THE BLOG

Lost for Words? Be Mindful...

27/08/2013 12:06 BST | Updated 25/10/2013 10:12 BST

Going back to university at 50+ was never going to be easy. One day I was talking to my tutor, discussing aspects of my thesis, when a hot flush struck. Blood sped to my face, increasing pressure alarmingly like a kettle on the boil. My face bubbled with sweat. The discussion stopped abruptly and my mind went blank. I took out my notes, but nothing made sense. I sensed my tutor wondering whether this was a total no hoper sitting before him.

Sometime later, I faced a three-hour exam. Images from textbooks played vividly through my head, but no words. It was like watching a silent movie. Half an hour passed. I panicked. Was this what losing one's memory felt like? I scrabbled for a solution. Slowly, I started focusing on my in-out breaths, bringing mindfulness to the breathing - with the clock ticking remorselessly in the background. Suddenly the words came flooding back, faster than the hand could write. Phew, I finished the exam just in time!

At this age, many women are at the top of their career ladder and should be looking forward positively to the future. But these jobs often come with pressure to communicate effectively. Any shortcomings will be embarrassing and can contribute to a loss of confidence. Introducing a client to a colleague, and, oops, you have forgotten her name - or both their names! Or friends have to rescue you by filling in a long, awkward pause. Worse, what you utter comes out all wrong, straying all over the place, and not what you meant at all.

How can these memory blockages happen to a reasonably intelligent woman like you? Without an understanding of what is going on, they can lead to isolation, even depression. Meanwhile, prolonged anxiety can further impact negatively on memory. Some women become disheartened and fear for the worst, contemplating stepping down from their job. Their frustration with their own verbal deficiency may come out as aggression towards their peers or irritability with their staff.

Foggy menopausal memory has been attributed to a number of causes, ranging from low levels of oestrogen to hot flushes, which affect the blood flow to the brain. Or to a rise in cortisol, caused by sleeping problems due to night sweats, or stress, which kills off brain cells and impairs memory.

The good news is this: you are not alone. This problem is more widespread than you may think. Not all menopausal women suffer from it. Some barely notice it. But many do. Sufferers need help and support, at work and at home, to avoid further damage to relationships. Those around you need to be informed of the symptoms so they will not take your verbal frustration and impatience personally.

Happily, menopausal foggy memory is not permanent. It wears off after a couple of years, but problems with an ageing brain may follow in due course. Try to keep the brain active with word games, writing, reciting poetry and singing from memory. Regular physical exercise also helps with endorphin release and improves memory.

At the same time, keep your mind clear, calm and alert with mindfulness meditation. Its cognitive health benefits have been supported by a number of recent neuro-imaging studies. Known for its versatility, mindfulness can be practised anywhere and at all times, while sitting, standing, walking or lying down. Practising it in bed last thing at night will promote better sleep - thereby improving brain functioning.

Most importantly, mindfulness brings attention to the present moment. It allows you to look at the arising thought and emotion in a non-judgmental manner, rather than reacting or bottling things up to become emotional toxin. A peaceful mind is priceless. It creates room for better cognitive function and helps you to become more productive at work.

Finally, make sure you keep your sense of humour. Turn this whole memory issue into quality time with your family - let them try and guess the missing words in your sentence! Have a good laugh at the ridiculousness of your plight. The laughter will help release endorphins, alleviate your worries, reduce stress, improve your memory and make you feel good.

Your memory may not be perfect but at least you can be a mindful colleague - and a mirthful mum!