Some of the most challenging aspects of perimenopause in the workplace are hot flashes, foggy brain, fatigue and memory loss. But the most potentially career derailing is the out-of-the-blue, white-hot, I’m-going-to-rip your-face-off rage. It is incredible and seems to come out of nowhere! You don’t like it, your colleagues and direct reports are frightened of it, and your boss may want to fire you because of it. Not to mention that your usual sources of support, your spouse, kids, friends are wondering where their spouse, mom, friend went. It is time to get a handle on it!
First let’s look at what is going on. From sometime in your late thirties to your mid-forties your hormones start to fluctuate wildly. Specifically, your estrogen levels are going nuts and your progesterone level is declining. Progesterone is a natural antidepressant and also prevents anxiety. When your estrogen drops, so does your serotonin and other mood and stress moderating brain chemicals. This dance can continue for a while until your hormones stop the wild fluctuations and your body gets use to the new chemical you. As a result, irritations, annoyances, frustrations can escalate to rage in an instant. This is further complicated by the above mentioned hot flashes, fatigue, etc.
There are a lot of brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine (aka adrenaline) that are chemical messengers that communication from one cell to another that allows brain cells to “talk to one another”. They are all involved in the development of perimenopausal rage.
When you have high levels of dopamine and serotonin your emotions and reactions to events are more positive and you are able to let things go more easily. When they are low and you encounter an event that causes your adrenaline to spike because it has caused a fight or flight response, you are much more likely to fly into a rage. So, when a team member fails to deliver or your boss is demanding that your performance be better or you are threatened by a peer, instant rage can take hold of you.
What to do, oh, what to do?
In the short term - like in the moment that you are ready to fly into attack mode, stop and breathe. Stopping and taking a few deep breaths can give you a moment to gather your wits, calm you down and let you say “I need a moment” in whatever way is most comfortable you in a given situation.
In general, you can manage your brain chemistry by:
Getting a good amount of exercise. Exercise produces endorphins which are natural feel good chemicals
Eating a healthy diet of non-processed foods high in vegetables, fruits, grains and clean proteins
Developing a stress reducing meditation or mindfulness practice, doing yoga, taking long walks in nature, laughing with your family and friends, drawing silly and colorful pictures of your world
When you are in a calmer state of mind, it is time to look at what you may be angry about - it really isn’t ever the thing that is happening when the flash of rage occurs. Women are discouraged from expressing negative emotions, especially in the work environment. This is related the “like-ability bind that women are in. So, rage is way out of the continuum of options!
As a result, women stuff a lot of feelings of frustration, disappointment, irritation, sadness and confusion. The issues that women tackle at midlife are challenging and can cause a woman to question herself, her choices, her identity and her possible future. These are big and deeply rooted issues around energy levels, sexuality, attractiveness, mental acuity, ability to compete with younger colleagues, and perceived opinions of others.
Midlife can also resurface unresolved issues from other aspects of your life - family, relationships, career and friendships that keep your vulnerabilities alive and ready to pounce. It is time to face and deal with these issues and resolve them because when a difficult situation catches you off-guard and triggers your emotions, your hormonal party dance can grab you in an instant.
You can do this, you can reclaim control!
In the year 2018 there are about 31 million women in the US workforce who are between the ages of 45 and 64. 80% of these women will experience symptoms related to perimenopause. Of the 80% of 31 million, about 25% will experience symptoms so severe that they will consider quitting their jobs.
Many women don’t know enough about menopause to know how to best prepare themselves so that it is better manageable. Many women don’t know what perimenopause is and don’t know how to identify what is happening when it starts. And, many women don’t know how to manage the symptoms that they are experiencing when they are in perimenopause. Some of the symptoms can be scary and cause one to think that there is a serious medical problem.
You might ask: Why is this important and what is all the fuss about? Based on information from my own clients - women in professional/corporate positions - and from women who have participated in research that I have been doing, women are having a really difficult time of it! If this is you, here is some useful information.
All women go through menopause. Perimenopause can start as early as your late thirties. It usually lasts a few years - 3 or 4. However, if it starts early, it may be over a decade. Some women who have certain medical conditions and treatments experience it very early. The symptoms can include whole host of our body’s systems, the most typical of which are hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness, irritability that can escalate to absolute rage, big mood swings, lack of ability to concentrate, poor memory, frustration, lack of libido, heart palpitations, migraines - just to name of few. Our hormones levels - primarily estrogen - are dipping. And because estrogen is located in most our bodily systems, we can experience some pretty unnerving things!
