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Women and Workplace Stress – 10 Steps to Manage Stress on the Job

Women and Workplace Stress – 10 Steps to Manage Stress on the Job

Written by Jonathan Bailor, CEO SANESolution & Reviewed by Dr. Matthew Olesiak, MD Chief Medical Director, SANESolution

Long work hours. A demanding boss. Deadline-driven emails that swamp your inbox. Business trips that disrupt family time –this adds up to a LOT of stress. In its annual Stress in America survey™, the  American Psychological Association found job pressure to be the #1 source of stress in the U.S.(1) 

Workplace stress typically occurs when job responsibilities exceed the ability to handle them. This can negatively affect your mental health. 

Research suggests that women in general are more affected than men by stress at work. 

For example, in surveys on workplace stress, women consistently report feeling more stressed than their male counterparts. For example, a survey of employees in the UK found that overall, 79% of women experienced workplace stress compared to men. Further, 87% of women aged 35 to 49 reported feeling workplace stress.(2)

Research has long shown that men and women respond differently to stress in everyday life.(3) But we can’t deny that women face special challenges at work that may increase their stress levels. 

Sources of Stress at Work for Women

Difficulty Striking a Work-Life Balance

Though finding a work-life balance can be difficult for both sexes, especially if they hold high-powered positions, it can be particularly difficult for women

This is because many women have two full-time jobs: working and caregiving.  Even in this modern age, women are still the primary caregivers for children, aging parents, and aging spouses. Although males may provide assistance, research suggests that women spend up to 50% more time giving care than males.(4)

This means that women are often juggling their work and family responsibilities and becoming chronically stressed. This also leaves them with little downtime to relax and unwind.

Concern About Career Advancement

Many women also feel they need to work harder than men to be considered for career advancement. If they need to miss a business meeting to take a sick child to a doctor’s appointment, for example, they fear it could reflect badly on them at work.

Consequently, women often take on more responsibility at work while maintaining the same responsibilities at home. This can lead to overwhelming pressure at work and at home.

Insufficient Pay

Despite all the gains that women have made in the workforce, they still face gender inequality in pay.

According to Pew Research, “in 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned,” and that “based on this estimate, it would take an extra 42 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2020.”(5)

Income inequality can cause financial pressure, yes, but maybe even more importantly, it may create resentment and a feeling that she isn’t valued at the company. It could also lead to concerns about job security. All of this contributes to higher levels of stress.

Health Effects of Stress at Work

Excessive stress at work can manifest in a host of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms. After all, chronic stress has been found to negatively affect memory, depress the immune system, impede healthy cardiovascular function, alter normal function of the gastrointestinal tract, and so much more.(5a) 

It can also lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders.

10 Ways to Reduce Stress At Work

Here are a few tried-and-true ways of reducing stress levels at work. 

  1. Turn off your email. Getting constant notifications about new email messages is distracting and stressful and can keep you from completing your tasks in a timely manner. 
  2. Take a break. We all have a tendency to work non-stop to meet a deadline, but it actually interferes with your work performance. Research shows that taking breaks reduces stress and increases productivity!(6)
  3. Change the scenery. Sitting in an office all day can be boring and hardly inspires creativity. Talk to your boss to see if you can work from home a couple times a week. If that’s not possible, take your laptop outside to the picnic table (if your company has such a space available), for some fresh air and sunshine as you work. 
  4. Go for a brisk walk. Getting regular aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do to relieve stress. According to Harvard Medical School, exercise can distract you from that stressful work assignment, decrease muscle tension, and increase the production of anti-anxiety brain chemicals like serotonin.(7)
  5. Forget multitasking.  Studies show that continually switching back and forth among tasks actually hinders your performance and makes you less efficient! It also leads to errors.(8) Instead of multi-tasking, concentrate on completing just one task at a time. You’ll be amazed by how much less stress you’ll suffer in the workplace.
  6. Breathe! The next time you’re stressed, take a few slow, deep breaths. Research shows that practicing breathing exercises can improve cognitive performance and relieve the mental and physical effects of stress.(9)
  7. Use Mindfulness Meditation. Whenever you’re stressed, bring your focus to the present moment without judgment. When you’re in the present moment, the past doesn’t exist and the future hasn’t happened yet. The result? Total peace.
  8. Drink plenty of water. When you’re swamped with work, it’s easy to forget to drink water. But water is a great stress reliever. When you don’t drink enough water, your body responds by producing and releasing more of the stress hormone cortisol. This can increase anxiety and  impair cognitive performance.(10)
  9. Get quality sleep. Stress is associated with poor sleep quality, according to research.(11) So, getting at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night could be enough to reduce stress. 
  10. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. No matter how many problems you have or how much stress you’re under, you can always find something to be grateful for.(12)  Numerous clinical research studies support an association between gratitude and overall well being. So, put some time aside everyday to write down everything you’re grateful for. Then when you’re stressed, read that list and allow the feeling of gratitude to wash over you. 

References

1- American Psychological Association. Stress in America: The State of Our Nation. Nov 1, 2017. Accessed Aug 12, 2021. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf

2- Chunn L. Women Are at Breaking Point Because of Workplace Stress: Wellbeing Survey from Cigna. Forbes. Mar 26, 2019. Accessed Aug 12, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/louisechunn/2019/03/26/women-are-at-breaking-point-because-of-workplace-stress-wellbeing-survey-from-cigna/?sh=6579f3b377df

3- American Psychological Association. Gender and Stress. 2012. Accessed Aug 12, 2021. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2010/gender-stress

4-Family Caregiver Alliance. Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures. Accessed Aug 12, 2021. https://www.caregiver.org/resource/women-and-caregiving-facts-and-figures/

5- Barroso A, Brown A. Gender pay gap in U.S. held steady in 2020. May 25, 2021. Accessed Aug 12, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts/

5a – Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480

6- Ferguson G. The Importance of Employee Breaks. CHRON. Accessed Aug 12, 2021. https://smallbusiness.chron.com/federal-requirements-breaks-meals-during-workday-11997.html

7- Ratey J. Can exercise help treat anxiety? Accessed Aug 12, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-treat-anxiety-2019102418096

8- Health Essentials. Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work. Cleveland Clinic. Mar 10, 2021. Accessed Aug 12, 2021.https://health.clevelandclinic.org/science-clear-multitasking-doesnt-work/

9- Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, et al. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Front Psychol. 2017;8:874. Published 2017 Jun 6. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

10- Pross N, Demazières A, Girard N, et al. Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers. PLoS One. 2014;9(4):e94754. Published 2014 Apr 11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094754

11- Almojali AI, Almalki SA, Alothman AS, Masuadi EM, Alaqeel MK. The prevalence and association of stress with sleep quality among medical students. J Epidemiol Glob Health. 2017 Sep;7(3):169-174. doi: 10.1016/j.jegh.2017.04.005. Epub 2017 May 5. PMID: 28756825; PMCID: PMC7320447.

12- Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010;7(11):18-22.