How to effectively navigate what could be a fraught time
At a meeting recently, one of the women said to me, “You are so lucky; you still get your periods.”
This lady didn’t mean anything bad by it. I knew exactly where this woman was coming from… She is a decade older than me. I think she looks gorgeous and graceful in her 50s. But given the world we live in, and its obsession with ageism, productivity, youth, and fertility, navigating menopause is rarely without any bumps.
Another friend who has worked in leadership roles in corporate America told me that several of her peers had quit their job because they were struggling with menopausal symptoms and could rarely find established company guidelines, support, or even a sympathetic ear. It had finally started to impact their performance.
Did you know that currently, up to 20% of the U.S. workforce is affected by symptoms of menopause?
During menopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone, two powerful female hormones, drop. Many of my friends who are in their 40s have hit menopause. The sudden transformation made them feel less than and deprived of their youth overnight.
Women Going Through Transition
I started talking to women in their late forties and fifties — ones who’ve been through menopause — to get a sense of their journey. Some women reach this stage with a sigh of relief. A filmmaker told me she was thrilled when she hit menopause as she didn’t have to fear getting pregnant or deal with period pain. The transition wasn’t as seamless for all the women.
Some ladies felt they wer hit by a truck because they couldn’t keep up with their younger selves (or the younger women around them). The gray hair, dry skin, and low libido taunted them. They felt ageism in the workplace. For several women, menopause was a complete nightmare. They bled for several months straight and used up most of their sick leave as they entered menopause. While some battled weight gain others dealt with hot flashes or debilitating anxiety or mood swings.
The menopausal transition often begins between ages 40 and 55. It often intersects with a critical stage for women as it’s when women are most likely to move into top leadership positions, all while experiencing mild to severe symptoms. The entire process can last between seven to 14 years. But there are few open conversations around what menopause is and how it impacts both individuals and organizations.
Menopause and the Workplace
Research tells us that 1 in 4 women will consider leaving their jobs because of menopause, and that 1 in 10 actually do! Fast Company’s Women in the Workplace survey revealed that for 4 out of every 10 women menopause symptoms interfered with their work performance or productivity on a weekly basis. Seventeen percent have quit a job or considered quitting due to menopause symptoms. That’s a significant percentage of the “missing” female labor force. A survey by the U.K. Parliament found that a quarter of women who said they did not speak up at work about their menopause symptoms said they were “worried about the reaction” of colleagues and managers to asking for help.
Work-from-home wasn’t a common arrangement in most industries prior to the pandemic. In the new normal world, several employers expect their employees to return to work full-time in-person or maintain a hybrid culture. Many companies don’t have adequate infrastructure in place for women entering midlife and needing support during menopause. How do you keep a work-life balance in such a scenario?
What Ayurveda Says
Menopause is the absence of menstruation for 12 consecutive months. From an Ayurvedic perspective, menopause is the transition from pitta stage to vata stage of life. In this phase, the ojas, the essence of vitality, is compromised. The classical texts, or Samhitas, don’t label menopause as a disease, but it shows up as collective representation of conditions. Hot flashes, mood swings, heavy bleeding, osteoporosis, depression, neurological problems, and psychological issues are some symptoms that a woman might experience. Each woman is unique, and the symptoms represent the woman’s health, doshic status, and the levels of depletion in her reproductive tissue.
By entering menopause, you are entering the vata-dominated period of your life. The main qualities of vata are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle, and mobile. Know that pushing yourself will only exacerbate vata and push the body into sympathetic nervous system overdrive. Because of low ojas, menopause becomes a state of high sympathetic nervous system activity: cortisol levels increase, blood pressure increases, heart rate increases.
Ayurvedic support can ease some of pressure and help shift our perspective. It teaches us ways to prepare for menopause and deal with its aftermath. There is a lot written about “aging” in the Vedic texts. It focuses on building tissues using rasayana (science of rejuvenation) and vajikarana (vaji means horse, a symbol of power and vitality. Vajikarana means making a person powerful like a horse). In rasayana and vajikarana treatments, the woman feels rejuvenated, young, strong, healthy, vigorous, and sexually reinvigorated. You may want to work with an Ayurvedic practitioner to figure out what dosha is imbalanced (each dosha has its own symptoms) and get help for diet and lifestyle accordingly. You deserve care and nourishment.
Normalizing a Life Transition
The world won’t change for us, but if we shift our mindset just a little bit, things get easier. Menopause can be an opportunity to get to know ourselves. For many women, this stage of life means most responsibilities are over. You have the bandwidth to shift awareness within and focus on what you need. This is the time for deep reflection, insight, and contemplation. By no way does that mean you call quits on your dreams and ambition! It’s about finding a balance that nourishes you instead of rushing because that’s what others expect of you. As you shift into this life stage, self-care must be an integral part of your life.
Generation of women are suffering in silence in the workforce. They doubt their companies or bosses will support them as they transition into the vata stage of life. It might take years for industrialized nations or workplaces in any country to address what women endure during menopause so they can do well at work. It might take our society decades to dispel the negative conations around menopause. But we can rely on Ayurveda, ancient healing wisdom to navigate menopause and integrate it into modern day living.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained Ayurvedic coach and curious about what doshas are at play in your menopause journey, contact me.