World Menopause Day is held every year on October 18th. The purpose of the day is to raise awareness of the menopause and the support options available for improving the health and wellbeing of women in mid-life and beyond. This year’s theme is ‘Cognition and Mood’.
A growing number of women who come to our menopause training say that one of the main symptoms they have is anxiety. Menopausal anxiety suddenly arrives on the doorstep like an over-chatty and overconfident frenemy, barging into your life and getting comfortable by pointing out every disaster scenario, character flaw or sign of failure that you may be secretly harbouring deep in your psyche. And more often than not, anxiety will sideswipe you whilst you are at work, trying to get everything done while trying to be professional and juggling countless responsibilities. It will ambush you in situations where you need to be professional. But instead, you can’t remember the name of the person you are talking to.
I say frenemy because the anxiety is also there to be your friend. It’s warning you, nudging you, alerting you to tasks that need attending, like paying a bill or switching the oven off. But it’s not helpful when it’s out of proportion. Although some could argue that there is already so much going on in the world that we can be anxious enough, without menopause adding to it! But menopause anxiety isn’t so logical as to be triggered by actual events. No, it just turns up in the morning and sits there balefully glaring at you, and you wonder, “Why?”, “Why am I suddenly anxious?”. To me, that’s a potential sign, along with other menopause-type symptoms, that something may be going on. Because most of the time, our anxiety has a familiar pattern and quality. Menopause anxiety feels different. How? Difficult to define, but there is a sense of “Why am I so anxious suddenly all of the time?”
Sometimes it helps just to know that it’s menopause related. Sometimes that is all it takes to start to quell the anxiety down. Sometimes treating some of the other symptoms, alongside treating yourself well, is all you need to see a significant improvement in your anxiety levels. Anxiety loves to tell you things that aren’t true. So for me, with my anxiety that can sometimes rival that of a nervy cat, realising that when I’m facing a group of women, a high percentage of them also have anxiety that has suddenly started as they went into perimenopause helps me know that I’m ok. Solidarity and sharing our feelings awakens the “tend and befriend” oxytocin hormone in our bodies, which works to buffer against the effects of anxiety.
Now, what was I saying? Oh yes, brain fog. The 2022 focus on Menopause Awareness Day is cognition and mood. Women can find themselves with cognitive deficiencies during menopause that affects areas of the brain that are generally associated with working memory, attention span, reduced processing speed, and diminished verbal memory. That’s why you might not be able to remember the words for objects you’ve known all your life. Like the lady in a local sewing shop who said to me recently, that she had forgotten the word for… well what was the word exactly? And here, she made a cutting motion with her fingers until her eyes rested upon the object she needed, the scissors. She is a seamstress. Scissors are her constant companion. She knows the word for scissors. She knows it in English and in Urdu. Yet here she is, this mistress of her craft, with words that have flown away.
But she was still able to use the scissors. She said to me her ability to do things, do her skilled job wasn’t diminished, in fact she was better at making dresses than she had ever been in her life – her eye skilled and her fingers expertly cutting and sewing something into existence that had never been there before. Just the mundane words for the tasks had gone. Another woman I met who interviews people said that she can still connect and extract stories and exciting ideas from the people she interviews. She just needs cue cards. A perfectly reasonable adjustment for someone skilled enough to extract a scintillating story from a guest.
There are many things we can do to help us remember. We can have reminders on our phone, we can stick post-it notes on doors, we can set timers and write lists and use apps. But the most useful of these is to tell others we have forgotten. And tell them why. They can sometimes help us adjust if we don’t shut them out. As much as we would want the world to make reasonable adjustments to us, we also need to tell the world what we need. One of the reasons we are seeing so much information out there in terms of menopause awareness now is that women are starting to speak out about what they need.
Whilst focusing primarily on women going through menopause, our trainings are informative for everyone! The training has also evolved to reflect the growing needs of men wanting to understand the menopause from the point of view of line managers or as partners, and covers some of the hormonal-related issues that they themselves might experience.
We are responding to the needs around menopause – both in and out the workplace. Needs that without continued awareness can be lost like words that we have forgotten.
Why not use Menopause Awareness Day as a springboard within your organisation to continue the conversation?
To find out more about our friendly and supportive Menopause Training for Managers and Menopause Awareness for Teams, please get in touch with us at Digital Bricks Learning.