Part 1: How women can prepare themselves.
“I feel ripped off that no one talked to me about it.” ¹
“Why didn’t anyone tell me? This is a change of life I was not prepared for at all.”
“Before I had my period at 13, I was told some stuff, but no one sat me down to have the ‘time of life’ conversation.”
These are the voices of the Australian working women I interviewed just over a year ago, about their experience of menopause.
I can certainly relate. In 2018 I noticed my short-term memory and concentration were faltering and I had no idea that this ‘brain fog’ could be a symptom of perimenopause – the years leading up to the final cessation of periods. I hadn’t heard a thing, not a squeak – not from my mother, not from three older sisters, not from my older female friends and certainly not from other professional women.
‘Sssh, don’t talk about it’ seemed to be the default position, especially amongst many working women who feared being perceived as not up for their jobs, if they did talk about the M word.
The high cost of this silence is that too many women don’t know what to expect during the menopause transition and therefore don’t know how best to support themselves.
Knowledge is power. So here are my key tips for women in their late 30s to early 40s to increase the chances that the menopause transition will be an empowering one.
- Be aware it can start younger than you think. The average age of menopause, (defined retrospectively as when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 months) is 51. The range, however, is from 45 years to 55 years and it’s actually during peri-menopause, the years leading up to menopause, when symptoms can be the most difficult. Peri-menopause lasts about four to eight years. Some women could therefore start experiencing symptoms in their late thirties.
- Educate yourself about the early signs of menopause. Here’s a list of quality sources of information to get you started.
- Don’t blame menopause for all your woes. Sure, the increased exhaustion and irritability many women feel during midlife, could be an early sign of menopause. But it’s just as likely to be due to saying ‘yes’ one too many times. And the weight gain? Research tells us it’s due to metabolism slowing down with age, rather than hormones.
- Prioritise your health and wellbeing, now. Healthy living can help reduce symptoms. For example, alcohol, caffeine, stress and smoking are common triggers for hot flushes, and cutting down on these will help. Don’t wait until you are in the thick of symptoms and feeling drained to try and tackle addictive tendencies and create new habits. Start now.
- Address any back log of unresolved issues, now. Menopause offers women a great opportunity to re-asses their lives and ask – what needs to change? It’s not called “The Change” for nothing! I truly believe that some of menopausal symptoms, such as outbursts of anger, are in-part fuelled by women putting up with stuff for way too long. If ‘stuff’ is building up in your life, start addressing it sooner rather than later. Otherwise, as one interviewee said, “if you don’t do the [inner] work, menopause will bring you to your knees.”
- Find a great women’s health doctor, now. Many women complain about the long time (sometimes years) it took them to find a good practitioner to support them. If you don’t already have one, ask around to help you find a great doctor who specialises in women’s health who can support you now, and who is also well-educated about menopause, for when the time comes. Note: GPs do not receive specific education about menopause in their training – they need to do their own education about it.
- Don’t freak out about the negative stuff. Bad news travels further and faster than good news which is no doubt why so many articles about menopause in the media focus on how menopause is ruining women’s careers, marriages and youthful bodies. Remember that while about 20 per cent of women do have severe, long lasting symptoms, another 20 percent don’t have any symptoms at all and the remaining 60 per cent experience mild to moderate symptoms.
- Try looking forward to it! Did you know that the upsides of transitioning into your ‘third act’ can include an increasing sense of liberation, steadiness and authority?
Given that women who have more positive attitudes towards ageing and menopause, experience fewer severe symptoms, it makes sense to examine your beliefs and create a supportive mindset for yourself.
- All italicised quotes come from women interviewed by Thea for her Women, work & menopause research. You can download the report at thea.com.au/menopause