Menopause is when a woman's (information in this article is applicable in case of transmen, intersex and genderqueer persons as well) menstrual cycle ends - it’s confirmed a year after her last period. The phase leading up to it is called perimenopause during which some hormones are in upheaval and may rise or drop. These fluctuations can impact the woman and affect her physically and emotionally. Menopause — including the perimenopausal phase — is a five-year process.
Most women (who are experiencing menopause) struggle with the physical and emotional symptoms that accompany it. For some, this phase could also have an impact on their mental health. At the workplace, while some challenges come from the physical toll experienced during the time, most others arise from a lack of awareness from both the employers and employees.
When employers are aware and educated about menopause and its symptoms, they can easily extend the required support to employees who may be struggling through this phase and help them work effectively.
Physical and emotional changes
During this time menstrual bleeding can be a little erratic - gradually reducing and then stopping altogether., hot flashes, physical stress due to blood loss, difficulty sleeping/waking up and sleeping longer hours are some of the physical symptoms.
Emotionally, a woman going through menopause can experience mood swings, anger (that is circumstantial), loneliness, empty nest syndrome, grouchiness, irritation, emotional volatility and in some cases, depression (especially if she has experienced trauma, a bad relationship, loneliness, or is a caregiver).
While these changes are different for everyone, “For most women, menopause is freedom. It is a time when they truly begin to think of themselves and their needs.” says gynecologist Dr Shaibya Saldanha.
Cultural barriers, awareness, and transformation
Women who are in leadership roles are often expected to continue to perform even while they are going through menopause, or are asked to leave if they’re unable to manage their symptoms during this phase.Lynette Nazareth, also a former employee assistance program (EAP) consultant says, “Culturally, we have a long way to go in this respect. Women in India often take it on as just a part of life and don’t even talk about it.”
Women need to be aware of and educated about menopause and their bodies. They may need professional help and physical check-ups to understand their journey better.
Once that is taken care of, emotional changes caused due to hormonal imbalances need to be addressed. This is the time when women need to take care of themselves and begin to accept the changes their body is going through. Educating people at the workplace and also fostering a sensitive approach about menopause one of the ways forward through this stage.
What you can do for yourself
If you are someone who is going through menopause here are a few ways you can care for yourself during this time:
Practice physical exercises, yoga (lowers anxiety, helps manage panic attacks) or meditation based on what suits your needs and fitness levels. This will help keep you relaxed. Accept the changes that your body and mind are going through. Tell yourself that it’s okay to slow down while you’re experiencing these changes.
Volunteer your time to a cause you believe in. Altruism is known to enhance your wellbeing.
Be in the company of other people who understand this phase
Request for flexible work timings if required
Be a part of healthy support systems
“It is also most important for women to take time off. This may differ from person to person, and based on the doctor's advice they could ask for flexible timings and request for leave. In this respect employer sensitization can go a long way," says Nazareth.
How workplaces can support a person during their menopause
Menopause is a temporary phase during which it is possible to cope better when there is support. Some of the ways in which workplaces can offer support during this phase are:
Try to reduce stressors in the work environment
Ensure safe transport and clean restrooms
Offer flexible work timings
Don’t expect/allow late night work or long hours of work
Give them options to change their job profile if they would like to take up lesser work or move to lighter job roles for a limited duration
Offer support or set up support groups
Ensure they get regular time off from work
Draft a documented guideline on handling menopause with the help of women employees who understand the issues faced
Offer options (based on their need) to complete work from home, have limited hours, take a half day of work from home.
With inputs from gynecologist Dr Shaibya Saldanha, counselor Lynette Nazareth, clinical psychologist, and psychotherapist Ritu Chauhan, and senior IT leader Vandana Malaiya.