarrassing HOT FLUSHES!! – right in the middle of a meeting, or even worse, a presentation – there’s nowhere to hide!
  • Your sex drive has disappeared – probably the last thing on your mind as you collapse into bed at night.

These are the peri-menopausal years leading up to periods finally stopping (average age 52). It’s a bit like going through puberty but without the raging sex hormones!

And these years can be particularly debilitating if you’re in a demanding job or a stressful environment. When you used to be super sharp, energized, confident and powerful, your hormones can make you feel the opposite. This is not good when you need to be at your absolute best all day long.

Here are some tips for employees to getting you back to your best;

  • Ditch the sugar (and white carbs) – sugar raises insulin (our fat storing hormone), which raises cortisol (our stress hormone) and messes with our sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone). Use more natural sugar alternatives like xylitol, stevia and raw honey. Read more here about the harmful effects of sugar.
  • A daily spoonful of seeds –The phytoestrogens, omega fats and fibre in seeds can help rebalance oestrogen levels. Include a mix of flaxseeds (milled), chia seeds, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in your diet – throw them in smoothies, porridge, yoghurt, salads, soups and stews.
  • Eat your broccoli– At least one portion of cruciferous veg (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, brussell sprouts, watercress, rocket) a day can help with the elimination of excess hormones.
  • Daily relaxation – reducing stress levels using deep belly breathing, meditation, yoga, walking, relaxation Apps – whatever works for you, schedule in regular sessions. Herbal adaptogens like rhodiola, panax ginseng and ashwanghanda can sometimes be helpful. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential – get to bed earlier, turn gadgets off, make the room dark. Check here for more sleep tips.
  • Resistance training – metabolism boosting weight training has been associated with increased testosterone, which helps to burn fat and increase brain health and libido. Look for high intensity and circuit workouts.
  • Supplement with a good quality multivitamin (with good levels of B vits, Mg, Vit E), a fish oil (with GLA, EPA and DHA) and a herbal formula (helpful herbs include black cohosh, red clover, hops, sage, dong quai). Get your Vitamin D checked too, and supplement if needed.  (Always check with your health practitioner before taking any new supplements or herbal remedies). 

And here are some tips for employers to support women through this tricky time;

  1. Educational workshops – education is the key to empowerment. Knowing how to look after your hormones by implementing small changes to diet and lifestyle can make a huge difference.
  2. Provide healthy snacks – get rid of temptation by replacing sugary snack vending machines with healthier snack options. Sugary snacks can mess with blood sugar balance and cause energy slumps and brain fog.
  3. Walking meetings – sitting for long periods of time is becoming a health hazard! Try having walk and talk meetings, preferably outside for a bit of fresh air and Vitamin D. Walking has been shown to boost brain connectivity and creativity!
  4. Provide a blender in the kitchen area so that women can make a quick smoothie as a healthy snack (instead of going on a chocolate run!).
  5. Sponsored gym memberships or classes – exercise helps with hormone balance, energy, weight loss, mood, stress and much more. Make it easier for your employees to do more.
  6. Encourage regular breaks from computer time – hourly alarms will remind employees to get up and take a quick break.
  7. Provide meditation or mindfulness training – proven to help with stress resilience, productivity and focus, stress reduction techniques also help balance out peri-menopausal hormones.
  8. Provide a support network – women’s support groups can be very helpful to connect and share experiences.

If you would like help on a personal or corporate level, please get in touch to discuss how I can help.

Nicki Williams is a nutritionist and founder of Happy Hormones for Life.