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Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause in the Workplace
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BY NINA MALKIN

Like so many women of a certain age, Betty Moore has had to manage menopause symptoms. Unlike a lot of us, she’s done so under a long black robe. A general sessions court judge in Memphis, Tennessee, Moore’s accustomed to ruling in front of up to 300 people, all cool, calm and collected.  Until… “I’d feel it creeping up on me, this intense heat,” recalls Moore. “Then it would burst and I’d have sweat pouring down my face and body.” There were times when she’d have to call a recess, leave the bench to seek relief. Once, slammed by the double whammy of hot flash and irritability, Moore went so far as to tell an attorney, “I don’t give a rat’s ass what you want!”

Because what Moore wanted—no, make that needed—was a break from the physical and psychological discomfort that struck on the job.  And, hey, don’t we all? A whopping 98 percent of working women between 45 and 65 have experienced hot flashes according to a new study by Pfizer and Working Mother magazine. What’s more, 75 percent have made changes to accommodate the condition in the workplace, 32 percent have tried to hide it and 12 percent have even passed up a promotion because of it.

All in a Day’s Work

“Women in the study reported various symptoms in addition to hot flashes that interfered with their work, including lapses of memory and cognition, and feeling tired—fatigue and concentration problems that commonly result from menopause-related sleep disturbances, primarily night sweats,” says Ivy Alexander, clinical professor and director of advanced practice nursing at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing. “Study participants also cited mood swings, depression and anxiety.”

Menopause may not only mess with your workday, it can set up a damaging cycle. Say you forget a meeting, struggle to make a key point or simply don’t get enough done. To compensate, you may log extra hours or take work home, causing you to lose more sleep and potentially doubt your abilities. So the time to take control is now. “There’s no single recipe that will help all women since menopause is so individualized,” says Alexander, author of 100 Questions and Answers About Menopause. “But it’s absolutely possible to find management strategies. So be your own advocate and learn all your options.”

Taking Care of Business

Step one is getting the best health care professional for you. “I went through four doctors—two male and two female—before found the one I could depend on to educate me, reassure me, and really be in my corner,” says Moore, who ultimately went on low-dose estrogen therapy and began feeling within two weeks.

Alexander also suggests the following to help alleviate symptoms on the job:

Lower the thermostat. Hot flashes and night sweats occur when the body can’t regulate its core temperature. Keeping the ambient environment just a few degrees cooler makes a huge difference. The sweet spot for sleeping is between 65 and 72 degrees.

Dress lighter and in layers. Breathable fabrics like cotton and linen allow for airflow. Wear a jacket or cardigan that you can remove as necessary, and get hip to the midlife fashion statement of scarves.

Track your triggers. Note when symptoms occur and what went on immediately prior. You may discover you need to avoid caffeine and/or alcohol, for example. Stressful situations may also prompt symptoms, and while these may part of your job, you might get a better handle on them through meditation, exercise, counseling and/or a support group.

Keep an emergency kit. A bottle of chilled water, a personal fan, a spare blouse, cleansing wipes and deodorant should be within reach at work.

Request flexibility. If sleep disruption makes it difficult for you to function productively in the morning, arrange to come in a bit later or work from home occasionally.

Yes, that will mean discussing your symptoms with your supervisor, and in fact only 31 percent of women in the Pfizer/Working Mother study claimed to be comfortable talking with their boss about the issue. But remember that menopause affects everyone—even if your boss is a man, he’s no doubt got a wife, mother or sister who’s had to deal with it. Be straightforward, use humor—whatever suits your style.

“It’s a fact of life,” says Moore. “We women don’t have to say, ‘I can’t do this or I didn’t get that because of menopause.’ If you act like you’re looking for a solution, those around you will react professionally.” Case closed!

An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an avid collector of lovely things from eras past—read her musings at http://www.vintagevirna.blogspot.com/

 

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