The professional women in my world have prided themselves on managing all the challenges that come their way in life. This is why it can come as quite a shock in menopause to discover that all those things which you used to find so easy suddenly become incredibly challenging and difficult.
Here’s what happens.
As oestrogen levels fall, so does serotonin, which is your happy, calm coping chemical. At the same time, it’s really common for major life events to come along more frequently (marriages of children, divorce, death or major illness, parents in care, debt, redundancy, early retirement, starting a new business, to name just a few).
Your stress bucket starts to overfill.
What’s a stress bucket, I hear you ask?
Well, metaphorically speaking, we each have our own personal stress bucket, which manages our capacity for stress. Each day we add to it and each night, when we sleep well and we have good REM (which is Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, we empty it to start all over again the next day.
Serotonin, your happy calm coping chemical, and dopamine, your motivational chemical, help with this process by minimising the volume and impact of day to day stress.
So, when something out of your control does come along, like a pandemic, losing someone, illness, the availability of spare capacity in your stress bucket helps get you through it.
However, there’s a problem with menopause anxiety
When faced with the usual day to day stresses of life, plus a few big life events thrown in, not to mention the anxiety of menopause itself, plus the reduction in serotonin, your stress bucket gets overloaded.
You simply can’t empty it as fast as you fill it. And so, the stresses and anxieties accumulate like compound interest on a mortgage, leading to feelings of negativity, forgetfulness, confusion, self doubt, or a sense of your mind.
Without even realising it, you’re building up chronic stress which leads to anxiety. Even if you don’t think there’s more stress in your life, it gets harder for your brain and body to deal with the stress you already have. Maintaining your mental health and positive, coping, capable attitude goes out of the window.
So, what can you do?
Think of your key responsibility in life as keeping that stress bucket as empty as possible (both for your own mental well being and for the sanity and welfare of all who know you!).
This means doing two key things which maintain balance:
- Learning how to stimulate the growth of positive neural pathways to compensate for oestrogen-depleted serotonin production. Which is a mouthful. Simply put, learn to focus on what works and what feels good.
- Learning to let go of the small stuff that doesn’t really matter and probably never did (like frustration in traffic, impatience, perfectionism)
Mastered in tandem, these two key changes increase your long term resilience, so you get better and better at facing fresh new challenges and hurdles as and when they arrive.
What do you do when other people stress you?
What happens when someone around you is experiencing something emotional or traumatic – or projecting their own stress and drama onto you? This could be a one-off experience or a regular triggering situation with a member of your family, a partner, client, boss or colleague.
It’s as if someone else puts their own stress and drama in your bucket. All that work you’ve done on creating those wellbeing strategies and dealing with stress and menopause anxiety unwinds and unravels.
When what someone else does or says repeatedly leads to you becoming upset, frustrated, scared, angry, sad, or any other negative emotion, what happens is this: you stop focusing on the present, the here and now, and instead become consumed in negative thoughts of the past and the future, quickly adding to your bucket overload (because those thoughts never turn out well!).
It’s in this moment you need to stop.
Stop other people overloading your stress bucket. Instead, maybe for the first time, make yourself the priority. Think about what you can do to help yourself, how would be the best way to react to make yourself feel better. You are the main thing that matters.
It’s hard when it’s someone close to you
When a loved one is upset or hurting in some way, it feels right to step in and want to be supportive. In fact, you may offer them space in your stress bucket without realising it.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with empathy, sympathy, support and kindness. However, continued over the long term without firm boundaries in place is not helping you -or them.
Remember, you can only change things for yourself, not for others. The truth is that you need to learn to take care of your own mental wellbeing first. Just like when you are on a plane, “Before you assist others, always put your oxygen mask on first.”
The key to stopping others using your stress bucket is to be resilient and take control. You may need to become more assertive and create some firm, clearly defined and expressed boundaries. It’s your stress bucket after all.
If you overload it, everybody suffers, starting with you, then rippling out into every nook and cranny of the environment around you. It impairs your work, and your ability to succeed or feel happy in business and in relationships.
The main message?
Break the stress bucket cycle and do what is right for you. It’s unrealistic to say that everyone becomes perfect overnight. But by working on how you would like to react in stressful situations, how you would like to improve your wellbeing, you will notice incredible changes in your life, building up resources to help you through the tougher times, or as we like to call it here, mental wealth.
If you’re a professional woman ready to conquer overloading your stress bucket and overcome that frustrating midlife and menopause anxiety, schedule your free menopause anxiety freedom assessment