by Guy Edwards.
We investigate whether there is too much pressure on the modern day woman to be successful and happy.
As recent research and tragic events show, high expectations can often get the better of women as they enter the workplace and try to live up to the demands of modern life. The sad truth is that some women are trying to take on too much in their efforts to embody the ideal of perfect career professional, wife, mother, style-icon, health fanatic and domestic goddess. For many, life resembles a hamster wheel – with many of us frantically trying our best but getting nowhere fast; a repetitive cycle that can lead to burnout, stress, depression and even worse.
A recent study shows how for many women the seeds of unhappiness are sown at a young age. Research published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found that the number of young girls – aged just 15 – experiencing mental health problems is fast increasing; with 43% being emotionally distressed and 27% suffering mental illness, making them the most mentally unwell group of people in the country.
Anxiety, panic attacks and depression are all on the rise in this age group – from 19% in 1987 to 32% in 1999 and 44% in 2006. Boys, in comparison, suffer less, with just 21% in 2006 suffering from these stress-related disorders. Though there are obviously many other factors at play, it is worth noting that this marked increase started to appear and lengthen when girls started outperforming boys at GCSE level.
Growing up does not make things any better. A study carried out by Lloyds TSB found that women of all generations are more stressed out than men. The survey of more than 6,000 people across the UK discovered that 63% of women suffer from stress compared to just 51% of men. For working mums, the figures are even higher at 67%.
Meanwhile, the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine published a study which found that female executives – due to the pressure of trying to compete with men in a competitive environment – are more likely to develop an alcohol problem than their male counterparts.
So not only do women appear to be more stressed than men, they also seem to suffer worse from the effects. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that women were more sensitive to the effects of chronic stress, including weight gain, depleted immune system and heart disease.
The sad case of Catherine Bailey, the 41-year-old City lawyer and mother of three, showed how difficult it can be to cope with the demands of motherhood and a high-flying job. Bailey, a partner at a leading law firm, was thought to be suffering from post-natal depression when she committed suicide. Miss Bailey returned to her high-profile job less than six months after giving birth and had complained of extreme pressure. Weeks later she went missing and was found dead in the Thames.
The coroner said: “Miss Bailey was a very capable and professional woman, and a loving mother of three young children who found it hard to meet the demands of motherhood with the high standards she set for herself.”
The reasons why
Psychologist Dr Felix Economakis (www.heaththerapy.co.uk) believes that the reason women seem to be more susceptible to pressure is because they tend to have greater expectations and higher standards for themselves and others.
“What women consider to be ‘acceptable’ behaviour and manners is very different to men,” says Dr Economakis. “Women feel they need to perform a lot more in order to be accepted. In evolutionary terms, women have evolved more to befriend than to fight; social cohesion and being accepted by others in the Use Kik to send your friends and family messages directly to their cell phones right from your kik for pc! group (while the men were out hunting) has always been important to them. Women care more about what other women in their group think, while men only care if something becomes a problem or threatens their status or place in the hierarchy.”
There is also the issue that many women – regardless of how capable they are – have to forge a career in male-dominated environments.
Dr Economakis adds: “In the modern world we live in, some women feel they need to actually work harder to overcompensate for the predominantly male environment. They have to prove that they are not inferior and this of course puts even more pressure on them. Men’s brains are also designed to compartmentalise or ‘shut off’ stress, so we can switch off and say it’s ‘nothing to do with us’. Women are more likely to take a caring, empathetic approach and cannot just forget if, say, they feel they have offended someone or done something wrong.”
Signs of stress and what to do about it
“As we get more stressed,” says Dr Economakis, “the primitive part of the brain (the amygdala, which involves stress and fear), takes over and we start getting tunnel vision, becoming more dogmatic and less creative, while developing a feeling of being overwhelmed.
“If you feel like you are too stressed, don’t suffer on your own. Talk to others, because they can provide a reality check or tell you when you are overdoing it. Suffering in silence leads you down a slippery slope.
“Take stock of what is actually important to you in life and make time for those things. If you don’t set boundaries between work and recovery time, you are not using your body the way it is designed. A car needs to be serviced every so often to make sure it is working properly, and your body is no different.”
About the author
Guy Edwards is a health & performance specialist who helps clients become healthy, look and feel their best. If you’d like to receive invaluable tips and advice on how to feel and look your best with ease, contact Guy at Successful Health Coach