How resilience can help us manage menopause
As part of our Lunch & Learn webinar series, we were joined by Danny Simmonds of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace and Silver Lining, to share some highlights from her Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace Resilience and Stress Management Masterclass.
Here, she helps us discover how to find our own inner resilience and tackle stress during the menopause.
Henpicked: Why is resilience important during menopause?
Danny Simmonds: Menopause tends to happen between the ages of 45-55. For some it will be later and others, sooner. This is a time of life when we’re dealing with many of life’s challenges: children, teenagers, health, parents, and bereavement. And with 8 in 10 menopausal women in work, many of us are also juggling work pressures and deadlines too!
As if this isn’t enough, we then have menopause. Menopause is a transition with various stages. During perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause, our hormones are starting to fluctuate and can go out of balance. This can be challenging for our bodies. Not everyone will experience symptoms in the same way, as we are all different. But these fluctuations mean on some days we feel really good and other times it can be hard to think how we’ll get through the day.
We liken this journey to being on a rollercoaster. So not only are we on a rollercoaster, we’re simultaneously juggling life’s challenges. It’s not really surprising that, for many, menopause can be a stressful time. And we know that stress and menopause are not good friends.
Resilience has many great benefits during menopause:
Firstly, it equips us with skills to manage stress more effectively and be at our best while we’re on that rollercoaster.
Secondly, it enables us to view menopause through a more empowering lens. To view it as an opportunity, mid point in our lives, to pause and consider how we can take the very best care of our bodies, minds and overall health and wellbeing, for the duration of our lives.
And thirdly, it equips us with the skills to talk openly about menopause so we can get the help and support we need sooner, rather later.
Henpicked: We’ve heard a lot about resilience this past year. But what exactly is it?
Danny Simmonds: Before I talk about what resilience is, I’d like to say what I believe it isn’t. Resilience isn’t about working harder and longer, regardless of symptoms. Or that we must be stronger, tougher and drive ourselves forward, wearing burnout as a badge of honour.
Resilience is the ability to respond effectively to pressures, bounce back from setbacks and find the strength to overcome adversity. And it’s different for everyone.
Perhaps most importantly, resilience builds our capacity to support ourselves, as well as others. When we are taking care of everyone around us, it’s really easy for us to drop right down the priority list, until sometimes we drop off it altogether. During menopause we need to be at the top.
Henpicked: Can you share some resilience tools with us?
Danny Simmonds: Absolutely. Imagine you carry within you a ‘Resilience Reservoir’. Sometimes it’s topped up and at other times it gets very depleted. Life with all its challenges, especially at the moment, pokes holes in our reservoirs. So our job is to ensure we plug up those holes as quickly as possible, so we are not working from a place of depletion, or running on resilience fumes. It’s normal for our levels of resilience to fluctuate. What matters is knowing the right level for you to be and perform at your best.
Every so often, just quietly check into your reservoir and compassionately ask yourself, without judgement: “What might I need to top up my resilience reserves”?
Maybe it’s to move away from your desk and go for a walk. Perhaps it’s connecting with a friend, or making something nutritious to eat. It’s also important to ask yourself if you’re thinking in ways that support, rather than sabotage. Our thoughts are really important during menopause.
Henpicked: That’s interesting. How does our thinking impact on menopause?
Danny Simmonds: Our thinking has a powerful impact on how we feel, behave and on our physical and psychological symptoms during menopause. When our thinking is unhelpful, we go into a vicious circle, and when our thinking is helpful the opposite applies. So our ability to understand and manage our thinking is key.
Thankfully the cognitive psychologists have given us a powerful set of tools. These help us identify the unhelpful things we say in our heads which create these vicious circles, increase stress and exacerbate our menopause symptoms.
They call them the 10 Thinking Distortions. I call them 10 Stress Critters, inspired by the film gremlins.
During challenging times, Stress Critter thoughts run through our heads attacking all our objectivity, rationality and perspective, leaving us with stress, anxiety and negativity. They also impact on our performance.
