Improving your health and wellbeing at any life stage

15 December 2021

Empowering female employees

"Throughout my life, I've had experiences that have caused me to consider how our mind and body and our performance are connected," Lauren explains.

"For instance, waking up at 21 on the day of a significant judo team selection unable to move from my neck down. Or at 37, when I was six months' pregnant, being offered a termination. And then again, in my early 40s, when I left my job, thinking I had early-onset dementia. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was 'just' menopause.

"The key hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, play significant roles on many of our body functions. In turn, this can impact how we feel, our behaviour and, ultimately, our performance. The great news is that, the more we learn about how our bodies work, the better we can embrace these fluctuations and live our absolute best life.

"When we learn the effects of mindset, nutrition, our friendship groups, the movement we may take each day, our exercise, our hydration levels, and having the right support around us, we can really start to work in flow with our bodies.

"Often, in times of need or curiosity, we can turn to 'Dr Google'. We can also find that quite confusing and get conflicting information, not knowing what to do or what advice to follow. That's why I'd like to share some of these findings and three decades of research and practical implementation on myself and countless clients across the globe," she adds.

What, however, in practical terms can female employees themselves do to help?

Improving your health and wellbeing at any life stage

Executive health coach Lauren Chiren outlines some key tips to enable female employees to better understand their own life stages and lifecycles; how female employees can optimise their health at all stages of their career and, indeed, how male colleagues can develop a better appreciation of these issues, too.

Nine ways to take more control of your health and wellbeing

1. Understand your health may fluctuate

When we think about women's life stages and lifecycles, they are fairly predictable. We know we are going to go through menstrual cycles. These are driven by the rise and fall of oestrogen and progesterone every single month.

But months will vary from woman to woman. We may have fertility challenges, experience pregnancy or miscarriage. Ultimately, should we be the lucky ones who live so long, we will want to successfully navigate our menopausal journey.

So, what is important to know is that, naturally, we will feel, look and behave differently, depending on the hormonal fluctuations we are experiencing. Learning what the levers are that we can control helps us make sure we live our optimal life.

2. Work to embrace a positive mindset

When we recognise that our brain's most primitive function is to keep us safe and alive and repeat tomorrow what we did today, we can begin to understand why habit-0change can be so challenging.

So, learning how to embrace a positive mindset is key. We are sadly pre-dispositioned to having more negative than positive thoughts every single day. So understanding that our 'primitive' brain is there to keep us safe and our 'thinking' brain can override it is a great starting point to being able to control your mindset.

Clearly, it can take some work and it can be done, with a bit of practice. Using our 'thinking' brain just to step back, take stock and think about the thoughts, feelings and actions that we might have in relation to the circumstances we may find ourselves in can help us make conscious decisions about what our responses to circumstances are.

That creates choice, which enables us to change the habits we have created over a lifetime. So, thinking about our mindset is really important to how we manage each and every stage of our life.

3. Be aware of the value of hydration

Maintaining good hydration is an area that often comes up when working with employers. When we consider that 60% to 70% of our bodies are water, depending on our age and hormonal fluctuations, it is important that at all times we remain hydrated.

We can tell fairly simply if we are hydrated by checking the colour of our urine. If we're running pale yellow or clear, then we are probably doing OK. Unless of course we are taking medication or eating foods that will change the colour of our urine, a bit like beetroot for example.

4. Keep active, but also be aware of your limits at different times of life

Exercise is, of course, important for all of us throughout our working life.

For female employees, however, it is important to be aware of the impact on, and limitations sometimes created by, women-specific health issues, such as pregnancy or menopause as well as more general issues, but which often affect women, such as osteoporosis.

When your hormone levels are changing it is important to understand where you are at in your cycle, where you are at in your pregnancy, or your menopause. Because at different times at different stages, we know that different kinds of exercise are going to benefit us more.

For example, when we get to the third trimester of pregnancy, clearly we would not be doing any heavy-strength training or lifting or doing new exercises that we haven't done before that our bodies are not used to. Because we know our ligaments are more lax and we wouldn't want to overstress them.

When our hormone levels are fluctuating severely during our peri- to post-menopausal transition, again, we need to think and listen to our bodies. Because how we rest and recover is going to change, and it is going to be different to what we have done in our earlier years.

During menopause, for example, we want to do more impact exercise to protect our bones, weight-bearing exercises to continue to build our muscles at a time when, sadly, bone and muscle integrity naturally declines.

