Working through the menopausal transition..the first step is the deepest

Posted by on Feb 21, 2011 in Work/occupation | 1 comment

Back in July of last year, I wrote a post entitled ‘Working through the transition? Or is the transition working you?’ In it, I discussed some research being conducted in the UK that is looking at the effect of menopause and its accompanying symptoms on the work environment and preesenteism, i.e. impact on productivity while at work. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of women surveyed reported that their symptoms, namely fatigue and insomnia, were impacting workplace functioning and relationships with managers and co-workers. Less clear, however, were the roles of other factors, like perceptions and stress.

This raises one of the most common and yet inconsistently addressed issues during menopause: quality of life.

Quality of life is a subjective construct and one that is significantly influenced by a multitude of factors that intersect at any given time, factors such as how well we function, what we think about our lives, how we deal with stress, the type of social and economic support we have and overall wellbeing. And when you throw a bunch of symptoms like hot flashes, depression, anxiety, insomnia, backache, joint pain or forgetfulness on top of any of these, well, all hell can and does break loose!

When researchers looked at 184 women in both early and late transition to menopause who were part of the larger, Seattle Women’s Health study, they learned just how intricate the interrelationship between all these factors truly is. Indeed, among women in their mid to late 40s who were juggling work, families and relationships, the degree to which symptoms interfered with work most relied on how they perceived their health, their life stress and how depressed they were or were not. The findings:

  • Symptoms like hot flashes, mood issues, sleep issues, pain, or concentration had a significant impact on work productivity.
  • However, when researchers started to tease out and analyze the symptoms over time, they found that  how symptoms influenced how women felt about their health was most important. If women felt that their health was excellent or very good, symptoms tended affect their work productivity to a lesser extent than if they perceived their health to be poor or only moderate.
  • Perceived stress levels reportedly influenced both work productivity and social/intimate relationships.
  • Depression and difficulty concentrating were the final straws in the work/relationship back, affecting performance and the ability or interest in socializing or engaging in intimate or family relationships.

The one thing that these reports and the UK reports had in common were nighttime awakening.

So, let’s take a look at this. How we feel about our wellbeing affects work productivity, as does stress. If we are depressed or have difficulty concentrating, the ability to focus and be productive, either at work or in our worlds in general, starts to fall apart. Frequent awakening during the nighttime hours as a result of both aging and hormones can cause fatigue, depressed mood and concentration issues. In turn, this can influence how well we function  at work and at home and the quality of our relationship, to ourselves, our children and our partners.

The conclusion is that we need to step back, take stock and think about how we feel and how that is affecting our wellbeing and our lives.

The solution isn’t simple. Part of it lies in learning how to best address symptoms like sleep disturbances, depression or focus. The other lies in openly communicating to our work colleagues, our managers, our partners and our friends how productivity and our relationships may be suffering and actively involve them in finding solutions to improve wellbeing.

It’s hard work, no doubt. But the more insight we have, the better we are able to deal. And while it starts within, without it, the menopausal tendrils can extend far and widely into our lives.

The first step? Step back deep within yourself, and take stock. It may ultimately be the insight that you need to turn those symptoms on their side where they belong.

One Comment

  1. 2-22-2011

    Taking stock in a real and thoughtful way is worth every moment of time you invest.

    It was clear to me after cancer treatment, when chemo precipitated early menopause and tamoxifen confounded it, that what worked before wouldn’t work now. That was 12 years ago. I still have to “refine” my strategy very frequently and I agree with you, it is hard and it takes time. But what is learned along the way — or I did — is a delicious sense of empowerment. Damn, menopause may stink in some aspects but I am MORE “me,” more comfortable in my own skin, than I have ever been in my life.

    Take stock. Change your course. Find what’s good — and let the good times roll:)


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