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Insights Thriving at work through the menopause

18 October is World Menopause Day when we raise awareness of menopause and help women make it a change for the better. 

Empower, our women's professional network has partnered with Henpicked. They are helping us get accredited as menopause-friendly. We're changing our policies and perspectives, from offering reasonable adjustments and sick leave to ensuring awareness with in-house advocate training.

"There's still a large stigma associated with menopause, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel uncomfortable talking about it, but it's so important that this changes."
–Practice Director
My symptoms started before the age of 45. I felt tired and achy, irritable and down, and anxious. I was sleeping badly, had abdominal pain and night sweats. 
I thought I was going mad.

I wish I'd known at the outset that my symptoms were associated with peri-menopause. I had undertaken complex roles in the organization for several years but had begun to feel unstable. I knew I wasn't my best self and doubted my ability to keep doing my job. 
My symptoms began impacting my life.

I had ideas and contributions in meetings but would forget them in the moment. If anyone was kind to me or asked me challenging questions, I'd end up in tears. I started to 'hide' from the workplace.
Support isn't always straightforward.

Many women are treated quite easily with first-line HRT options, but it has been trial and error for me. I still feel like I'm on a journey but am so much better than I was. I've lost the aches, night sweats, and my sleep has improved.  
Menopause in a male-dominated environment…

In our industry, people don't feel equipped to talk about menopause. Thankfully, I have a good working relationship with my line manager, and I felt comfortable opening up to him. He was sympathetic but clearly felt out-of-his-depth in the conversations.

"Due to my medical history, standard medicinal and herbal remedies are not an option. I manage my menopausal symptoms through exercise and planning and have received amazing support from my managers."
–Elizabeth H.
For me, it arrived suddenly during my cancer treatment. While I knew it could happen and expected to experience insomnia and hot flushes, no one prepared me for the psychological symptoms. These are difficult to manage as they peak and trough almost daily.
Support and resources through Atkins' Yammer groups.

Colleagues have helped me realize my feelings of imposter syndrome – wondering if I'm good enough to do my job – were in part due to the menopause. Although I've found the available material useful and have received amazing support from my managers, many people don't realize that menopause can impact younger women too.
I rely on our culture of flexible working.

To help boost my confidence, I ensure that I block out sufficient time leading up to any significant meetings or presentations for preparation and focus. I also block out longer lunch breaks to go for a walk or run. This exercise break vastly improves my concentration, motivation and productivity, especially after a particularly bad night's sleep. 

"No one should feel ashamed of menopause, and I don't want people to feel uncomfortable around me, so I now talk about it openly."
–Jill G.
My menopause journey started when I was in my late 30s early 40s, specifically hot flushes and initially random migraines. As for the last five or six years, the migraines have become debilitating for anything from four hours to two days. One of many new unwanted symptoms includes the need to frequently go to the toilet.

As a woman now nearing fifty, I've never felt so vulnerable.

For me, the physical symptoms aren't easy, but I can understand them and minimize their impact on my life. It's the psychological symptoms that I find so much more difficult to understand and manage. 

Brain fog is hard to cope with, but I haven't lost my technical knowledge.

Sometimes it may seem that I'm not concentrating or don't care about what we're doing. But this couldn't be further from the truth. I get halfway through sentences, and poof! I don't just forget what I was going to say; the whole topic disappears. I'm left embarrassed and frustrated at my perceived lack of professionalism. 

Managing my emotions can be difficult.

I have to be on the lookout for random mood swings. I must be mindful of my responses and temper them. I count to ten a lot to get my sense of perspective both at home and in the work environment.

It feels shameful and childish but completely uncontrollable.

As I look around, I see my ,leagues moving into senior roles at the height of their careers. But for me, the psychological symptoms of menopause have resulted in self-doubts, which knock my confidence, leading to anxiety and hidden bouts of crying for no apparent reason. This can be debilitating and, as with so many mental health issues, are completely invisible to others. 

The first step was to talk to my line manager.

I can understand why women who are going through the menopause transition leave the workplace. I so easily could be one of those women. My line manager was a little embarrassed initially, but our catch-up calls were a great learning experience for both of us. Being open and sharing my experience has led to the organization's support, including the Learning and Development team, Wellbeing team, our Mental Health First Aiders and Employee Assistance Programme.

Menopause is a natural process. 

People need to understand how it's affecting you to support you, as everybody's experience is different. As a line manager, listen without judging. People experiencing menopause need your understanding and support.

Find out more by visiting trusted sites such as nhs.uk/conditions/menopause. Employees can access a wealth of information and support from our Wellbeing Hub and EAP.

Join the conversation on social @InsideAtkins with #WorldMenopauseDay. Read about our Wellbeing team, our Mental Health First Aiders and Employee Assistance Programme.