Added to this, we live in a very youth obsessed culture and there is a lot of gendered agism that women experience. Nothing says old woman like menopause in the minds of people in our communities and workplaces - including in our own minds! As a result, there is a big stigma attached to being perimenopausal/menopausal. Most professional women, especially women not in any kind of healthcare organization, are loathe to have anyone know that they are experiencing symptoms.
Many women who have a difficult time with symptoms are often seen by their teams/direct reports, their peers and their bosses as not performing well in any number of ways. This can be very damaging to your career.
What is a woman to do? Well, instead of hiding out or suffering take care of yourself. Little things you can do on your own are:
Be mindful of how you dress - dress in layers
Don’t wear silk anything - dresses, blouses, scarfs - silk holds in body heat and when you are feeling cold that is great. When you are having a hot flash it can be a disaster
If you are doing a presentation, always have a glass of iced cold water handy. It is great to hold in your hand if you are experiencing your own little microclimate hot spell it can help to cool you down. Also, sip the water
Stay away from spicy foods and coffee as they will tend to bring on hot flashes
Get a small battery operated fan for you desk
Try to find someone you can talk to: an understanding manager - female or male, an understanding HR professional - female or male. (Don’t forget that men have mothers and may have wives or girlfriends who have experienced what you talking about! Many of them ”get it” ) Ask about some flexibility in your schedule so that you may be able to come in late if you have had a sleepless night or work from home if irritability has you trapped in a volatile state! You may at least want to give some people a “heads-up” so that they understand that you are experiencing something normal and natural rather than thinking that you have become a problem employee.
Times are changing and some companies or at least individuals with in your company are aware that menopause“is a thing” and deserves some consideration as does pregnancy, or a family illness or other crisis, or your own illness or other crisis. This doesn’t make you a bad person! It is a temporary state of being with an end-point.
In the meantime, some of us are going into corporations to create awareness and support options. Also, turn to genneve for lots of information about what you may be experiencing and how to address the symptoms. We are here for you!
8/3/2017 0 Comments
I’ve been reading a lovely set of books by Cathleen Rountree on women’s aging. I am now re-reading the interviews in her book “On Women Turning 50”. They make me smile. These women reflect what I so often see in my clients: that women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are some of the most content, empowered, creative and visionary women that I know. These women remind me of why I developed a fascination with midlife when I was in my twenties - I knew then that women in that age group were dynamic and exciting and were my role models, my mentors.
Women, in our youth focused and ageist culture are afraid of aging; they are both offended by and defended against the word midlife. I love engaging with women in my workshops and my individual clients about the confusion around midlife as a time of loss and decline. Yes - there are definitely stages that we mature through that bring us face to face with loss, with physical challenges, with deep questions around the restless we experience at this time in our lives. These same women go on to be engaged, joyful, invested, influential. These same women go on to enjoy new found interests, deepened interests, big visions and goals, satisfaction and appreciation for being a woman with extensive experience and wisdom.
Some of us do indeed experience crises in midlife - difficult symptoms during peri-menopause, loss of parents or other loved ones, loss of close friends, divorce, we confront our own mortality. We move through these challenges with greater or lesser hardship, with greater or lesser grace. And yet, time heals, menopause happens and the symptoms end. If we allow ourselves to continue along the path into what often feels like the deep and dark unknown, we eventually arrive at clarity and a rediscovered curiosity and zest. We awaken to realize that we are still in midlife with often decades of life to live before we get old. Decide to enjoy it to its fullest!
4/10/2017 0 Comments
Once you are in your forties, you are in a unique time in your adult life. Some mornings you wake up wondering, "Is this all there is?" Other times you feel a sense of gratitude and excitement at the possibilities! You realize that you are in a position to focus your time and energy on things that really matter to you. Your desire to experience a sense of purpose and meaning in your life and your work is amplified…and you may feel an almost unstoppable urge to connect with yourself and your career in a deeper, more meaningful way. At the core is a realization that you have finally arrived at a place of "Me Time".
And, given that people are, in general, living longer lives, this prime-time of your life can be decades long! You can explore multiple careers and live a long and full life that is healthy, vibrant and exciting.
