For much of my life, I’ve been the classic ‘professional swan.’ On the surface, I had it all – senior roles in world-class corporations and all the material things that came with that. Underneath was a different story. I used elaborate ways of looking as if I was showing up, but of course I wasn’t. I did this to protect myself from being hurt or judged, humiliated, or misunderstood, only allowing the so-called ‘professional’ parts of me to show up at work leaving behind all the parts I judged as ‘messy’ at home.
I spent much time trying to please many people and yet often still end up merely feeling anxious, guilty, inadequate, tired, and overwhelmed with it all to saying Yes too many times, despite my inner voice screaming NO. Things began to unravel as I entered peri-menopause though, in truth, I sleepwalked into it with little understanding and even less awareness of how hormonal changes could heighten the stress and anxiety I was already experiencing.
Research commissioned by Healthspan indicated that 61 percent of women are suffering from anxiety due to the symptoms of the perimenopause. Along with lowering estrogen the reduction in progesterone, a woman’s ‘calming’ hormone, makes us feel more overwhelmed and easily stressed, anxious, edgy, and short-tempered. Particularly if we are already in the grip of a prolonged period of stress and anxiety due to dealing with young adult children, aging parents, work pressures and more.
The drop in progesterone can then lead to poor sleep, higher blood pressure, headaches, weight gain, and a suppressed immune system. I suffered from all of these side effects of many years of stress and overwhelm, which ultimately led to my menopause burnout: not a dramatic crash or adrenal fatigue that so many report, but a slow draining of any remaining joy from my life. Negativity took hold, and I didn’t see happiness in even the ‘good’ stuff. Only disinterest and cynicism prevailed.
So how did I turn my menopause burnout into something positive? It was a series of small steps initially — my friendship circle of conscious women and a chance encounter at an unrelated work event led me to mindfulness. I enrolled initially on an 8- week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program without any expectations. The great news is that a little mindfulness goes a long way. I quickly saw my health and mindset improved, I started to sleep better, and my blood pressure stabilized, and many of menopause symptoms dialed down. That initial encounter led to a 3-year deep immersion as I trained to become a mindfulness practitioner.
Mindfulness opened my eyes to what I needed to change if I was going to overcome burnout and to thrive in my life. In short, I needed to:
- Cultivate compassionate self-awareness, which is not our innate way of being
- Listen to my needs on a deep level, tapping into the subtle signals that body so generously sends
- Take responsibility for my choices and actions in life
and stop playing the victim
Mindfulness means being conscious of our values and of letting go of things that no longer serve us, delegating to others, or not doing things that are relatively meaningless. We need to ask ourselves, “What matters? My most significant insight was that I didn’t need to be that ‘E-type’ woman as described by Dr. Harriet Braiker (everything to everyone) but that instead, I have the power to say NO. If you can’t help or you don’t have the time or energy say a polite ’no’ as soon as possible and stick to it. No one is obligated, and you don’t have to explain why. Only spend your time, energy and money on the most important things.
For me, mindfulness has been the most transformative path for living a meaningful and fuller life. It hasn’t been easy, yet it’s genuinely been the most real and rewarding path of my life.
Best of all, mindfulness allowed me to pause, prioritize and then pivot direction and leave corporate life and follow my heart’s deepest desire. To truly find positivity and zest for life. My life’s work is now sharing this path and these practices with other women going through menopause, to inspire and support them to find their inner voices, to find what truly makes their lives meaningful, and to feel confident, calm and connected while being fully themselves as they transition to their ‘Second Spring’.