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The menopause revolution: Five practical steps to help
When it comes to the menopause, there’s bad news and there’s good news. The bad news is that millions of women are facing something huge happening to us that we know precious little about as I’m starting to find out.
The good news is that once you are aware of it, there are actually lots of ways to not only deal with it but use it as your superpower (yes really!). What you need to know is how it might affect you and your business, what you can do about that, and how to help others going through it too.
I’m sharing the practical side of what I’m learning here because so far, the main thing to know is that it’s vital to arm yourself with knowledge and then look at the practicalities, so we can start a revolution to end the idea that this is just what it’s like to get older. It isn’t. It’s a medical condition that we need to take seriously and to not palm women off with a bunch of antidepressants, the idea that it’s somehow a curse and advice to ‘get on with it’.
Why is menopause suddenly on the agenda?
According to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, who held an inquiry in 2021, the symptoms of the menopause have prompted nearly 900,000 women in the UK to leave their jobs. Plus three in five women reported that they have been negatively affected by it¹. Due to the age it takes place, many of those are suffering at the peak of their careers, too.
So just as they have the talent, experience and wisdom to really evolve the company, and on a personal level, enjoy the fruits of decades of hard labour, many women are feeling like they have no choice but to quit. You can imagine the knock on effect this must have on productivity, not to mention gender-related pay and pension gaps? Now imagine the same thing happened to men? Exactly, it wouldn’t.
It’s vital to arm yourself with knowledge and then look at the practicalities, so we can start a revolution to end the idea that this is just what it’s like to get older. It isn’t.
Chairwoman of this committee, the Right Honourable Caroline Nokes, said, “The repercussions of that are not merely individual. Excluding menopausal women from the workplace is detrimental to our economy, our society and our place on the world stage¹.” It’s yet another reason that starting your own business can be a better way for women to work as it puts you in control of your own destiny. But what if you already have your own small businesses? How can you help protect it? Well firstly…
What are the symptoms?
It’s a lot more than hot flushes for a start. Many women have shared that it’s the way it affects you neurologically that is the main issue. You know how Dr. John Guillebaud, a professor of reproductive health at University College London, recently revealed that period pain is said to be equivalent to having a heart attack — and yet for decades, women and young girls have just been getting on with it? Lots of the symptoms associated with menopause are more extreme than many predominantly male doctors have previously credited.
From memory loss and anxiety, to night sweats and insomnia, there are lots of challenges we will face and it’s not just during the menopause itself, but the parts before it and after it too — great! Yet this narrative is only part of the story.
Nueroscientist Dr Louann Brizendine’s decades of study show you actually go from brain fog to laser-sharp focus when you’re coming out of the menopause². So during this time women’s brains have less oestrogen, but a steadier supply of it. So yes, we may lose our ability to multitask but instead, are able to concentrate full whack on something that needs it — like our businesses.
The main thing to note is that most women suffer because they don’t either know about the menopause, talk about it or deal with it. If you do all three, you stand a real fighting chance of outsmarting it. So here are the five things you need to do…
1. Find out if what you’re going through even is the menopause
Don’t bury your head in the sand. There’s lots of chat around the subject at the moment but the first thing it’s wise to do if you think you are likely to be either perimenopausal (approaching the menopause) or in it, is to find out. Get blood tests done and see if or where you are on the journey.
Then when you get these results, you can find the best course of action for you. If you’re peri-menopausal, vitamin supplements might help. If you’re in it, you can decide if you’d like to go on hormone therapy (I’ll be doing this btw, as I have far too much I still need to do to let this get in the way. I have to be who I am as much as possible to keep carrying out my dreams and I won’t be able to do that if my hormones are going haywire but you have to decide what’s right for you).
2. Build your cycles into your diary
On some iPhones, there’s a feature in the health app to log these as well as any associated details. It’s a funny thing the body does, even with periods, where even though you might’ve experienced the symptoms for many years, you still think you’re going mad once a month and it takes you by surprise and you get depressed and then remember again, and you have no time to really deal with it before it all starts again and you’re back to being surprised. What could you do to build in time to be mindful of this? On a Wednesday, can you try and finish work early to give yourself chance to breathe or to have some time alone? Or on a Friday, start later? What will help you get through this time in a calmer, happier way? If you work on your own, are there times you might need some extra help to cover tasks maybe? Is there a way you could reforecast your finances to allow for this? Where possible, build this in.
3. Gain the understanding of those around you
It’s important that your team (if you have one) and any family and friends, understand what you are going through, so try and be as open with them as you feel comfortable with. It’s really helped me that we’re on this journey together. Part of the problem we are facing now is that this has all come as somewhat of a shock to us as we’re the first generation to really openly discuss it.
Our mothers didn’t have the internet for example, to learn about all of this from — or if they were aware, it wouldn’t have been easy to talk about. As the first generation of women to even make it into male-dominated board rooms, the last thing they’ll have wanted to mention is that they’re feeling menopausal, if they were even aware then that’s what it was.
The main thing to note is that most women suffer because they don’t either know about the menopause, talk about it or deal with it. If you do all three, you stand a real fighting chance of outsmarting it.
They weren’t long out of a war either. It probably wasn’t very easy to come out and say, “I’m feeling terrible” in light of that. And for all the women at home, it must have been a very lonely experience indeed. They were very different times yet we can’t let history repeat itself here. In the same way we cut some slack to hormonal teenage girls going through what they were going through, we also need the same understanding here. So it’s important when you feel comfortable, to share your experience with others to help them, too. There might be someone else going through it for whom this could be life changing.
4. Remember, you will have good days and bad days
You need to accept that this is happening to you and go with it. Be kind to yourself but also, reframe it in your mind. A woman’s life does not finish when she starts the menopause. As Oprah Winfrey said, “So many women I’ve talked to see menopause as an ending. But as I’ve discovered this is your moment to reinvent yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else. It’s your opportunity to get clear about what matters to you and then pursue that with all your energy, time and talent.” Dr Louann Brizendine explains the superpowers of post-menopausal women have too. She’s rebranded this part as ‘The Upgrade’ and says, “The Upgrade is the phase of life we emerge into when we exit the hormonal war zone, finally able to see who we are, what we want and how we want to live. And, as a leading neuropsychiatrist, I’m here to tell you it’s a glorious time full of freedom and discovery².” There will be good days ahead.
5. Help yourself in every way you can
Improve your diet, take your vitamins, get more sleep, do what makes you happy, change your mindset, exercise — whatever it is, make those changes. If it’s your memory that’s an issue, use it as an opportunity to get organised; buy some lovely notepads and write things down. If you’re in a funk, try dancing. Treat it holistically. We have an average of just 29,000 days on the planet and we’re a fair way through those already. Why spend what time you have left in a muddled state of anxiety or feeling low? It doesn’t make sense.
Think of all the ambitions you have for your business. The best person to make those dreams a reality is YOU. So make sure you are the most ‘you’ you can be and do all you can to mitigate menopausal symptoms. Surround yourself by ‘energy givers’ not ‘energy takers’ and know that you have one heck of a life ahead. So join me on the menopause revolution — because the age of ‘just getting on with it’ ends here.