Just under 200 years ago, the biggest trials women faced were that of fighting for their fundamental civil rights — the right to vote, attend university, earn minimum wage, the list goes on. Today, we’re closer to equality than ever before in North American history, but women are still battling. This time it’s against an often silent killer whose effects are becoming increasingly prevalent for women — stress.
Research shows that we need more women leaders to build a better, more sustainable future. Unfortunately, it also shows that women face greater social, psychological, and biological risk factors for stress-related conditions, something only amplified as women climb the corporate ladder.
Unique Challenges Women Face in the Workplace
According to a 2015 study on stress published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, young and middle-aged women are, in any given year, experiencing more stress than that of their male counterparts, and tend to “report greater stress and stressful life events than men, potentially because of their different roles in family life and work, as compared to men.”
Professor Daniel Freeman of Oxford University and author of The Stressed Sex reports that in the “first systematic investigation of national mental health surveys,” psychological disorders, ranging from depression to phobias, were 20-40% more common in women than in men.
This statistic, unfortunately, comes as no surprise. As Freeman so aptly puts, “It’s certainly plausible that women experience higher levels of stress because of the demands of their social role. Increasingly, women are expected to function as carer, homemaker, and breadwinner — all while being perfectly shaped and impeccably dressed: ‘superwoman’ indeed.”
This is a challenge unique to women. Not only do they struggle with double standards, less pay and breaking glass ceilings in the workplace, but they’re also expected to be the primary caregivers, to be “present” and giving partners to their spouses, to maintain house affairs, and keep up with social activities. On top of all that, they’re “bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection’” that mainstream society insists they aspire to. As a result, women’s bodies are constantly releasing stress hormones that are wreaking havoc on their physical and mental health.
Research has shown that women of colour are even more vulnerable to health hazards brought on by stress. According to Dr. Meredith Marten “people who experience more discrimination and encounter racism have a higher risk for negative health outcomes, in part because of the stressor of experiencing discrimination”. Based on this research, both race and gender are significant risk factors for stress.
How to Combat Stress
On International Women’s Day, as we continue pushing for equity, it’s important to take a step back and acknowledge our reality. It is increasingly hard for women to maintain a balanced and happy life, let alone their sanity, and we are only beginning to observe the detrimental long-term effects that this sort of lifestyle has on mental and physical states.
As a researcher and expert in human motivation with over 10 years of clinical practice, I’ve found that whether you are a married housewife, single working mom, career woman, student, or somewhere in between, the key to achieving long-term success, happiness, harmonious family life, and productive work life, is as simple as balance.
Not every cure comes in pill-form, believe it or not. Depending on the patient, I have written lifestyle prescriptions with as few words as, “sleep more,” “eat unprocessed, whole foods,” “exercise daily,” and “breathe deeply once a day.”
Living a balanced lifestyle stems from staying in the moment by being mindful of your feelings, thoughts, and surroundings. This can be achieved through meditation, reflecting quietly over a hot cup of tea, or losing yourself in a hobby that you’re genuinely interested in.
For the busy 21st century woman, this could also mean waking up a little earlier to collect your thoughts for the day, squeezing in a quick afternoon workout, or winding down with that book that’s been collecting dust on your bookshelf.
These may all seem easy and obvious to you at first glance, however, like most activities that seem simple — such as breathing deeply, sleeping soundly, and drinking enough water — it is putting those thoughts into actions that is the hardest part, especially when you’re already feeling overwhelmed. But these healthy choices or steps help conquer that overwhelm and, in doing so, increase productivity in all areas of life.
When we finally prioritize ourselves, we are always greatly rewarded with healthy bodies, an abundance of energy, and sharp minds, meaning we’re ready to tackle any task thrown our way.
Happy International Women’s Day — the future is in our hands.
Dr. Shimi Kang is an award-winning medical doctor, researcher, and expert on the neuroscience of adaptability, leadership, and motivation. In her fascinating and actionable keynotes, she provides science-based solutions for health, happiness, and achievement.
Contact us to learn more about Shimi and what she can add to your next event.