April marks Stress Awareness Month in the UK. Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives, and can be characterised by the feeling of being under too much pressure, either emotionally and/or physically.
Accounting for over 40% of work-related illnesses, stress is not a matter to take lightly. Many business owners now realise the significance of stress concerning not only staff wellbeing, but absence rates, morale, and levels of productivity. As a result, many companies have begun taking positive steps to help reduce stress levels within their organisation.
As we work to break the stigma surrounding mental illness in the workplace, it’s about time to draw attention to a related but lesser known topic: the effects of stress on menopausal women. Menopause can be a stressful experience for many women, and considering stress reactivity is heightened during this time, can have major impacts on those already struggling to cope in a high-pressure work environment.
The menopause typically affects women between the age of 45 and 55, with an average age of 51 in the UK. The number of women working past their 50s has hit a record high in this country, with around 3.5 million women still in employment. Studies have shown that a huge 50% of these women have reported difficulties coping at work due to menopausal symptoms.
How Is Stress Linked to the Menopause?
When you become stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Oestrogen helps maintain the level of cortisol in the body, but as you go through the menopause oestrogen levels decrease. This means that your body is unable to regulate cortisol levels as effectively as before, and the way in which you physically and emotionally respond to stress is impacted. It is a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle: stress feeds the body’s hormone imbalance, causing day-to-day stressors to be blown out of proportion and once again hormone levels are affected.
Some of the most common symptoms for menopausal women are hot flushes and night sweats, which are directly linked to stress and anxiety. For women displaying vasomotor symptoms such as these, the cognitive capacity is also affected. Problems with memory, confusion and decision-making are also common symptoms linked to menopausal fatigue, and can have a major impact on those attempting to maintain a high pressure job.
So, what can you do to help prevent stress, and how can you reduce the impact it has on you if stressful situations arise? We’ve compiled some of the most effective stress management tips for menopausal women in the workplace:
Take Regular Exercise
Exercise is a great way to reduce stress during the menopause, and has the added benefit of enhancing your mood and improving overall health. It helps increase the production of your brain’s “feel-good” endorphins, which boosts your confidence, helps you to relax, and improves your quality of sleep.
Even a quick burst of physical activity for 15 minutes can have huge health benefits, so if you don’t fancy running to work or hitting the gym on your lunch break, try a standing desk, or carry out some quick physical warm-ups before meetings. You’ll notice you feel more engaged, and your concentration and productivity levels will increase.
Mindfulness is a simple yet effective form of meditation that helps you focus your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Pick a normal, everyday activity (such as brushing your teeth or preparing your lunch) and do it mindfully. Bring your focus to exactly what you’re doing in the moment, instead of thinking about the past or future.
Carry out this meditation for a few minutes at least once a day – such regular mindfulness practice will help you cope during times of stress, and strengthen your ability to check in with yourself before responding to the stressful situation. Similarly, slow, deep breathing will help calm you down when experiencing stressful situations, and will give you time to stop and assess the situation before reacting.
Make an Action Plan
Identifying your stress triggers allows you to develop a better ability to take action and reduce those stressors. Practise teasing apart your feelings, thoughts and behaviours (both actual behaviours and possible action choices) in relation to a difficult situation.
If you struggle to do this in your head, map it out on a piece of paper. This will act as an action plan to help you choose the most effective way to respond in a stressful situation. Soon, you’ll naturally adopt this thought process in your head each time a stressful scenario arises.
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes wherever possible, as all have been known to trigger hot flushes. If you struggle to cut down on all of these things, try and implement small changes such as avoiding alcohol intake for several hours before bedtime, and swapping your usual afternoon americano for herbal tea, or even better, water.
Drinking the recommended 2 litres of water a day is beneficial for a multitude of reasons, including stress management – after all, stress causes dehydration, and dehydration causes stress. Consuming enough water also helps boost your alertness and concentration, reduces tiredness and makes you less prone to headaches.
Limit Your Screen Time
No matter how heavy your workload, ensure to make the time for regular breaks. Stepping away from your desk even for five minutes at a time helps give your brain a chance to rest, and standing up and moving around helps increase the blood flow to the brain, resulting in improved concentration and productivity levels.
Set aside a chunk of time each day where you completely disconnect from your phone or laptop. You’ll find this especially beneficial in the evenings, as the blue light from these devices disrupts the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Turn off your phone and lose yourself in a good book after 9pm each night, and your body and mind will reap the benefits.
If you’re going through the menopause and struggling to cope due to stress, remember that you’re not alone and that there are solutions to make things easier. Every day that we work together to help raise awareness of this issue puts us one step closer to building a better future for women all over the country.
Ready to make workplace wellbeing a priority? Get in touch to see how we can help you tackle stress in the workplace and create happy, productive and profitable teams.