Women are stressed out. Work responsibilities, financial worries, and the pressures of providing care to children and elderly parents have always weighed heavily on women's minds. Toss in a global pandemic, and you have a tsunami of stress for women worldwide.
A recent study by CARE, a nonprofit aid organization, found that while the COVID-19 crisis was brutal for everyone, women were almost three times as likely as men to report suffering from significant mental health consequences (27% compared to 10%), including anxiety, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, and trouble completing everyday tasks. So, what's a woman to do?
In case of an emergency on an airplane, you're supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone around you. Self-care is just like that.
You need to regularly decompress and recharge to maintain your physical well-being and mental health. And before you say you don't have time, consider that neglecting it can lead to burnout and health problems.
But self-care doesn't just happen. And when we're overwhelmed by stress, it can be hard to make time for it. "Chronic stress can make even small decisions or everyday tasks feel Herculean," explains Jennifer Moss, author of the forthcoming book, "The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It."
To help us all get through, we've compiled a list of six essential self-care strategies for women that can reduce stress, help prevent burnout, and level up our well-being.
1. Set achievable goals
One secret to reducing stress is feeling in control. Creating a to-do list can help, especially with tricked-out apps like Cozi that loop in a shared family calendar, grocery shopping lists, chore charts for the kids, and a recipe index. But it's also helpful to rethink your roadmap when it comes to your goals. Instead of biting off more than you can chew at once, try out the concept of "micro-steps" or incremental, doable actions that are too small to fail at and help build momentum and healthier habits. If you accomplish a small thing and then move on to a larger goal, that's exactly how you stay motivated and cope, says Moss.
2. Know when you need help
Women are more likely than men to report experiencing stress and let it build up before seeking help. "We need to identify stressors and intervene further upstream because when we hit that wall, it can be a long road to recovery," says Moss.
Ask for help in the form of meal exchanges with another family or build in a standing date (a walk with a friend or a yoga class) so you know you'll have a break. Connect remotely with women's health practitioners, life coaches, and mental health professionals from anywhere with the Maven app.
Or, for a low-cost option, find out if any clinics in your area offer services on a sliding scale, or contact a local university with a graduate program in psychology to inquire about any opportunities offered by students in training to be psychologists. Mental health apps like Calm, Headspace and Ten Percent Happier offer free trials of guided meditation and mindfulness techniques for an affordable monthly fee.
3. Have something to look forward to
Research shows that the simple act of hope is a pretty powerful strategy for self-care because it gives us a sense of agency which can contribute to better physical health. So, plan something fun and keep it in mind when things are rough. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate. A day trip for a change of scenery. A walk on the beach. A picnic in the park. Planning something that breaks up your routine goes a long way.
4. Find a mentor or ally at work
Comb through your network to identify contacts who might be willing to offer you occasional career advice and feedback. Or check out the RALLY mentor program created by The Mom Project, an organization dedicated to keeping mothers in the workforce by matching them with family-friendly companies and remote opportunities. Find a Mentor is a free source that can help connect you with someone in your field — and for a monthly fee, you can access the Growth Mentor database of professionals willing to offer advice in numerous fields, including public relations, social media, and copywriting.
5. Limit technology use
Scrolling through social media can trigger FOMO (the fear of missing out), which researchers have found causes increased anxiety, sleep disorders, and problems concentrating. And all those notifications? They're a constant interruption, which can make it hard to focus. Not only that, but prolonged exposure to technology prompts the body to release cortisol, a stress hormone that keeps the body on edge.
6. Find a physical way to release your stress
Maybe it's yoga; maybe it's a walk with friends. Any way you do it, physical activity is key to reducing stress and preventing burnout. For Pam Foster, a mom of two in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, who works in philanthropy, it's her chance to disconnect from all of her professional obligations and the non-stop buzz of homelife with teenagers. "I use the time to let my mind go blank and focus on nothing but what I'm doing in the moment," says Foster, who's training for her first triathlon. "It allows me to recharge so I can show up for work and family later."
7. Get outside & slow down
Research shows that spending time in nature can reduce stress and improve your mood. So can permitting yourself to ease up on, well, everything. Say no to overextending yourself. Let go of the notion that being busy defines your self-worth.
Think of self-care as an important investment in you and your future to head off problems before they take root. It's not a luxury or indulgence; it's a necessity. "We need to have a bigger picture of overall life satisfaction in mind when we think of preventative care for ourselves," says Moss. "We need to learn to get better at assessing how burned out we are, and then we need to be intentional when it comes to the choices we make."