Rising Stress in Working Women

Dr Sanjay Garg, Head of the Department of Mental Health & Behavioral Sciences
– Fortis Hospital, Anandapur


Recent media reports highlighting increasing trend of suicide in working women is both distressing and worrying for the society. Why are we failing our women on all fronts – whether be it physical safety or mental safety? Are we providing equal opportunities or pushing them to despair? Are we supporting them or neglecting them? Many questions come to mind. Is this all the alarming result of the 21st century demon – STRESS?

Stress is becoming an ever-present concept in today’s age. Stress can arise due to multiple factors and in a number of contexts. With women spending more and more time at the workplace now, occupational stress is an area that needs special attention.

A study conducted in 2016, by 1to1Help.net, a professional counseling company, on ‘The Mental Health Status of Employees in Corporate India,’ which had 6000 employees in different cities, across organizations voluntarily participating in it. The study revealed some worrying results. According to it, 1 out of every 2 employees in corporate India shows signs of anxiety and depression. Even more worrying, the number of people with risk for suicidal behavior was found to have gone up to 8.21 out of 10 in 2016 compared to 2.1 in 2008. The trigger to all of these mental health problems was determined to be prolonged ongoing stress due to work and personal factors.

Like any form of stress, workplace stress has debilitating effects on both physical and mental health. Moreover, workplace stress can have a detrimental impact on work related aspects too thereby making it a vicious cycle. Owing to stress, job performance may be negatively affected as can the quality of relationships at the workplace. Most worrying, however, is the effect of work stress on the personal lives of individuals. According to a Stress and Stress Disorders Survey in 2006 by the Stress Disorders Association of America (ADAA), 83% of men and 72% of women said their workplace stress affected their personal lives. The survey also determined that 7 out of 10 respondents believed that it affected their relationship with their spouse.

As more and more women join the workforce, exploring the dynamics of stress in women is assuming critical importance. Other than the common causal factors of stress impacting both men and women, certain unique sources of stress exist for women. Among these, is the workplace discrimination according to gender that still continues to plague our society? Further, there is the pressure on women to balance both the work front as well as the domestic front. Unfortunately, the onus to perform household chores, even after a hard day’s work in office, still falls on women. Many women feel that they don’t even get a moment’s rest after returning from work before they have to resume household duties. The overwhelming workload and the resultant constant feeling of being “at work” is a significant contributor of stress among women.

So what must working India and its women do to manage the assault of stress?

For starters of course, trying to prevent the onslaught of stress seems like the wisest choice. And it is easier than it sounds. Some simple lifestyle management strategies, like exercising, eating right and at regular intervals, adequate sleep, and social engagement, are all it takes to keep the stress at bay. Of course, for most people out there, it’s already too late for this suggestion as they are already stressed. Even then, incorporating these healthy lifestyle strategies can help them come out of it sooner and become more resilient to stress in the long run.

If stress has already set in, then identifying coping strategies to deal with it is the next course of action. The choice of coping strategy will depend on the nature of the problem. Some generic strategies that may help are prioritizing, getting more organized, learning to delegate, communicating more assertively, and practicing a more positive attitude towards things. None of these can be learnt in a day, but practice is the key. The importance of work-life balance cannot be over-emphasized, especially for women. Work, both at the job and at home, is unending. One must learn to draw the line somewhere and take time out for self. Taking time off and engaging in recreational activities must be taken as seriously as work is. Unfortunately, sometimes, matters are too complex, or have become too far along to get sorted out by one’s own efforts. In such a scenario, it may become necessary to seek professional help. It is important to keep in mind that there is no shame in that. Everyone needs specialized assistance at some point or the other. Remembering that the sooner the presence of stress can be identified and the sooner intervention starts, the better is the outcome, is of paramount importance.

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