Has imposter syndrome started to creep in? Is it messing with your confidence at work? Here, we talk about why that might be, then share some expert tips on how to beat it...
Feel like you don’t belong or that you’ll get ‘found out’? Join the club. Recent research backed by the Young Women’s Trust found that 53% of all women have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.
Imposter syndrome tends to be more extreme when we’re just starting out, with the study finding that feelings of incompetence start at around the age of 23 for women.
But, crucially, the feeling can boomerang back to us when we enter perimenopause.
The reason for this is that our peaking and surging hormones start playing havoc with our mood, sleep and confidence levels, with a landmark study by the Fawcett Society finding that 52% of menopausal women say they have lost confidence at work.
We dig into the signs and causes of imposter syndrome during perimenopause, plus we find out how to tackle the self-doubt.
What exactly is imposter syndrome?
First coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their research in 1978 , imposter syndrome is not technically a mental health condition, but is when we feel a sense of self-doubt, particularly related to work accomplishments.
On top of feeling like you don’t deserve your job, you might also have a fear of failing your team and be sensitive about making small mistakes. YouGov recently investigated the key signs of imposter syndrome and discovered that people in the UK struggle most with having ultra-high expectations of themselves, downplaying their achievements and criticising themselves more than others criticise them.
What’s the link between imposter syndrome and burnout?
Research by Clare Josa, author of Ditching Imposter Syndrome , suggests that there’s a strong link between imposter syndrome and burnout, with imposter syndrome being one of the biggest predictors of whether or not someone’s at risk of burning out.
She also points out that one of the biggest triggers for imposter syndrome can be perimenopause because of the increase in physical and mental changes that you experience.
7 ways to help you tackle imposter syndrome during perimenopause
Although the research may be tough to hear, the fact that imposter syndrome is felt by so many women going through perimenopause means there’s power in talking about it and facing it.
Here, we ask executive coach and perimenopause specialist Anna Allerton to share her tips for tackling self-doubt during perimenopause and beyond.
1. Accept, acknowledge, let go
“It’s helpful for women to know that as they enter perimenopause it’s likely that they’ll start doubting themselves,” says Anna Allerton, executive coach and perimenopause specialist. “When thoughts creep in like, ‘I’m going to get found out’ or ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ try to recognise that it’s your imposter doing the talking, not you.”
We’re often so focused on looking ahead that we forget to recognise everything we’ve achieved so far
The best way to fight it is to acknowledge that you’re feeling it, validate that it’s okay and then let these feelings go as they’re not based on reality.
2. Remind yourself what you’re capable of
We’re often so focused on looking ahead and progressing at work that we forget to recognise everything we’ve achieved so far. “This is one of the things that frustrates me about this life stage,” says Anna. “You’ve probably got 10-20 years’ of experience in your job, you’re probably the best that you’re ever going to be. You’ve done all the presentations, got the promotions and the great references, but because of the anxiety caused by perimenopause, you doubt yourself.
“When your imposter syndrome rears its head – whether it’s before a big presentation or review – try to remind yourself of how many times it’s gone well before and just how capable you are.” Banking the good stuff will help you step forward with confidence.
3. Get to know what triggers it
Mapping your cycle with the Jennis app and keeping track of your perimenopause symptoms can help here. “You might be able to spot patterns or times across the month where your imposter feels strongest,” says Anna. Whether it’s all-company meetings, client pitches, quarterly reviews or preparing reports, if you know your imposter syndrome is likely to flare up, you can prepare by doing a confidence-boosting breathwork, or writing a quick list of your recent achievements.
4. Share how you’re feeling
“Imposter syndrome is a very isolating feeling, but because we know that it’s so common in the workplace across the generations, it can be helpful to talk about it with a trusted colleague,” says Anna.
Remember that your confidence dip is purely down to hormonal changes, not your ability
There are two big advantages to this. One, you’ll probably find someone who has felt the same way, which can really help to take the edge off. Two, when you keep your feelings a secret, they can grow bigger and harder to deal with. Sharing will help you verbalise, recognise and move on.
5. Explore self-compassion
“Your confidence can take a dip during perimenopause but try to remember that this is purely down to the hormonal changes in your body, not your ability,” says Anna. One way of showing yourself some compassion is by jotting down the things that you’re proud of or that went well. “It takes about 90 seconds and you could do this on a Friday after work.”
You could also try affirmations – where you choose a mantra or phrase for the week, like ‘I am enough’ or ‘I’m more than my symptoms.’ Stick it on the fridge or your bedroom mirror and this is your reminder before work to go easy and treat yourself with more kindness.
6. Create boundaries to allow you to switch off
Stress, burnout and imposter syndrome are all intrinsically linked. To help keep them at bay, build healthy boundaries around your work so you can leave time to mentally reset after stressful periods.
“It’s important to hold yourself accountable,” says Anna. “If you open the door to emails at 9pm or present yourself as constantly available, this can feed into your anxiety of missing something or dropping the ball.”
What’s the worst that could happen if you don’t reply to something immediately? Do you really need to check your phone as soon as you wake up and spike your cortisol levels at the same time?
Unless your work set-up demands that you’re on call, give yourself a reality check before reaching for your work phone out of hours, and allow yourself time to properly de-stress.
7. Look for a mentor
If you think it’s too late in your career for a mentor, think again. “Working with someone who you feel is inspiring can help you stamp out the imposter syndrome – because chances are, they’ve felt it too,” says Anna.
They’ll be able to offer an objective view on your professional strengths and abilities and can help you overcome negative self-talk. Plus, hearing from a person that you respect about why you deserve a seat at the table helps to put things in perspective.
On the flip side, becoming a mentor yourself can help too. Research has found that 87% of both mentors and mentees felt empowered by the relationship and reported greater confidence and career satisfaction.
Sharing and reflecting on your own experiences can help you realise just how full your career has been to date – and how successful it can be during perimenopause and post-menopause.
Sign up to the Jennis Perimenopause app by Jess Ennis-Hill to reduce symptoms, get the results you want and feel better than ever