How to deal with perimenopause symptoms in the workplace

perimenopause and the workplace_cycle sycing mapping

Hot flushes? Check. Poor sleep? Check. Forgotten your key fob again? Check. The perimenopause can make the 9-5 trickier to navigate, but there are ways to find relief and support. Jennis physiologist Dr Emma Ross gives us the lowdown. 

Reviewed by: Dr Emma Ross

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If you’re a female, trans or non-binary employee that’s going through perimenopause in 2022, there’s every chance that your employer won’t have policies in place to give you the support you need to continue to do your job confidently and effectively, which means the majority of us feel like we are dealing with this very much alone.

Let’s make a change

According to recent statistics, peri and menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, yet one in 10 women have been forced to leave work because of symptoms. Pretty sh*tty, right?

Another report found that in-office stigma, a lack of support and discrimination in the workplace play major roles in stopping peri and menopausal women from keeping their seat at the table. 

Charities and the Jennis team are urgently calling on governments to introduce legislation to protect perimenopausal workers at every level, but until we can get them to step up, it’s useful to have your own strategies up your sleeve. Here, we turn to super physiologist Dr Emma Ross for her top tips and advice.

Firstly, what exactly is the perimenopause?

Lots of people get confused between the terms menopause and perimenopause. 

The perimenopause is… the transition phase leasing up to the menopause when your main menstrual cycle hormones are declining, but your periods haven’t finished. It usually starts in your mid-40s, but it can kick-off earlier. Symptoms include mood swings, anxiety and depression, brain fog, hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, aches and pains, headaches and joint stiffness. 

The menopause is… the point in time 12-24 months after your last period. From here, women enter what’s called the ‘postmenopause’, which describes the time after someone has gone through the full menopause.

So why is there a stigma around talking about the perimenopause at work?

Peri and menopause are still a pretty taboo subjects in the workplace, even though they affect such a massive proportion of us, and a third (33%) of working women feel it’s ‘unprofessional’ to even mention the words to their employer. 

By keeping a diary of symptoms, it provides a framework for you to discuss the practical workplace adjustments you need and deserve

Then, there’s the personal experience of diagnosing and recognising perimenopause. “Most women don’t even think about their hormones unless they're looking into their fertility, so it’s not unusual to hit the perimenopausal changes that take place and assume you’re just ‘going mad’, falling apart or generally becoming less capable.”

This lack of body literacy, coupled with workplaces operating a system of silence, means that too many of us feel embarrassed to take the lead in the conversation. The Fawcett Society reports that 41% of women have also experienced jokes or mocking about their symptoms, causing the topic to be shrouded in even more unnecessary shame.

How can I talk to my manager about the perimenopause?

It can be daunting to talk to your manager about your personal health, particularly if you feel like they have limited knowledge or experience of perimenopause.

Dr Emma says that getting the support you need starts with educating yourself with the physiological facts: “When you understand the hormonal changes that are happening in your body, it becomes easier to talk about them and how they’re impacting your day-to-day work life from a factual perspective.”

Keeping a diary of your symptoms can be helpful, and provides a framework for you to work out and present the practical and reasonable adjustments you need.

When it comes to addressing your manager, start by explaining the situation clearly: talk about how the menopause is affecting you at work and what your line manager could do to help. 

Adjustments could be anything from changing your work hours to better suit your changing sleep patterns to adapting your uniform, lowering the temperature of your office or giving you better access to toilet facilities. Having the conversation early can also flag to your manager that you may need to take more short-term absences as you navigate the symptoms. 

How can I deal with hot flashes in the office?

More than 80% of women will have hot flashes during perimenopause - a sudden feeling of warmth in the upper body that can cause sweating and face flush.

“My big tip is to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes made from a breathable fabric such as linen, if you’re able to,” says Dr Emma.

“Prioritising movement helps, too, as research shows that women who strength train and do regular exercise can help to alleviate future hot flashes. So, take advantage of any free gym memberships through your workplace and make sure you take that lunchbreak to walk, get some weights in or de-stress.”

While you can’t stop hot flushes entirely, research has found that CBT - a type of talking therapy that addresses your negative thought patterns - can be effective at reducing the duration and intensity of episodes.

The idea is that anxious thinking can maintain the symptoms of hot flushes for longer, so working to change your outlook can stop them in their tracks. Speak to your healthcare provider about being referred to a therapist, or try downloading a CBT-focused app like Bloom or Happify to get started.

If the self-doubt is really taking its toll, try to seek out colleagues who share your experiences

You might also want to ask your HR team if they can carry out a desk assessment, so you can discuss reasonable adjustments like installing a fan or moving your desk nearer to a window for some much-needed *breeze*.

What’s the deal with brain fog? 

Feel like you’re more forgetful than usual? Brain fog is a really common symptom of the perimenopause and it can really mess with your work motivation.

“Exercise is a really good tool for improving our mental acuity,” Dr Emma reveals. “As we move, blood starts flowing to our brains and studies have found that our cognition improves.” 

Scheduling a morning workout might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it can really help you to feel more alert later in the day when the midday slump strikes.

You could also speak to your GP about Hormone Replacement Therapy. The right type and dose of HRT, which is designed to replace the declining hormones in your body, can help you think more clearly, as oestrogen has an effect on the hippocampus in the brain.

What about perimenopausal fatigue?

One of the knock-on effects of our perimenopausal hormone change is broken, low-quality sleep and night sweats, which can make you feel pretty rubbish the next day.

“Try not to do anything in the lead up to sleep that is going to counteract your ability to get sleep,” advises Emma. "This includes looking at screens (as the blue light can inhibit the production of the sleep hormone melatonin), reading emails or ruminating about problems.” If you’re overthinking things, Emma suggests having a journal by your bed so you can ‘mind dump’ your worries before you switch off the lights.

At work, you could put in a request for flexible working so you have the option to sleep in a bit later if you’ve had a bad night’s slumber. 

Oh, and go easy on the caffeine too. “If you're having a mid-afternoon dip, don't be inclined to use a coffee to pick you up because the effects of caffeine lasts well beyond when we drink it,” warns Emma.

What if I’ve lost my confidence due to the perimenopause?

When you’re tired, feeling less sharp than usual, dealing with low mood and generally feeling not like ‘yourself’, it’s not unusual to lose your career confidence. In fact, a survey by the British Menopause Society found that over 20% of the working women believe the menopause had affected their confidence at work - and not in a good way.

If this is how you’re feeling, Dr Emma says you should be kind to yourself. “Practice self-compassion, journal your thoughts, and recognise that what you're experiencing is natural and that many others have gone through it too,” she advises.

“If the self-doubt is really taking its toll, try to seek out colleagues who share your experiences and create a Women's Network, where you can openly talk about any challenges and collectively approach HR about setting up a workplace policy.”

Another good place to start is to check out your employee wellbeing benefits, as there may be structures in place - like access to private therapy - to help you navigate the symptoms and the way they are making you feel.

The bottom line is…

You aren’t alone. While some women sail through perimenopause without so much as a bad night’s kip, there are loads and loads and loads more of us who struggle to balance the symptoms alongside work tasks and deadlines. 

Being vocal and proactive about the effects of the menopause at work is the best jumping-off point. Not only will it help you to make useful changes for yourself, but it also helps your employer to understand the practical steps they should take to improve the workplace for future staff members.

Sign up to our waitlist  to be the first to try CycleMapping for Perimenopause –  expert fitness and lifestyle advice for your hormones and symptoms

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