Anxiety impacts 50% of women who experience menopause according to recent research. Often this can show up as a lack of confidence, avoidance, social anxiety, loss of self-belief, and minimizing self at work. It can feel like a lonely place.
My Guest on the Hot Women Rock Radio Show this week, Sara Utley, is the founder of ‘Momentm’ – where women can access accelerated self-discovery and growth through coaching. Sarah specializes in mental health coaching through perimenopause, exploring issues such as confidence, self-esteem, identity, and purpose.
At this stage of life what you really want is to create momentum towards a more fulfilling and healthier mindset. There are practical steps that women can take for alleviating anxiety and to create a positive mindset.
Sarah’s career has been spent as a professional interim in human resources, running a successful business offering people and culture expertise through periods of organisation disruption and change.
‘My first job in HR was with Tate and Lyle and since then I have spent my career in this area. For 16 years I have run my own business as an interim and enjoyed a variety of project work such as change management, organisational design, restructures, and outsourcing.
I’m one of the one percent of women who go through menopause before age 40. I started noticing changes in my mid-30s. It began with weird menstrual periods. I could go months without a period, and then I would have a period every other week. Or sometimes I’d only have 48 hours between periods.
At the same time, I developed a growing sense of unease. I’d wake up in the morning and feel anxious. I would say to my husband, ‘I feel really anxious, I have no idea why. Why am I so anxious?’
And it was amplified at work. It played out in front of other people in a social setting. I’ve never been comfortable with speaking in front of huge numbers of people, it’s not something I enjoy doing, but I’ve not had a problem with it. In my mid-30s, I would go into a meeting and I would start having flight or fight symptoms. I would become really anxious, to the point where I’d have to leave the room and make some excuse.
I developed really bad habits and patterns of avoidance. I would try to minimize myself during meetings or do anything I could to get out of talking in front of people. The anxiety got to a point where I was just beginning to lose confidence in my ability, I was feeling really lonely and detached from life.
And the periods were something I just couldn’t cope with. I felt awful all of the time and I felt very alone because I saw people all around me who I felt were normal, confident or at ease. I reached out to my doctor and said this is what I am experiencing. The doctor said ‘You’re far too young for that. It’s probably just stress and burnout. Go and get some cognitive behavioural therapy’. I did and it was helpful to understand my thinking patterns, my feelings and my behaviour, but the symptoms continued.
Finally, I went to seek professional help from a specialist and gynaecologist. It all kind of came out in the room with her. We talked about it and I started taking HRT and it’s been game changing for me.
By that point I’d done loads of reading and I kind of have a scientific explanation for it. It’s called the HPA Axis Dysfunction. It’s basically a circuit of communication between the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary glands and the adrenal glands.
When you’ve got fluctuation in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, cortisol spikes. It runs around that circuit and basically, it’s the stress hormone, so it can make you feel anxious. It can make you feel depressed and really impact on your ability to feel confident.
Once the ovaries pack up, your adrenal glands are the main source of hormone production. And because your adrenal glands are so intimately involved in that HPA axis and how you feel, it’s really important to take control and to understand how anxiety and stress shows up in your life and what you can do, some practical things.
Sarah’s Top Tips for Alleviating Anxiety
- Make practical changes to your lifestyle. Be mindful of your diet by avoiding foods that cause stress. Reduce caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake. Exercise regularly. Meditation is helpful. Catch the negative thoughts. Thoughts are like clouds that can pass across your mind. You have a choice about how you engage with them.
- Stop judging yourself and stop caring about how others judge you. The experience of menopause can bring exhaustion and extreme fatigue. It doesn’t give you the space to care so much about what other people think. It gives you the opportunity to be in control of your own destiny, going forward in your own identity.
- Be compassionate to yourself. Women live very busy lives. There’s lots of pressures you’re going through at the same time as this huge internal hormonal change. And we’re our own worst critics. Give yourself space to think and time to indulge and to be kind to yourself.
- You are what you focus your attention on. If you want more positivity in your life, focus on that. It relates back to your reticular activating system, a bundle of nerves at your brain stem that filter out unnecessary information, so that important data gets through. It takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it.
- To feel more confident, try standing in the Power Stance for two minutes. Doing that releases the hormones into your bloodstream that give you confidence, energy, passion, and power.
- Build on your strengths. It is much easier to develop an existing strength than it is to try and develop something you’re not good at. Ground your confidence in your values so that you’re being really authentic and you can add purpose and meaning to what you do.
- Create a confidence wall. What are your achievements? What are your attributes? What positive feedback have you got? What are you really good at? You can build that map and have it on your wall so if you have a wobble you can look at it and remember how brilliant you are.
- Use breathing to control your emotions. It can be so powerful and beneficial to slow your breathing down. Breathing into your diaphragm and slowing the heart rate down can be really cathartic in the moment.
- Show empathy to other women. Empower the person you’re speaking with to make decisions for themselves. Shake off your views and create an opportunity for someone to bring through their authentic selves and stories without fear of fear of judgment. Ask questions to enable them to think for themselves and take the control back of what they need.
If you need support alleviating anxiety or managing your menopause symptoms contact me for a FREE 30 minute consultation.