Women generally hold multiple roles. They not only have their own
identities but are also wives, daughters, managers, mothers and friends.
Unlike men, women shift between these roles frequently. This constant
juggling of personas increases emotional pressure. Neurological studies
have documented that women have a greater number of interconnections
between both hemispheres of their brain than men. So, in essence,
women are biologically built to multitask.
Fear of failure. Many women are inclined
to “do it all” or “have it all.” Women want
to be successful in work, marriage, parenting, and friendship. With
this ravenous appetite for success, is it any wonder that women feel
totally stressed out? In fact, some studies have shown that women
can, at various points in their lives, experience stress so severe
that it’s similar to those of soldiers in combat. Take Swati
(28), for example, a single, attractive South Asian women who avoids
her friends and family whenever she gains a few pounds or gets a few
pimples. She feels a ton of pressure to “look good, no matter
what.” On top of the physical and emotional stress of weight
gain or slightly bad skin, she feels more stressed because she doesn’t
believe that she can reach out for support and understanding, thinking
that people expect her to be perfect.
Physical vulnerability. Women are more
physically vulnerable and need to be “on guard” more than
men. This need for awareness applies to traveling to and from work,
exercising outdoors or going out socially. Having to constantly worry
about personal safety can increase perceptions of stress.
Cultural pressures. In order to be seen
as successful, women must have good relationships, get along with
their kids, stay connected to their friends, do well at work, and
feel very confident about who they are and how they look. Additionally,
self-esteem is tied to appearance for most women. In fact, some psychological
research indicates that women lose up to 50% of their personal confidence
and esteem on days when they don’t think they look good.
This type of pressure is perhaps the most prevalent
for women who are in the “marriage sweepstakes.” Unmarried
South Asian women experience tremendous amounts of cultural pressure
to look good, meet a suitable boy, and get married quickly. Not only
must they contend with the demands of their lives as individuals,
they also must contend with an almost constant barrage of well-meaning
advice from parents, uncles, and aunties. When fledgling relationships
don’t work out, the women must also bear the weight of scrutiny
about each and every personal flaw - real or imagined.
Caretaking. No matter how much we push for
equality, women seem to be the primary caretakers. Frequently, they
defer their own needs to nurture others. This, in combination with
the other stressors women face, can be extremely exhausting. Stress
is a huge problem for women, especially between the ages of 35-40,
when women may be caught in the "sandwich" generation where
they are responsible for taking care of both young children and elderly
Are you too stressed?
While general sources of stress provide a framework for understanding
the role of stress in women’s life, how can you, personally,
gauge when your personal stress level has become too high? Watch out
for the following feelings:
*You feel bad, angry, sad, overwhelmed or depressed most of the time.
This may signal that your lifestyle is moving you into the exhaustion
phase of a prolonged stress response.
*You feel like you can’t relax, can’t
calm down, can’t “stop moving” for fear of missing,
failing, or losing out on something. The inability to relax or calm
down can cause a prolonged internal cascade of stress hormones which
can, eventually, lead to hair loss, weight gain, bad skin and digestive
*You feel hopeless and helpless about making changes.
You start to feel that there isn’t anything you can do to get
back in balance or make your life work better for you.
*You start to have eating problems, sleeping problems,
or mood problems, especially unexplained crying jags and high irritability.
Cortisol is one of the key hormones related to stress. The body tries
to get rid of excessive cortisol through crying. So if you’re
crying a lot, "for no good reason" - it can often be a useful
indicator of high stress.
So, how can you better manage your stress?
Get back to the basics. Eating well, eliminating
sugar, caffeine, and highly processed foods, can help calm your body
down. Avoid eating meals of pure carbohydrates as these can rev up
your system when you need it to calm down. Drinking enough pure water
(as opposed to sugary or diet drinks) can also help flush out any
excess cortisol. Sleeping enough can go a long way to giving your
body a chance to repair and maintain itself. Plus, aside from the
mental health benefits, these simple strategies will help you retain
your good looks.
Cultivate a long-term perspective. Practice asking yourself,
“Will this matter in five years?” Sometimes, taking a
more patient viewpoint can dramatically reduce your immediate stress.
Get clear on what’s most important to you in your life. Distress
arises when we live a life that is not in line with our deepest priorities.
If you value time with your family or friends, but you never seem
to have time to see them, you will feel more stress because you’re
not living according to what truly matters to you.
Ask for help. If you live a life in which
you focus mainly on what you do best, and get help for the rest, you
will feel more joy, satisfaction and a deeper sense of purpose.
Stress management is a skill that can be
learned, but once learned, needs to be actively practiced. Since you
might experience more stress than the man in your life, it’s
vital that you take time to manage your stress appropriately so you
have the time, energy and resources to devote to your own happiness.