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Women and Stress in the Pandemic Age

The pandemic, mass shootings, war in Ukraine, skyrocketing costs of housing, gas and groceries—we are all under a great deal of stress these days. But women bear the brunt of that stress because they are balancing work/family obligations, caring for children and parents, while still fighting societal stereotypes. Women’s work is often still considered less valuable than men’s and when women are ambitious, assertive or strong, they can be perceived negatively.

Knowing that negative gender stereotypes exist is a hurdle that can impact women’s self-confidence and even their actual work, leading to stress, anxiety, impaired concentration, reduced cognitive ability and even reduced job performance. When women are also persons of color or from low socioeconomic or culturally diverse backgrounds, the struggle is even greater.

Men and women respond differently to stress. For men, it’s “fight or flight.” They shore themselves up for stress by conserving their energy and compartmentalizing the perspectives or needs of others. By contrast, women adopt a “tend and befriend” approach, seeking to understand what the other person is going through and why stress is present in the first place. Women invest psychological energy into understanding stress, watching for variances in facial expressions, while men focus on angry or neutral faces, triggering a more negative and aggressive response to stress. In addition to women’s own stress, they can take on the stress of those around them. It mounts, sometimes to unmanageable levels.

As the chaos around us continues, we need to keep stress in check. Unchecked stress can develop into anxiety and depression, which can take an even greater toll on our ability to manage work and home responsibilities.  More than 17 million U.S. adults—over 7% of the population–had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. But data shows that only 20% of those experiencing depression get the help they need.

Both anxiety disorders and depression occur more often in women than in men—nearly twice as often. Know the symptoms, practice a healthy lifestyle, and reach out for help when you need it. Our families and workplaces depend on us.

It’s said that women hold up half the sky, and when the sky is falling, we must hold it up for everyone.

Dr. Michele Nealon headshotAs president of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Dr. Michele Nealon, Psy.D., leads one of the most successful non-profit professional graduate schools in the nation, directing campuses across the country that educate more than 6,000 students in the fields of psychology and related behavioral sciences. Learn more at thechicagoschool.edu.

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