When it comes to assessing business threats, we naturally think of ‘the competition’, advancing technology, or political situations. You may be well-prepared to swerve a change in tax legislation, a cyber attack, or even a pandemic.
But if you’re a woman and have reached your 40th year, there is another potential threat to your business right under your nose.
Hormones. Or more specifically, lack of awareness of what your hormones are up to during your 40s.
If you think that the menopause is a long way off, you could be right. However, it’s not the menopause that you should be concerned with, but the perimenopause – which is the transition to menopause and usually starts in your early 40s.
Don’t be fooled by it’s sweet sounding name
Although 20-30% of women breeze through perimenopause but 20-25% have a nightmare. The rest suffer to some degree or another.
For freelancers and solopreneurs, any type of ill health is a risk to business, even the flu. As a woman, there is an estimated 70-80% chance that you’ll suffer from symptoms related to menopause during your 40s.
Symptoms can go on for 6-10 years and during most of this time, you’ll be having periods as normal. This is why most doctors don’t recognise the symptoms themselves as menopausal (they probably only had two hours of training out of 7 years on the subject – but that’s another story). It’s quite common for women in their 40s to end up on the health merry-go-round, being misdiagnosed and suffering for years on end.
Perimenopause can surface in a multitude of ways and cause absolute havoc
I was in the 20-25%.
My symptoms started at the age of 42 with short, sharp episodes of what I thought was burnout. I would ‘hit a wall’ and be totally exhausted for 24 hours, as if I had just run a marathon. I never suspected hormones would be the culprit. I put it down to work stress and reduced my contracting hours, losing thousands of pounds in revenue.
Then I had a marketing business where I managed to work around the burn-outs. I did ok, but could have done so much better if I hadn’t been laid up in bed with exhaustion or zombified with brain fog for roughly 25% of the time.
Things gradually got worse, and worse. The strategic plan for my current business was delayed by a whole year – not due to the pandemic but because of symptoms becoming more severe and more frequent. They got so bad that eventually I was down to 20% of my normal capacity, through migraines, depression and exhaustion.
And I’m one of the luckier ones. Some women have to give up work completely.
Which is why it’s imperative for women to be aware. I’m not saying this will happen to every woman – it won’t. Just that if you’re in your late thirties or early forties, it’s a good idea to get clued up on hormone health and avoid being taken by surprise.
We need to talk about menopause
It seems incredible that something that affects 50% of the population is hardly talked about, but things are starting to change. More conversations are happening and specialists are appearing to meet the needs of women going through perimenopause, like Vanessa Giannos.
Vanessa is an HR expert and leadership coach currently undertaking a PhD in Menopause. She is passionate about helping other women avoid the suffering that she went through due to lack of awareness in general and within the medical profession:
“Doctors have no real knowledge, including female doctors in their 40s. Even with the recognition of menopause, most doctors will focus on the climacteric and vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats), which they can prescribe HRT for (hormone replacement therapy),” says Vanessa.
“In fact from the research there are many predictors of symptoms and HRT may not actually be the right solution. There are 7 stages of menopause and there is more to it than just progesterone and estrogen. In fact it is a whole-of-body issue. From research we know that menopause is a bio-psycho-social-cultural phenomenon.
There are many coping strategies that are shown to be super helpful with menopause. But the real trick is to prevent symptoms in the first place. The earlier the women start the better.”
During perimenopause your body is essentially going through a second puberty – in other words, a major upheaval. It needs your support. So if you embed a healthy lifestyle before you hit your 40s, your menopause journey is likely to go along much smoother.
Preparing for perimenopause
The stress response system in the brain called the HPA axis is key to your menopause journey and needs to be in tip-top condition.
This means reducing stress externally and internally (emotional issues, trauma), moving your body and eating healthily avoiding toxins.
HPA axis dysfunction can result from chronic stress, nutrient deficiency and sleep deprivation. So it’s vital to work on reducing stress, getting regular exercise and eating a nutritious and toxic free diet and making this the norm.
Add yoga and meditation to your weekly schedule. Check your diet. Lower your consumption of alcohol, or seriously consider giving up altogether.
“Alcohol shrinks the brain, in particular the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates the HPA axis… not a good situation.” Lara Briden ND, author of Hormone Repair Manual.
What to do if the perimenopause hits you and your business
Two years ago I had to start organising my schedule around my monthly cycle. Headaches, muscle aches and mental confusion that made it very difficult for me to link ideas or remember words. Very heavy bleeding left me feeling weak. I had to start looking for information and try to reduce all these symptoms. Some I have managed to reduce with vitamin and mineral supplements, others still accompany me, and every month I continue to organise my professional agenda around ‘those days’.Vanessa Rojano Gómez – Spanish language teacher & life coach
1 – Keep a symptom & cycle diary
This is something I wish I had done sooner. If you keep track of all health issues as they crop up you may see a pattern that coincides with your menstrual cycle, then you can plan your work around those days instead of being taken by surprise.
Bear in mind that before you know it, one symptom can turn into a deluge of different health issues, from insomnia and depression to heavy periods and restless legs. This in itself creates a lot of stress.
“…there are about 40 associated symptoms”, says Vanessa. “The difficulty is that whilst many coincide with menopause, most are generally about something else, (e.g. thyroid issues, gut issues, poor liver function, inflammation, stress, ageing), but may be exacerbated by menopause.”
Keeping a diary will help maintain your sanity – and help you explain clearly to the doctor what is happening and get to the bottom of what’s really going on.
2 – Give up alcohol, now
During perimenopause your brain is going through a substantial neurological transition and recalibrating itself.
So you need to do all you can to support it, which includes eliminating the toxins you ingest, alcohol being the biggest culprit. It literally shrinks the brain, not to mention that processing alcohol is extremely taxing on the body.
Some women’s perimenopause symptoms disappear completely after giving up booze. If your symptoms are impacting on your business, then see alcohol as stealing money from you. That should make it easier to quit.
3 – Reduce stress, now
As a business owner, this can be a tricky one. This is about supporting your health through a difficult transition which is similar to pregnancy, and we’re all familiar with the advice given to pregnant women. It’s time to set some boundaries and get some regular relaxation where you truly switch off.
“We know that stress, including work stress exacerbates symptoms and difficult symptoms create lower levels of resilience resulting in higher stress, creating a vicious cycle,” says Vanessa Giannos.
If you find it difficult to set work boundaries, relax or get a good night’s sleep, you may want to try CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which has been shown to be almost as effective as HRT in alleviating symptoms.
4 – Vitamin & mineral supplements
Medical practitioners working in the area of women’s health will tell you that magnesium is critical for women. Magnesium and vitamin B can stabilize the HPA axis, alleviating a lot of perimenopause symptoms but Vanessa points out:
“It’s important to get to the functional medicine lab first before taking any supplements, especially bioidentical hormones. You can make matters worse when you don’t actually identify where the dysfunction is.”
5 – Think twice about joining online support groups
“Mindset is critical to alleviating symptoms. So joining a support group that is all about negativity and tirades is the most unhelpful thing you can do,” says Vanessa.
“Whilst it is nice to know others are suffering, the more you feed a victim mentality the worse things get for you. Avoiding negative spirals (which can happen like lightning in menopause) is critical to every woman’s quality of life.”
If anything, join a women’s business group where you can get positive support in finding solutions to keep your business thriving whilst dealing with health issues.
Stay positive, get support
Perimenopause is tough for millions of women and for a business owner (and perhaps a mother on top of that), can be a lot tougher. Ask for support from those around you. Also, there are some fantastic holistic coaches out there who know about menopause and can assist you in working through the psychological issues. Drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch.