Menopause, the Brain, and the Workplace

Menopause, the Brain, and the Workplace

How the stigma around menopause can exacerbate neurological symptoms and what we can do about it by Kashaya Stewart.

Menopause, often considered a natural phase in a woman's life, has emerged as a complex and multifaceted subject of interest. Although menopause is a reproductive transition state, it also signifies a significant shift in neurological functions (Monteleone et al., 2018). This is evident in the fact that a multitude of menopausal symptoms have a neurological basis, including symptoms like hot flashes, disrupted sleep, mood fluctuations, and memory lapses (Monteleone et al., 2018). The neuroscience of menopause unveils a captivating journey into how hormonal fluctuations can significantly impact women's lives, especially within the workplace (Myhill & Sang, 2023). Moreover, the stigma attached to menopause adds an additional layer of complexity, affecting not only women's emotional well-being but also their cognitive function.

Menopause, typically occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, is characterized by a dramatic decline in the female sex hormones, primarily oestrogen and progesterone (Mosconi et al., 2021). The brain, a highly sensitive organ, is intrinsically tied to these hormonal fluctuations, leading to various cognitive and emotional changes (Mosconi et al., 2021). However, the stigma surrounding menopause can exacerbate these challenges (Li et al., 2023).

More than hot flashes

The hippocampus, a region vital for memory formation, bears the brunt of oestrogen’s decline (Maki & Thurston, 2020). Studies suggest that this hormonal shift can lead to memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, and slower information processing (Mosconi et al., 2021). The stigma attached to menopause can further impact women's self-esteem and confidence, potentially exacerbating cognitive challenges. The fear of making mistakes or appearing forgetful in the workplace can lead to increased stress and reduced cognitive performance (Myhill & Sang, 2023).

Furthermore, oestrogen plays a pivotal role in emotional regulation by modulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine (Mosconi et al., 2021). As oestrogen levels dip, some women may experience mood swings, irritability, or even symptoms of anxiety and depression. The stigma surrounding menopause can exacerbate these emotional challenges. Women may feel compelled to hide their emotional struggles due to fear of being judged as less competent, leading to added stress and emotional strain in the workplace (Myhill & Sang, 2023).

In addition to memory and emotional challenges, sleep disturbances are a common aspect of menopause (Salari et al., 2023). Menopausal women often grapple with insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns (Salari et al., 2023). Sleep is crucial for cognitive functioning and emotional well-being (Gava et al., 2019). The chronic sleep deprivation associated with menopause can affect a woman's performance, making it more challenging to manage demanding workloads (Myhill & Sang, 2023).

Moreover, the brain's stress response system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, undergoes alterations during menopause (Nathan et al., 2020). These changes can lead to heightened stress reactivity and increased vulnerability to stress-related disorders (Nathan et al., 2020). In the high-pressure environments of the modern workplace, managing stress becomes even more crucial (Myhill & Sang, 2023).

The neuroscience of menopause, as it relates to memory, cognition, and emotional well-being, is inherently intertwined with the societal stigma attached to this life stage (Rowson et al., 2023). Workplace stigma directed at menopausal women is a multi-faceted issue that can manifest in the form of ageism, sexist stereotypes, and misconceptions about women's abilities during this phase (Rowson et al., 2023). This stigma can deter women from seeking support and accommodations, further compounding the emotional and cognitive challenges they face (Rodrigo et al., 2023).

Breaking the Stigma

Understanding the neuroscience of menopause and addressing the associated stigma empowers women and employers to navigate this transformative stage effectively. Promoting inclusivity, providing education and support, introducing stress reduction initiatives, offering cognitive training, and encouraging self-care are strategies that can help women manage the impacts of menopause and stigma in the workplace (Rodrigo et al., 2023).

Written by Kashaya Stewart

First Published: 28th April 2023

Last Updated: 13th February 2024

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