Is your home office menopause-friendly?  Or is it making your menopause worse?

As a pharmacist and Certified Menopause Practitioner, I educate employees, managers, health and wellness specialists, and HR professionals about how menopause affects women in the workplace and how organizations can (and should) include menopause education and support as part of their holistic approach to employee health and wellness.  Women who feel supported by their employers cope better with menopause.

Sometimes work conditions and organisational factors—e.g.  stress, crowding, poorly-ventilated places, lack of access to appropriate toilet facilities, and formal meetings—can contribute to a worsening of menopause symptoms at work.

If you’re now working from home (WFH), it’s the right time to ask is your home office menopause-friendly?

It can be hard if you’re sharing the space with your family and don’t have your own home office.

Here are seven tips to consider when you’re creating a menopause-friendly home office:

1.  Temperature and humidity

If you can’t control the temperature without the rest of the family complaining, try working near a window that you can open or close as needed.  Or you can buy an inexpensive USB desk fan.

Dress in layers and remove or add them as needed.  If you have severe hot flashes, freeze a wet face cloth overnight and put it on your neck while you work.

My friend Rebeka Ly, co-founder of Addo Living, offered me a roll-on essential oils by doTERRA, called Clary Calm, that was very effective at relieving hot flashes.

Is your home very dry?  Invest in a portable humidifier and keep the humidity above 40%, if possible.

2.  Ergonomics

Aches and pains during menopause are a common complaint.  If your body is hurting since you started WFH could it be due to your home set up?  The ergonomics at home are probably less ideal than in the office.

Ensure your chair is comfortable and you sit upright.

If you can afford a sit-stand-up desk then invest in it.  It’s amazing and versatile.  Learn more about the desk here including how to set up your chair, computer, or laptop properly while sitting or standing at your desk.

I like the kneeling chair because it takes the weight off my hips and improves my posture by making slouching impossible.  You must use your abs and back muscles to sit upright and that improves core strength and posture.  It may take a few days to get used to it.

Stretch often.  We are bent over our computers for too many hours a day and it’s detrimental to our health.  Set up a timer to move around and do a couple of these stretches to combat the tightness that leads to back, neck, and shoulder pain.

3.  Breaks and lunch time

Don’t skip breakfast – your brain needs energy to work.

Don’t drink caffeine past 3 PM because it may linger in your system for up to eight hours and disrupt your sleep.

Avoid sugar.  Many women report more hot flashes with higher consumption of sugar and simple carbs (white pasta, rice, and pastries).  Sweeten your hot drinks with honey.

Plan and make healthy and hydrating snacks.  During your coffee break chop and eat fruit, carrots, peppers, and other colourful and nutritious vegetables that also boost your immune system and help you fight infections.  Leave them in the fridge for those munching attacks you’ll get during the day- you can eat as many healthy snacks as you want!

Make chickpea humus to add protein to the veggies to keep you satiated longer.  Have a light lunch, like soup and some whole grain bread to avoid the afternoon crash.

Water is very important for your brain, your skin, and it helps prevent coronavirus infection.  It may be easier to drink 8 glasses of water (1.5 L) a day if you remind yourself – fill a bottle with (cold) water and put it on your desk, ensure you finish it before your shift is over.  Need another reminder?  Set your phone alert for every hour (8 hours shift = 8 glasses of water!).  If your brain gets tired and your thoughts aren’t as clear drink a glass of water or go for a walk.

Note: stop drinking liquids three hours before bedtime to avoid going to the bathroom during the night.

Napping is very good for you if you keep it to 15-20 min, before 3 PM you avoid disrupting with your night sleep.

Can you work the hours you want?  Maybe taking a longer break in the afternoon and working in the evening will increase your overall well-being and productivity.

Note: wine is probably your worse enemy for sleep.  Don’t believe me?  Abstain from alcohol for a week and see how your sleep improves and you feel better rested and alert during the day.

4.  Commute-less.  Move more.

When WFH you save commuting time and your schedule may be more flexible.  Move.  Sitting is the new smoking.

Walk before you start working and at lunch, while keeping the recommended physical distancing during the pandemic.  Benefits of movement include: burning calories, better posture, increased blood circulation to the brain which improves cognition, and release of endorphins – the happy hormones.

5.  Meetings

Choose to join teleconference calls with no video so if you have a hot flash during your call you won’t feel so self-conscious.

6.  Stress

Work can have a negative effect on your menopause symptoms.

Stress and anxiety can increase the number and intensity of hot flashes.  Incorporate some calming breathing exercises into your work schedule.

Difficulty concentrating and remembering things (so-called “brain fog“) are very common during the years leading up to menopause (perimenopause).  Brain fog tends to lessen a couple of years after menopause (the last menstrual period).

Hot flashes, brain fog and lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your productivity and capacity to work.  Here are some tips for better sleep.

Do you suspect your work is making your menopause symptoms worse?

If yes, write down all that you believe could help decrease your work stress and decrease your menopause symptoms.  For example:

  • having my own work space at home
  • a better chair
  • better lighting
  • napping
  • moving more and sitting less
  • working fewer hours per day
  • working fewer days per week
  • sharing work with colleagues
  • more sleep
  • a flexible schedule
  • eating healthy and regularly
  • drinking enough water
  • mindfulness, relaxing, calming moments.

7.  Can you improve any of these on your own?

Which changes need your manager’s collaboration?  You should ask for an adjustment that will improve your working conditions and your menopause symptoms.

Don’t assume your employer isn’t interested in helping you.

There are plenty of reasons why employers should be aware of menopause and provide support:

  • women 40+ make up a large portion of the Canadian work force
  • it’s the law. Canada’s Employment Equality act says “…employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences”
  • employees and employers benefit
  • it’s the right thing to do

Need an icebreaker to start a conversation about menopause in your workplace?  Send your manager this link to an article I wrote about menopause at work published in the July 2018 Medisys Newsletter.

So, is your home office menopause-friendly?  It should be, and now you know what to do.

Teresa Isabel Dias is a pharmacist and a menopause practitioner (NCMP) certified by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). She lives in Toronto and all her services are available online-101 consultations, live workshops, and webinars. Sign up for her free biweekly MenopausED Newsletter to learn more about menopause and women’s health.

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