By: Red Hot Mamas
Published: December 19, 2014
Menopause can be hard enough, but handling symptoms at work brings up new problems. Here’s how to succeed on the job despite menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, fatigue and “brain fog”…
About half of employed women between the ages of 45 and 65 say that managing menopausal symptoms on the job is somewhat or extremely difficult, according to a May 2014 survey by Working Mother Media and Pfizer.
In addition to hot flashes, women often experience night sweats, fatigue, moodiness, foggy brain and headaches. These symptoms can begin 2 to 7 years before menopause, during the transitional time known as perimenopause, when production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone decreases. Work conditions can aggravate menopause-related discomfort.
“Things like poor ventilation, having the thermostat up too high or the bathroom too far away can make symptoms worse,” says Karen Giblin, founder and president of Red Hot Mamas, one of the nation’s largest menopause education programs.
Restroom access is important, because menopausal women are more susceptible to bladder infections and/or urinary incontinence during menopause, according to the National Institute on Aging.
If businesses provided more support for menopausal employees, it wouldn’t just improve women’s well-being, it also would help raise productivity and prevent absenteeism, a 2010 study by the University of Nottingham in Britain found.
Regardless whether you have help from your employer, you can keep menopause from affecting you on the job.
“There are a lot of options today” says Chrisandra Shufelt, M.D., associate director of the Women’s Hormone and Menopause Program in the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.
Read on for 10 tips to help you handle menopausal symptoms at work.
1. Address stress.
Most people experience occasional stress at work. But for one-third of employees, the stress is chronic, according to a 2013 survey by the American Psychological Association.
You can ease your body’s reaction to stress with relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing. For example, a breathing exercise called “paced respiration” cut hot flashes by 50%, according to a 2013 study by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
To do it:
1. Breathe in slowly and deeply, gently expanding and contracting your abdomen, at a rate of 6 to 8 breaths per minute.
2. Do this for 15 minutes twice a day, and at the onset of a hot flash.
Also, suggested by Giblin, “Take breaks during the day; it’s important in managing workplace stress”.
“Stop and listen to soft music on your headphones or go outside for a brisk walk,” she suggests.
2. Keep cool.
If you have control over the thermostat that affects your work environment, keep it at a cool, comfortable temperature. If not, sit by an open window or use a portable desk fan, Giblin says. Her other suggestions:
- Keep wipes in your desk or purse to cool off and stay smelling/feeling fresh.
- Use cooling gels and sprays, which are available in drugstores and online.
At meetings, try to sit in the coolest part of the room, Breastcancer.org and Giblin both have recommended.
3. Stay hydrated.
Drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day can help alleviate several menopausal symptoms.
“It replenishes fluids lost during hot flashes,” she says.
So keep a container of ice water at your desk, and take it to meetings and presentations.
4. Keep organized.
Are you having minor memory lapses and trouble concentrating? Such “foggy brain” symptoms are common complaints during menopause – although they can also be the result of aging, not necessarily menopause, according to the NIH.
Your best defense against memory issues at work is organization. For example, text reminders to yourself, use sticky notes and keep a notepad at hand to jot down important dates and meetings. Many computer programs and phone apps are also available to keep up with your to-do list.
Another tip: When someone gives you new information, repeat it out loud, advises Miriam Weber, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of neurology at the University of Rochester in New York. “It will help you hold onto that information longer,” she says in a column for the University of Rochester Medical Center website. “Make sure you have established that memory solidly in the brain.”
Also, try to handle one project at a time and avoid too much multitasking, Giblin advises.
“It’s exhausting and usually results in you forgetting something,” she says.
As people age, frequently switching focus between tasks is more likely to disrupt short-term memory, according to a 2011 study by the University of California San Francisco.
5. Dress for comfort.
To avoid overheating in work-appropriate clothing, embrace the layered look. That’s so you can peel away pieces during a hot flash, then put them back on if you need to warm up later.
Looser styles are also less likely to show perspiration. Avoid wool, silk and other non-breathable fabrics, which lock in heat and increase body temperature. Instead, wear fibers that allow more air to flow through them, such as cotton, Gilbin adds.
6. Watch what you eat and drink.
Avoid spicy foods, along with coffee, tea or soft drinks that contain caffeine, before a big presentation or meeting.
At lunch, one suggestion is to eat fruit and Mediterranean-style meals (high in vegetables, fish and whole grains). These foods help decrease hot flashes and night sweats, while a diet high in fat and sugar worsens symptoms, according to a 2013 study by the University of Queensland in Australia.
7. Lose excess weight.
If you’re carrying excess weight, your menopausal symptoms may be magnified.
If you’ve put on pounds because of a sedentary office job, make time to exercise every day. Besides helping you lose excess weight, working out can help you reduce stress, elevate your mood and sleep better.
It’s also time to quit smoking. Heavy smoking can cause menopause to begin as much as 2 years earlier, according to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Women who smoke are also likely to have more hot flashes, the organization says.
8. Get to sleep!
A lack of sleep can make you feel fatigued and irritable, reports Harvard Medical School. At the same time, 61% of menopausal women report frequent sleep difficulties, because of factors such as night sweats, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
It’s a vicious cycle that often starts early.
“Disruptive sleep can be one of the first signs of perimenopause – even before hot flashes,” Dr. Shufelt says. As a first step toward getting more shut-eye, she recommends improving your sleep hygiene, including the following:
- Don’t eat a large meal late at night.
- Avoid using electronics within an hour or two before going to sleep; the bright screens can interfere with your sleep-wake cycle.
- Go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day.
- Keep your room cool, and keep a glass of ice water by the side of the bed to drink and cool your body temperature.
- Use cotton sheets and wear cotton pajamas to keep cool.
Special cooling pillows, available online and in bedroom-supply stores, can also help you sleep, Giblin says.
9. Consider confiding in others.
If you need help handling menopause symptoms on the job – for example, by working flexible hours when they’re flaring up or just being able to turn down the thermostat – carefully consider discussing the problem with a manager or human-resources officer.
Whether it’s a good idea depends on your workplace’s culture, office politics and personal relationships. In some situations, that information could be used against you, employment experts say.
“Women have to be more careful about being perceived as weak, because they may encounter unconscious bias,” warns Alexandra Levit, president of Inspiration at Work, a workplace consulting firm in Chicago.
“Be hesitant about disclosing age-related issues as well,” she says. “Age-related bias, unfortunately, can add to gender-related bias for an unpleasant effect.”
Women often go through menopause when they’re in the prime of their careers, and they may have a lot to lose, adds Norma Carr-Ruffino, an expert on women in management and a professor at San Francisco State University’s College of Business. “If you need help, ask for it,” she says. “But when in doubt, don’t – take your particular situation into consideration.”
Possibly speaking with a colleague (not upper management), is a better idea. This is backed by anecdotal evidence: In the Working Mother survey, more than half of respondents said that colleagues were supportive when they dealt with menopausal symptoms.
10. Ask an expert.
If you’re unable to get relief on your own, see your OB-GYN or a certified menopause practitioner, a health-care professional with special training and certification from NAMS, Dr. Shufelt advises.
Based on your symptoms and health history, your doctor may prescribe hormonal or non-hormonal medications, depending on your health and family history.
Karen Giblin was one of the contributors to this article; the full article (modified and portions here), ran on December 15th on LifeScript.