by clinical psychologist Deborah Golend
Life’s experiences can knock our confidence. Difficult times such as bereavements often make us feel more vulnerable and uncertain. But adapting to positive life stages can be just as hard. For women returning to work after raising a family or wanting a career change as their kids have fled the nest, confidence can be a particularly challenging issue.
Many women talk about ‘brain fog’ during the early years of parenthood but, whether we have had children or not, a new ‘brain fog’ often descends as the menopause hits. At a time when women often have more time available to pursue new business ventures, the menopause can wreak havoc on our confidence and reduce our ability to forge ahead with these plans.
Why does confidence take a beating during the menopause?
Traditionally, when men were out hunter-gathering, women stayed in the camp tending to the children in a collective manner, and remained on the ‘look out’ for potential predators/dangers that may threaten the camps safety. Neuroscience has shown that this capacity to nurture, to tend and care and also be ‘on alert’ is facilitated by a finely tuned balance of neurotransmitters and hormones. For example, oxytocin and oestrogen help us to connect and bond with others and adrenaline and cortisol at optimum levels allow us to have peaks of appropriate stress and then return to a calm state.
Once the menopause hits, fluctuating levels of hormones can throw us off balance. Progesterone and oestrogen help protect us against the impact that too much cortisol has on our bodies and this buffer against stress can weaken as these hormones fluctuate. oestrogen makes tryptophan, an amino acid which is vital building block of serotonin. Serotonin, the ‘feel good’ hormone, helps keep our mood happy and calm. When oestrogen levels go down, serotonin levels also go down, prompting dips in self-belief and a rise in anxiety.
The menopausal years are a psychologically significant life stage, as we naturally reflect on both our achievements and regrets. Old wounds from childhood can re surface. Negative media images can portray us as ‘invisible’. Together with the fluctuating hormones, a harsh inner voice that is critical of our short-comings and regrets and reinforces an idea that ‘it’s too late’, can emerge. With this internal narrative, is it any wonder that confidence falls?
How can we boost our confidence?
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can use our knowledge from neuroscience to tackle this issue more positively. Put simply, our brain chemistry and neural activity can change depending on our experiences. If we adapt our experiences correctly, we can influence some of the neurotransmitters that allow confidence to flourish.
Increasing serotonin calms the nervous system; raised levels of oxytocin helps us bond and connect with others and increasing dopamine allows us to explore and take risks. When these three are at optimum levels, we are more likely to trust ourselves and our ability to act. These adaptations can be very simple, such as thinking positively, reducing stimulating foods such as caffeine, or changing our posture, but can have a profound effect. Many psychological techniques used within mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other trauma therapies, also weaken neural pathways that lead to anxious and critical states and strengthen the neural pathways that lead to more positive and compassionate states of being.
Confidence boosting techniques
MeUnlimited workshops, run by Clinical Psychologist Deborah Golend, teach these techniques in a comprehensive way to help you approach your return to work with confidence.
Tips to boost your confidence during the menopause
In the meantime, the following tips can help:
- Look out for your inner critic and practice talking to yourself like your best friend instead.
- Pick one daily activity, such as brushing your teeth, and do this mindfully. Stay present with the experience, paying close attention to the smells, textures, sounds and sensations.
- Keep a gratitude diary, writing down 3 things each day for which you are grateful.
- Make one change to your diet, cutting out sugar or reducing caffeine.
- Practice sitting up and smiling before making an important phone call and notice the change in how you feel.
- Increase your physical activity, join a yoga class and/or take regular walks.
You can find out more information or book a MeUnlimited workshop here: www.meunlimited.org/meunlimited-locale