5. Recognise the importance of carving out 'me' time

While, again, this is a health message that will resonate with all employees, it is especially important for mid-career female employees who are perhaps struggling to juggle work with childcare and family responsibilities plus possibly taking the lead in caring for elderly dependents.

At midlife, we often get consumed by looking after everything and everybody else. So often, looking out for number one is the last thing on our list. But it is really important to our wellbeing. If you are around people who are achieving things you aspire to, that can really help you to take that one step forwards.

Equally, we know that sharing what you are going through, what you are experiencing in life, can have a huge impact on your mental health and help prevent feelings of isolation. We know that a problem shared is the first step to a problem halved.

6. Take more responsibility for your health

Again, this is a health message that can have value for all employees - for example encouraging men to self-check their testicles for lumps or getting a prostate health check once they are in their 40s.

For female employees, however, understanding changes in your body, being proactive around self-care - such as checking your breasts for lumps or attending NHS screening when called - is a vital part of taking 'ownership' of your health. On top of this, being aware of how monthly hormonal changes may affect how you approach work, your productivity and performance, can be of self-evident benefit.

"Self-care is so important," Lauren emphasises. "When you're going through your monthly cycle, for example, there are times of the month where you might be feeling more reflective or more analytical. There are times when you are going to want to do more practical activities. There are going to be times when you are going to want to be around people and perhaps when you want to have some more alone time.

In order to set yourself up for success, it is important that you carve out time for you every single day at all stages of your life. Give yourself a chance to recognise where you are at in your cycle, or your fertility or your menopause.

Looking after yourself - after all, who else is going to do it? - is an activity that can help you to just get out of your fight or flight stress response into that calm, rested, digested state. Where you can make better decisions, you are more creative, and feeling calm is key. You can't be in both at the same time.

7. Prioritise sleep, and good sleep

Getting into a good sleep routine is valuable for any employee, but it can be an especially so for female employees.

Sleep is key; it is critical. When we are going through the significant hormonal shifts, it is perfectly normal for sleep to be disturbed.

Learning how to foster a great night-time routine and setting yourself up for the best possible night's rest is so important. A good morning and evening routine is worth the investment of time. You will reap the rewards in increased focus, higher energy levels and an all-round better sense of wellbeing.

8. Think about breathing exercises or meditation

Spending a few moments each day to set ourselves up for success is so critical. Some find it very helpful to just spend two minutes in the morning to download all the thoughts in their mind at the start of each day. Just two minutes. So they can structure what is going on in their heads and then prioritise what they are going to invest their energy in. That can save rework, procrastination, and feeling overwhelmed.

Equally, it is important to have a power-down hour in the evening. To work, reflect on the day, acknowledge what is going well and express your gratitude. If you are feeling particularly stressed, having a moment just to do a breathing exercise - breathing in and out consciously for even just two minutes - can really help you to restore calm.

Perhaps journaling or mindfulness, or maybe meditation, is your thing. Recognising that you are the master or mistress of your own body; that you have the choice and taking responsibility for your experiences is part of the basic building blocks to your overall health.

9. Trust your women's intuition

"Tap in to your intuition, your gut; trust yourself to know what's right for you," Lauren recommends. "When you begin to trust yourself, you will know when to reach out and ask for help and support - from family, friends, your employer, or maybe even your medical team.

Too often, clients come to me when they've reached a crisis point. As women, we can often soldier on, thinking it is a badge of honour to suffer in silence. And it is not. It is a sign of strength to ask for help and support, early. We wouldn't stand by and witness a loved one in any sort of pain, so why do we allow ourselves to suffer?

I believe we have to look at ourselves as a complete human. We must look after all aspects for ourselves and not treat things in isolation. We need to be aware of the daily choices we make, our mindset, hydration, who we interact with, the way we move our bodies, the foods we eat, how we set ourselves up for success for the day ahead and a good night's rest.

All of these things influence how we think and behave and, ultimately, affect our performance. There is nothing more rewarding that witnessing others harnessing their inner power, boost their vitality, increase their influence at home, work and beyond and step fully into their personal power.

About the author

Nic Paton is one of the country's foremost journalists on workplace health, safety and wellbeing, and is editor of Occupational Health & Wellbeing magazine. He also regularly writes on the health and employee benefits and health insurance markets.