The menopause is when women’s periods stop, their oestrogen levels drop and they’re no longer able to get pregnant naturally. It’s a natural part of aging but can also be brought on by some medical treatments such as surgery to remove the ovaries or womb, or chemotherapy or radiotherapy to treat cancer.
The NHS says that menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55, with the average age in the UK 51. But symptoms can begin earlier as your body starts to make the transition - known as the perimenopause - and carry on after.
What are symptoms of menopause?
Menopause affects every woman differently. Some women have no problems or just brief effects, but for others symptoms can last several years and even have an impact on day-to-day activities.
Common symptoms can include hot flushes, night sweats, reduced sex drive, anxiety and depression. But our member Emma Cullinan, of Kentish Town Counselling, says the menopause is a very personal journey for each woman and therapy needs to reflect this.
"Not all women have hot flushes and the majority don't suffer from depression," she says. “There are still unknowns regarding the mental effects of menopause. For instance, research has found no link between poor concentration and menopause, yet some women report one.”
Michèle Down is an executive coach working in the corporate environment. She says: “It’s frightening to realise you’ve become forgetful, distracted and unable to concentrate; that your emotions are unpredictable, your body is changing and you’re tired all the time.
“For some women, your sleep is affected, night sweats leave you drenched and your waking hours regularly involve catastrophising thoughts and high levels of anxiety. Sweats during the day are uncomfortable and public with embarrassing facial flushing you can do nothing about.
“You may crave food, gain weight more easily than before and find it extremely difficult to lose it. Your sense of your physical self changes with increases in weight, together with fear of never being the self you'd always been before, and the worry that to complain about it sounds superficial and ridiculous.”
How can counselling help?
Emma says there’s a danger of attributing all mental health issues in women over 40 to the menopause. Counselling allows women a safe space to explore a range of issues affecting their mental health, of which the menopause may be one.
“Women’s mental health is perceived to be at the mercy of their reproductive systems," she explains. "Menopause does affect feelings and its symptoms can contribute to feelings of sadness, anxiety and low self-esteem. But at this age women are juggling many things.
"They may be facing the end of a relationship, children could be leaving or returning home, or they may have an ill partner or parent. They may be challenged at work and face replacement by younger people or perhaps be in a dead-end job with nowhere to go."
Emma adds: “Therapy needs to explore what is at the root of any issues. It can offer tailored and wide-ranging help by addressing concerns in the context of culture, a person’s history and present, their family, relationships and how society regards ageing woman – as well as menopausal symptoms.”
How can coaching help menopausal women in the workplace?
Michèle says 'knowledge is power' and women understanding what they’re going through is key to coping with the menopause and thriving beyond it.
“The normal working environment seldom takes menopause into account and sadly, there’s little talk about it," she says. "Women often don’t realise what they’re going through and they don’t want anyone else to know.
"Women choose to stay silent and suffer. Who but the very bold will announce they’re menopausal and may need this taken into account?"
She says this is where an experienced therapeutic coach can make a huge difference.
“What’s so wonderful about coaching professional women in their 40s and 50s is that I can make a difference precisely at this time.
"I’m there when they begin to describe these changes, usually because they’re worried they’re suddenly becoming less effective, more tired, less resilient and have no understanding why this is happening. But they have physiological reasons for these apparently intellectual and emotional symptoms.”
Michèle works with clients to develop strategies to cope with issues such as working hours, juggling family and work life and body image.
“A coach who understands what’s happening can make a huge difference,” she says. “For women in key positions, being better able to cope during menopause will have a positive impact not only on them, but on their teams and beyond.
“And they, in turn, will be able to pass on their knowledge and experience to younger women approaching menopause, to provide a supportive environment at work and normalise the effects of this often challenging metabolic process.”
If you have any comments or would like to share your story, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What is counselling?
Find out how counselling works, what therapists do and what happens in a therapy session.
How to use our online therapist directory to search for a counsellor or psychotherapist by location, services or specialisms
How to get therapy
Where and how you can get access to counselling and psychotherapy, including free and paid for services