Despite being a normal life event for a woman the symptoms of peri-menopause can be devastating, especially if you are still in the midst of raising a family and increasing your profile at work. A 2018 study found that 41% of women felt that peri-menopause symptoms had affected their productivity at work. In my previous blog Peri-Menopause: The last workplace taboo I opened up about my own experience of trying to understanding my symptoms and the initial steps I had taken to reduce their impact at work. While it is important that we have menopause friendly workplaces there is also lots that we, as strong women,can be doing to help ourselves. A good starting point is to realize that this is the perfect time to stop playing at being superhuman - our bodies just can't cope while going through this momentus change. So how do we go about learning to be kinder to ourselves and move away from being superwomen whilst also maintaining busy careers?
Be Selfish: give yourself time to think about your vision and values
I know that many of you will be feeling overwhelmed right now, over burdened by balancing work and life. And now on top of this comes the run away train of peri-menopause. As the ever wise Dr Seuss notes in 'Oh, The Places You Will Go' "un-slumping yourself is not easily done". You may feel you have no time for yourself right now, but now is the time to be selfish.
Peri-meonapuse is a tricky period characterised by lack of sleep, memory fog, anxiety, hot flushes and night sweats to name but a few symptoms. There are treatments available but for many it's a long process of trial and error to find the right fit and nto all your symptoms may be 'solved'. So building up a strong mindset during this time is vitally important, especially in relation to your career.
In January 2019 I learnt about the amazing work of Professor Sonja Lyubomivsky and her views on what determines happiness. Sonja's thesis concludes that a significant portion of our happiness is inherited. If like me you are not a naturally optimistic person then your next option is to change your circumstances, but due to human's inate hedonic adaption this can often lead to only a short term increase in happiness. Sonja suggests as an alternative that we all focus on changing our overall mindset to increase personal fulfillment. One way to do this is in relation to your career is to learn what your personal motivators are and what your work vision looks like.
I started this process early last year focusing on my work values and you can learn more about my journey here. By being clear about both my life and work values I am now able to still make good choices even when I'm feeling overwhelmed with peri-meonpause symptoms. They provide me in essence with a guiding light and when I'm faced with a decision that I'm uncertain of, which has increasingly happened during peri-menopause, I always stop and think about what choice best meets my work values and vision.
My work values are education, collaboration, storytelling, variety and stakeholders. In the real world this means I will prioritize opportunities that let me communicate new ideas to my stakeholders via thought leadership.
I appreciate the above process may seem like a big mountain to climb. However, realistically learning to thrive during peri-menopause is not just about practical steps such as a USB fan but about changing how your make decisions. Its about accepting that this is a time for you to really understand who you are and what motivates you. I really opened up to my kids and partner about the process I went through to find my values and vision and they gave me the time and space I needed to undertake this process. Talking to those around you to help you find the physical time and mental energy to do this process is vital to help support an optimistic and growth mindset in relation to your career.
Be Wise: 'create' time to be more strategic
Another big issue for me and I'm sure many others with non stop busy lives is time. I'm sure I'm not the only one that wakes up after a bad night sleep to a hectic household and then moves onto an even busier workplace to finally return in the evening to start the evening routine with the kids. So now is the time to learn to use your time more strategically, remove any energy vampires and learn to delegate.
As we all know there are only 24 hours in a day and we can't realistically make more time, but we can learn to 'create' more time. At work I've learnt to be far more strategic about planning my day, re-evaluating my calendar and I've even started putting in place microboundaries. As an example I'm now far more strategic about meetings, only accepting meeting invites when I know why I need to attend and more importantly what I would contribute.
I've also started to try chunking meetings that I'm in control of into the afternoons, when I have more social energy. I also actively block out periods of time in my calendar for when I know I would like to do deeper uninterrupted work. Each time I move between different types of tasks I'm using mental energy. Shifting too often between different types of tasks can led to mental exhaustion, and right now I don't have lots of energy to waste.
Finally an important way that I've learnt to create more time is to get better at delegating. One way I've done that is to follow the following mantra - if it needs to be done at all does it need to be done by me? Whenever any new work task or client enquiry comes in my first thought is who else in my team could answer this best. As a type A perfectionist this has not been an easy decision to make but it is one that I took years ago when I decided to move to working part-time. As I'm not in the office all the time my colleagues are used to stepping up and in fact that's why many join my team - because they get stretch opportunities that could be otherwise be unavailable to them elsewhere. At a time when I'm already feeling overstretched delegating is an important tool in my coping toolkit.
By being strategic about my energy and my time I'm learning to 'create' more at work. Obviously your ability to 'create' time varies depending on your role, but by thinking outside the box most of us can create more time to give our over-stretched peri-menopausal brains some breathing space.
Be Brave: Share the parenting load
While there is no set way to be a working parent there are ways that better help you decide how to allocate the physical, and even more importantly the mental load of parenting, to ensure that both parents can thrive. This is especially important during prei-menopause when many women are often a full time worker and full time household manager. Now is the time to start the discussion about sharing the parenting load.
As part of my process of sharing the parenting load I always ask myself two questions;
Am I communicating the parenting load enough? I know this may seem like an odd place to start but by opening up about the magnitude of your families parenting load you start the process of sharing. This could be at a regular household meeting, a virtual or paper calendar or a to do list. By increasing the transparency of the parenting load both parties are better able to see how they can help each other. The allocation of tasks could be based on natural skill/available time or they could be parent agnostic in which case either parent can and should take turns to pick them up. As part of this you need to also be honest about your available mental and physical strength during this tricky time of your life.
Can we afford to outsource more? None of us are superhuman so accepting outside help is vital. If you are lucky enough to live near family that is great but the reality is that many people live far away from family support networks so outsourcing is an important way to stay sane. Outsourcing can take many forms including childcare, a cleaner, buying in ready meals, sending shirts to the launderette. Whatever your choice it is important that both parents agree what should be outsourced first, that you can afford it, how will manage the outsourcing and then any remaining tasks discussed and re-allocated.
Once you've allocated the parenting load it is equally important to also give yourselves leeway. The aim is to strive for a longer-term balance while accepting that right now the balance might need to fall more on your partner, especially if you are still figuring out the right treatment to help with your symptoms.
By learning to be more selfish, wiser and braver you can move away from superwoman and prevent a burn out at work through mental overwhelm during peri-menopause. Good luck!
All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.