Stress to impress! It sounds like a wacky notion. But, if you jump into some of the reasons why women are living with this affliction, it actually rings true. That’s awkward. Cognitive health and brain expert Dr Jenny Brockis explains how our appetite for perfection could be a major cause of our stress. She understands the issue as a professional, but also as a regular modern woman, and explains how our fixation on flawlessness can lead to stress. Read on to see if you are causing yourself stress and how you can stop it if you are.
Stress is increasingly more common among women
Stress. There’s a lot of it about.
Statistics from the U.K. report that middle-aged women have a 70% greater risk of workplace stress and depression compared to their male counterparts. The big question is why?
If you’re a busy professional working woman, chances are you’re also a busy parent, partner, housekeeper, chauffeur, dog walker, and cook and bottle washer. Trying to do it all perfectly isn’t working. But don’t tell us because then we feel more inadequate, guilty and exhausted.
Hormones, genetics and thinking are a stress factor
As women, we’re already dealing with those lovely fluctuating hormone levels, and a genetic predisposition to depression. We are also very good at making things worse by playing the comparison game. All while simultaneously trying to show the world we can juggle everything and never drop a ball. But we all drop the ball at some point.
I felt these failings as parent early on after being asked to provide something yummy for a school morning tea. Arriving with my supermarket packet of savoury biscuits in a plastic bag, I was met by another mother bearing a large platter of lovingly created homemade pinwheel sandwiches held together with those little toothpicks with brightly coloured flags. Her downwards glance at the bag said it all.
Perfection is a stressful illusion
It’s time to take back control.
Let’s get real and stop trying to be perfect. Perfection is an illusion that can drive us crazy because we’re trying to achieve the impossible.
Managing expectations starts with a healthy dose of perspective. Think about what’s important. Did my childcare that I didn’t bring in the best cake to school? No. But they did want me to be there.
Busting stress is about reconnecting with your values and beliefs and asking what matters.
- spending time with your kids?
- having quality time with your partner. Do you have regular “date” nights?
- having time just for you, to unwind, relax, exercise or just chill? Getting to the toilet or the shower unaccompanied by the kids or the dog can be a good starting point!
Have you noticed the key here? It’s time.
Time is the key to managing our stress more effectively.
If you’re always running behind, or feel you never have enough time, your brain is stressed. This alerts your body’s fight-flight-or-freeze response that triggers an increase in the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Left unchecked this can increase your risk of mental health issues such as anxiety, panic attacks or depression.
How to help manage your stress
Choose to stop!
Give yourself permission to step off the treadmill to think things through. Reflect on how you can stop doing so much, and get better at delegating to others.
Check your boundaries.
Work and life is often a complete blur. We take work home to do in the evenings or over the weekend and worry about family stuff when at work. Check that boundary posts are in place to help you to separate one from the other.
Schedule in “Me-time”
This is not being selfish, it’s about self-care. This includes getting enough sleep, getting to the gym, pool or park. It’s time out to just be.
Mind your mind-state.
Feeling stressed all the time is not only unpleasant, it’s potentially harmful in the longer term. Minding your mind is about pressing the pause button a couple of times a day to check in with your thoughts and feelings.
If you’re feeling super stressed, you can quickly recalibrate by taking a couple of slow deep breaths or stepping away from the stressful situation (if possible). Learning to meditate can be helpful by helping you stay present. By doing this, you avoid getting lost in the “what ifs” of the future, or worries from the past.
You could also try naming the emotion you are feeling to defuse its intensity, or share your feelings with your partner or trusted friend.
Exercise is a fantastic way to reduce stress by reducing cortisol and elevating your feel-good hormones. Taking your daily DOSE of Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins along with getting out into a green space helps to build stress resilience and boosts your mood.
Stop using busyness as an excuse.
We keep cramming more and more into our already overscheduled days and then wonder why we feel so stuffed. It’s time to prioritise the essentials and ditch the rest. Spending too much time on social media platforms has been shown to elevate anxiety, so try cutting down the amount of time you spend online. Try a NOT-To-Do list and keep it in a prominent place on the computer at work, or the fridge door to remind you of what you don’t need to be doing.
Find the funny side.
Finding the humour in a situation helps to relieve stress and best of all is highly contagious.
Having a really good belly laugh boosts endorphin release, reduces muscular tension and makes you feel happier.
If feeling stressed, anxious or depressed is showing up too frequently in your household, it’s time to step back and re-evaluate which stress buster relievers will work best for you.
Do you think women are too hard on themselves? How do you stop yourself from falling into perfectionist pitfalls? Let us know in the comments below.