While midlife is a normal stage in adult development, it can be a confusing and challenging time for many women. And, because senior executive and professional women are visible to so many, responsible for so much, and may have few, if any, confidants in the workplace, it can be a difficult experience. You have a lot on your plate and now you are perhaps feeling:
• your skills are underutilized
• curious and excited about the future and what you might be doing
• getting used to an "empty nest" and looking to exercise some new-found freedom, time and energy
Let’s take a look at these developmental stages. There are five primary stages and to make things more confusing, the journey through these stages is usually nonlinear with overlaps and switchbacks along the way. Many aspects of the journey are reminiscent of adolescence and are referred to as middlescence - essentially adolescence with the benefit of some wisdom and life experience. There are a lot of highs and lows along the way so having some guideposts along the way helps!
The first stage of midlife, Accommodation, overlaps with your late 30’s. As a young professional you struggle to find the balance between looking for mentors and peers for guidance and examples, and your own instincts and sense of self. These are feelings that women struggle with in young adulthood and that continue throughout your life and career while you are working on defining your success. As you climb the ladder to that success you usually tend to define it by the expectations and the accomplishments of others.
The next stage is Separation. In this early period of the midlife journey, you begin to distance from what others seem to want from you and reject the “accommodated self”. This can manifest as a bit of acting out, or at least the impulse to do so. Remember that time of wanting to become “the boss of me” during your adolescence? Not everyone experiences this as what they would consider to be a “crisis” but it can be a bit of a challenge as your attention turns from what others want you to do and be to what you want to do and be.
The next two stages comprise some really juicy times of midlife! Liminality or “being at a threshold” can be a very uncomfortable or unsettling time. It can also be a time a great spaciousness and exploration. To me, this and the next stage can be the most interesting stages of the midlife journey and where I focus a lot of my work with clients. You may feel restless and without direction. Some of my clients struggle at stage and need help avoiding rash or hasty decisions like quitting a job prematurely or jumping into a new opportunity without clearly understanding the consequences. I call this “being out of sight of land and hunting for a horizon”. If you can go with the flow, you can move into greater intimacy with your true self and move into a deeper, more aware relationship with yourself. You might also find that you are experiencing some deep grieving for what you let go of, rejected, or lost during the time of “separation” including your sense of what your youth was. You may begin to confront your mortality and a hunger for deeper meaning and purpose in your life.
This is the “Is This All There Is?” moment in your life when you tend to ask:
• Am I in the right position?
• Am I in the right organization?
• Am I in the right career?
• Am I in the right relationship?
• Do I want to leave my job and start something completely different?
• Do I want to run away all by myself to a distant land far, far away?
Having someone who knows the territory and can guide you can be crucial.
Then - welcome to Reintegration. This is the time for gaining clarity about who you are now and becoming comfortable with that emerging identity. This can be a time of extreme creativity and entertaining lots of new ideas about what you want to do and contribute to the world. New adventures are sought and experienced; different aspects of yourself are revealed and welcomed or rejected. This is a time when you come back to solid ground. You examine what you want your life to look like at this stage. You will tend to make decisions and moves to new choices. You will take concrete steps toward those things that give you a sense of purpose and deeper meaning in your life. My clients appreciate our partnership in creating a clear and strong action plan and then the support of being held accountable to that plan.
Individuation, the final stage in the midlife journey, is one of recognizing and integrating the various conflicts that have existed within you and appreciating achieving a balance between them. It is here that you come to accept all of who you really are - limitations and all. This is a celebratory time with my clients.
By the way, this all is happening while you are living your busy, demanding, stressful life at home and at work. And likely, this is all happening while your hormones are going crazy with peri-menopause - giving you hot flashes, sleepless nights, fatigue, migraines, fog brain…
Are you looking for a lighthouse to guide your journey?
Also - One-day workshops are starting this month. Check out the series and signup today!
Women arrive at midlife to find themselves surprised by emotional pain, upheaval, rebirth and transformation. It’s entirely normal, and ridiculously common.In my last couple of articles I offered you some thoughts on this transformative time and how you can use it to your benefit.
Welcome to the new world of midlife. The first and most important new rule of midlife is that we can say the word “midlife”. We can talk about it in polite company and not in the hushed tones of being “a woman of a certain age”. We even get to talk about aging with grace and wisdom. We get to talk about menopause and peri-menopause and to learn about what is happening and how to deal with it.
So, in this article let’s talk about some of the physical and psychological aspects of peri-menopause and menopause. At least once every couple of weeks, a client will ask me, “I feel like I am losing my mind! Do any of your other clients feel like this?” What this intelligent, over-busy, already stressed senior executive woman is experiencing is absolutely common for a woman in her early forties to mid-fifties. What she may be experiencing could be any or all of the following: sleeplessness, restlessness, fatigue, night sweats, hot flashes, memory lapses, heightened and unpredictable emotional reactions, migraines, depression, anxiety, irritability and loss of libido. The reason this may all be happening to you too, is that your hormones are starting to shift around. It is not unlike the kind of hormonal craziness that happens in adolescence.
