Stress and the Gender Gap

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In honour of April’s Stress Awareness month, I wanted to take this time to touch upon a subject that many women of the 21st century are struggling with in silence, day after day, whether they are aware of it or not. During this month, many experts in all fields of health will come together in hopes of spreading awareness and increasing public understanding of this growing issue that is seemingly harmless and often overlooked. Because for many of us, we may not realize its creeping effects on our health until we fall extremely ill, or it is too late. And in an increasingly complex and competitive world where studies have shown that women are more affected by this today and in bigger numbers than ever before in history, we need to ask ourselves when is enough, enough? And what can we do about it?

Just less than 200 years ago, the biggest trials women were faced with were that of fighting for their fundamental civil rights. The right to vote, attend university, a pension, play contact sports, earn minimum wage, and the list goes on. Today, despite being the closest we have ever been to equality in North American history, women are now fighting an entirely different battle against an often silent killer, whose effects are becoming increasingly prevalent in our gender: stress.

As a society, we have grown accustomed to the idea that being too busy is a symbol of importance, and sleep-deprived one of ambition. 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 to 40 percent more common in women than in men. This statistic, unfortunately, comes as no surprise, as he 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.” As a result, our bodies are releasing stress hormones that are wreaking havoc on our bodies and on our minds.

Not only do women struggle with double-standards, less pay and breaking glass ceilings at the workplace, we are often also expected to be the primary caregivers and parental guides to our children, to be “present” and giving partners to our spouses, to maintain house affairs, to keep up with social activities and on top of all that, and are “bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection’” that mainstream society insists we aspire to. With the weight of the world on our shoulders, it’s no wonder that women are more stressed and experiencing higher numbers of psychological disorders to date.

In light of all this, it in increasingly hard for women to maintain a balanced and happy life, let alone our sanity, and we are only beginning to observe the detrimental long-term effects that this sort of lifestyle has on our mental and physical states. As a researcher and expert in human motivation with over ten 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 also 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 to actions that is the hardest part. But when we finally do, we are always greatly rewarded with healthy bodies, an abundance of energy and sharp minds, and we’re ready to tackle any tasks thrown our way.

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