Henpicked: Would you share some of your stress critters from your menopause journey?
Danny Simmonds: Yes. At the beginning of my menopause journey, I was really struggling with cognitive symptoms. The first Stress Critter in my head was ‘I-Can’t-Stand-It-Itis’ (also known as Low Frustration Tolerance). It told me: “I can’t stand making so many mistakes!” I couldn’t remember my words and as a trainer, words were my job. And it wasn’t just words I was forgetting.
One day I drove halfway to a client and realised I’d not packed my delegate books. Suddenly I found myself needing check lists and putting Post-it notes all over my office. On a particularly stressful day this Stress Critter told me “I can’t bear not feeling like myself anymore”.
I also had a large ‘Focussing on the Negative and Discounting the Positive’ Stress Critter who said “my feedback scores are really not good enough”.
Finally one afternoon my biggest Stress Critter ‘Jumping to Conclusions’ said “It’s best for everyone if I stop working”.
You can see how devastating Stress Critters can be and why 1 in 4 women seriously consider leaving the workplace and 1 in 10 actually do. I was very nearly one of them and that’s why I am here today. No women should suffer in silence.
This is why it’s so important to challenge unhelpful thinking because Stress Critters make bad situations worse and poke holes in our resilience reservoirs.
Henpicked: Can you share a few tips to challenge unhelpful thinking?
Danny Simmonds: To help us challenge our Stress Critters the cognitive psychologists give us three powerful challenges.
Is my thinking logical? You might feel like you’re letting your team members down but that doesn’t logically mean you are. This is a useful challenge when you are finding yourself emotionally charged in a situation.
Is my thinking realistic? Often during menopause we waste a great deal of time and energy worrying about things that never come to pass in reality.
Is my thinking helpful, compassionate and kind? This is a helpful challenge for those of us who can be demanding and critical during menopause. It allows us to consider if we are allowing any fallibility, or vulnerability for self or others.
These powerful challenge questions help us to interrupt that vicious circle of unhelpful thinking.
Henpicked: Women can be hard on themselves, can’t they?
Danny Simmonds: A lot of women expect and demand so much more of themselves than they do from others. We’re often our own worst enemies, harshest critics and toughest drivers.
With this in mind, I’d like to share a resilient-thinking skill called Supportive Thinking. It’s what we need when we find ourselves focusing on the negatives, being unfairly critical, or overly demanding.
If someone you love was struggling, I’m sure many of you would immediately offer support and care. Sometimes we need to offer that same support and care to ourselves. The skill of Supportive Thinking is self-care and self-compassion. It’s such an important skill for us to practise on our menopause journey.
Next time you find your thinking becoming negative, judgemental or critical, stop and ask yourself “What would I do or say to my best friend?” and do and say this to yourself.
I’d like to encourage you all to actively integrate as many self-care practices as you can into your lifestyle. These will help you keep your Resilience Reservoir topped up.
Henpicked: If were to ask you for a couple of practical self-care tips to take away what would they be?
Danny Simmonds: Give yourself time to find the right approach for you to manage your own menopause. Remember, everyone’s menopause is different. For some it will be taking a natural, alternative approach, for others a herbal remedy, or some women take HRT. Self-care is finding what supports you.
It is about not allowing your Stress Critters to make you feel embarrassed, ashamed or uncomfortable talking about menopause symptoms. Self-care is ensuring you don’t wait until the holes form in your resilience reservoirs, before you ask for help. Talk to family, friends, colleagues and managers. There is help and support we can give to ourselves and each other, so we can all continue to thrive and flourish throughout our menopause journey and beyond.
Danny Simmonds of Silver Lining Training and Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace is one of the UK’s leading experts in resilience with 22 years’ experience helping people perform at their best during challenging times. She supports employers in the UK and internationally. As well as specialising in resilience, she is skilled in the fields of neuroscience, psychological health, behavioural science and the menopause.