For some women, these symptoms are accompanied by the stressful challenges of raising equally hormonal teenagers and/or taking care of aging or infirm parents or other relatives. Not fun.
It helps to know that this is a normal and temporary state of affairs and that there are lots of ways to address it. I recommend a mindfulness practice to all of my clients - learning the profoundly valuable practice of some form of meditation and use of deep breathing. These are invaluable for addressing anxiety and stress. I also recommend getting your hormone levels tested and having a conversation with your Medical Doctor, Nurse Practitioner or someone who practices Naturopathic Medicine. You may choose to consider some form of temporary hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Acupuncture and herbal remedies can address many of the symptoms such as hot flashes and associated sleep disturbances. Diet and exercise are relevant and important for most of these symptoms.
I also recommend simple fixes for the busy executive:
This ends - trust me. It is not your new normal.
Next up: The Stages of Midlife Adult Development and What That Means to You
Resources for Mindfulness and Meditation
What is midlife anyway? It is a term that elicits a lot of reactions from people in it, people approaching it and people past it. Midlife has gotten a bad rap.
It is actually a misnomer in this day and age. It is a psychological, emotional, spiritual and cultural phenomenon that hits us around our late thirties to early forties even though many of us are living longer and healthier lives these days than average eighty years.
There are certainly aspects to it that are connected to our physiology, especially for women who feel the impact of peri-menopause and menopause, but even women who have undergone a hysterectomy at a younger age feel the pull of the “midlife experience” around the time forty candles adorn the annual cake.
It often starts with an inner urge – a feeling that a change is in the offing.
An internal curiosity or concern might pop-up as you wonder, “What is going on with me?” We might feel a little scared and maybe a little excited. It causes us to question if we are at the right place in our careers and in our lives; to look to what is next.
Some women are launched into the experience of midlife as a result of various life experiences: becoming an empty-nester, losing a spouse or partner to divorce or death, a career road-block, or maybe the loss of a parent. This will cause some women feel disconnected and disoriented.
However one arrives at the moment of realization of being at midlife, it is the threshold to a whole different experience of oneself. It is also the point at which we confront the question: “What is my life purpose?” As we mature into the process of sorting out our conflicting desires and impulses the question becomes a clear voice from the inside seeking clarity about what it is that we truly want in our lives; “Am I living the life that I truly want to live?” Over time the coping styles and defense mechanisms of our childhood and young adulthood give way to a deeper questioning. There is a truth inside that wants to express itself.
Some people move through this process and come out the other side with a sense of clarity and peace of mind; for others it is a crisis. However, understanding the process can open the door to the excitement of this time of life - a time of re-igniting old passions and accessing new ones. It is a time to explore and reach for big dreams, to respond to the awakening of deep inner wisdom.
Midlife presents cultural challenges in that as we age; we seem to become more invisible. Herein lies a paradox. While a predominant message in our youth oriented culture may lead us to experience ourselves as more invisible (and perhaps powerless), an inner power is emerging and we see ourselves more clearly than ever. The conscious choice to be present banishes our confusion and releases our energy. When we embrace the freedom to speak and live our true selves it becomes a passionate commitment.
Midlife draws us into a mystery. If we are willing to enter into that seeming chaos we are rewarded with fresh, creative energy and spirit. It means being willing to bear the challenge of insight and to confront what is no longer working for us. By coming into the full experience of ourselves, we unburden our souls and clear the way to live on purpose rather than randomly. We feel true to ourselves and complete rather than feeling that there is something missing. By remembering that we are the owners of our lives, we become powerful beyond measure.
As we let go of what has become familiar and move toward what is to be, we experience both a loss and an incredible craving. We grieve the loss of the patterns, the roles we have had in our lives up to this point while we long for new meanings and a deeper sense of meaning. This letting go allows the soul to open to new personal and spiritual growth. We discover previously hidden and emerging talents, desires and confidence. The longings for meaning, integrity, and wholeness are driving forces in midlife. Being present with those driving forces provides a promise of renewed clarity, enthusiasm and strength.
Through Full Circle Institute’s program, "A Time Of My Own", you can give yourself the opportunity to explore and understand your experience and get clarity about who you want to become and what you want to accomplish at this profound time in your life!
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