Leading Through Menopause: A Journey of Resilience and Change
By Caroline Pankhurst, Shape Talent Women’s Coach
I have been peri-menopausal for a few years now, and I can confidently say I fall into the 44% of women who say their ability to work has been affected, the 61% who lost their motivation to work, and the 52% who lost confidence. This confession comes from someone who is a purpose-led women’s coach, dedicated to supporting and accelerating women in their careers. The irony is not lost on me.
At times, my symptoms were so debilitating that I didn’t even recognize them as perimenopause. Instead, I found myself grappling with crippling panic attacks, uncontrollable anxiety, and dysfunctional thought patterns reminiscent of past post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experiences.
While research on the relationship between trauma and perimenopause is not abundant a book recommended to me by a menopause expert (Second Spring, Kate Codrington) shed light on a connection I had not considered. This revelation allowed me to regain some control over what was happening to me through understanding it better.
A study conducted by Carolyn Gibson, a clinical research psychologist, revealed that individuals who have experienced trauma in their lives often face a particularly challenging perimenopause to menopause transition. Many report a resurgence of emotional symptoms and worse physical symptoms than those who haven’t experienced trauma, with an emerging hypothesis that fluctuating estrogen may play a critical role in fear extinction and hence PTSD vulnerability and symptom severity in women.
I can’t help but wonder how different my experience might have been if I had known what to expect, given the indicators were there. Knowledge truly is power. Recognition, awareness, and communication have the potential to significantly impact women’s experiences of menopause.
I consider myself fortunate that I find it easy to share with people I trust, and I am surrounded by incredible women. Through sharing my experience, I discovered stories shared from women who had taken themselves to hospital thinking they were having a heart attack, left their jobs, closed businesses, ended relationships, or even taken a year off. I was now in the arena with these women, having battled our way through the juggle of children and careers, only to be sidelined by another force of nature while often juggling caring responsibilities for elderly parents too.
As a coach, I work with many women at this critical transition point in their lives. Some sail through it effortlessly, while others have an experience like mine. It is crucial that we all feel able to provide or access the spaces we need to discuss this, raise awareness, and find our way through.
As a single parent, there was no option to leave, take time out, or close down. Weathering the storm was the only choice. However, I discovered that none of us are ever truly alone, and with the right support in place, the worst of times can become drivers of growth and change.
I share this because, whether you are reading this as part of an organisation or as a leader, you have the power to create the best conditions for those who will experience menopause. You can ensure they are prepared and equipped with the support, awareness, and communication needed to navigate this phase effectively.
For organisations and leaders, this might mean:
- Menopause-Specific Policies: Develop policies that cater specifically to menopause-related challenges, ensuring women have the support they need.
- Raising Awareness and Communication: Foster a workplace culture that encourages open conversations about menopause, reducing stigma and increasing understanding.
- Leveraging Employee Resource Groups: Create or support employee resource groups dedicated to menopause, providing a safe space for discussion and support.
- Making Flexibility the Norm: Promote flexible work arrangements that allow women to manage their symptoms effectively while continuing to contribute to the organisation.
By taking these steps, organisations and leaders can empower women to embrace this natural phase of life with confidence and resilience, ultimately benefiting both the individual and the workplace as a whole. Together, we can shape a future where menopause is a supported and understood part of every woman’s journey.
If you’d like to discuss how Shape Talent can support can support your organisation with menopause policies get in touch.
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- Estrogen and extinction of fear memories: implications for post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. Glover, Ebony, Jovanovic, Tanja. Biol Psychiatry, August 2015: 78(3): 178–185: doi: 10.1016).
- Exploring the mutual regulation between oxytocin and cortisol as a marker of resilience. Li, Yang, Hassett, Afton. Arch Psychiatric Nursing, April 2019: 33(2): 164–173: doi: 10.1016).
- Adverse childhood experiences and risk for first-episode major depression during the menopause transition. Epperson, C. Neill, Sammel, Mary. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, March 2017, 78(3):298–307.
- Associations of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and posttraumatic stress disorder with menopause symptoms among midlife and older women. Gibson, Carolyn, Huang, Alison. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2019; 179(1):80-87.