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!
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