Regular guest contributor Barbara Mark, PhD, takes us through the challenges (and learning opportunities) of perimenopausal rage. What’s really going on here?

Some of the most challenging aspects of perimenopause in the workplace are hot flashes, foggy brain, fatigue, and memory loss.

But the most potentially career derailing is the out-of-the-blue, white-hot, I’m-going-to-rip your-face-off rage. It is incredible and seems to come out of nowhere!

You don’t like it, your colleagues and direct reports are frightened of it, and your boss may want to fire you because of it. Not to mention that your usual sources of support – your spouse, kids, friends – are wondering where their you went. It is time to get a handle on it!

Why does rage happen?

What is going on here? Starting sometime in your late thirties to your mid-forties, your hormones start to fluctuate wildly. Specifically, your estrogen levels are going nuts and your progesterone level is declining. Progesterone is a natural antidepressant and also prevents anxiety. When your estrogen drops, so do your serotonin and other mood- and stress-moderating brain chemicals. This dance can continue for a while until your hormones stop the wild fluctuations and your body gets used to your new chemistry.

As a result, irritations, annoyances, frustrations can escalate to rage in an instant. This is further complicated by the above-mentioned hot flashes, fatigue, etc.

Brain chemicals called “neurotransmitters” (serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, aka adrenaline) are chemical messengers that allow brain cells to talk to one another. They are all involved in the development of perimenopausal rage.

When you have high levels of dopamine and serotonin, your emotions and reactions to events are more positive, and you are able to let things go more easily.

When levels are low, and you encounter an event that spikes your adrenaline and triggers your fight-or-flight response, you are much more likely to fly into a rage. So, when a team member fails to deliver, or your boss is demanding that your performance be better, or you are threatened by a peer, instant rage can take hold of you.

What to do, oh, what to do about hormonal rage?

In the short term – like in the moment that you are ready to fly into attack mode – stop and breathe.

Stopping and taking a few deep breaths can give you a moment to gather your wits, calm you down, and let you say “I need a moment” in whatever way is most comfortable you in a given situation.

(Need a moment? Check out our rage checklist for tips on how to get your chill back.)

In general, you can manage your brain chemistry by making a few good choices:

What was THAT about?

When you are in a calmer state of mind, it’s time to look at what you may be angry about. Rarely are we truly angry about the thing that’s happening when the flash of rage occurs.

The issues that women tackle at midlife are challenging and can cause a woman to question herself, her choices, her identity, and her possible future. These are big and deeply rooted issues around energy levels, sexuality, attractiveness, mental acuity, ability to compete with younger colleagues, and perceived opinions of others.

However, women are discouraged from expressing negative emotions, especially in the work environment. This is related to the “likeability bind” that women are in. So, rage is waaaaaay out of the continuum of options! As a result, women repress a lot of feelings of frustration, disappointment, irritation, sadness and confusion – only to have them erupt later, when they’re in a “safe” place for their rage.

Midlife can also resurface unresolved issues from other aspects of your life – issues with family, relationships, career, and friendships – that keep your vulnerabilities alive and ready to pounce.

You can reel in the rage

Know this: You can reclaim control! Take the time to face and deal with any underlying issues and resolve them, because when a difficult situation catches you off-guard and triggers your emotions, your hormonal “party” can light your fuse in an instant. Whether you snuff it out or blow up is (mostly) up to you.

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Barbara

Barbara Mark, Ph.D. is an elite leadership, career and life strategies coach and advisor to senior executive women. For over 35 years Barbara has worked with thousands of professional women seeking to maintain inner balance while facing diverse external demands, personal ambition, and the desire to feel satisfied and fulfilled personally and professionally.

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