You would be hard-pressed to find someone who’s life hasn’t been massively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. No matter where you live or what your job is, chances are you’ve had to learn to adapt to this new reality that’s not feeling all that new anymore. Of course, our lives haven’t all changed to the same degree, but on a fairly broad level, it’s coming to light that women in particular are feeling more burnt out than men in 2020.
There are a lot of things going on right now that are out of our control, and accepting that is a wellness tool in and of itself. That being said, there are some steps women can take to help stave off burnout, and we have the expert insight to back us up.
What is going on at home?
Research from LeanIn.Org found that in 2020, women have taken on way more housework and caregiving than men have during the pandemic. The outcome of this extra work? Women are showing signs of anxiety and burnout—signs we should take seriously. Women are twice as likely as men to experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as having a racing heartbeat or struggling to sleep right now. This is especially true for women who work full-time and who have a partner and children. They’re more than twice as likely as men in similar situations to feel that they have more on their plate than they can possibly handle.
So exactly how much more work have women taken on in 2020 to keep everything afloat? That group of women that have full-time jobs, partners, and children reported on average spending significantly more time each week on the following responsibilities than men do.
- 7.4 more hours on childcare
- 5.3 more hours caring for elderly or sick relatives
- At least 7 more hours on housework
If you crunch those numbers, that means women are doing close to 20 hours more work per week than men, which is the equivalent of taking on a part-time job after already working 40 hours a week.
Casandra Townsel, a licensed social worker, explained that sometimes we have to cut ourselves a little slack to help avoid burnout. She suggested that we, “Recognize when we are overwhelmed and ‘burned out’ because we are carrying a load we are not meant to carry alone,” Townsel said. She expressed that it’s OK to leave the dishes in the sink. “Women can do many great things, but doing everything is not healthy or necessary. Doing our best is good enough. It is important for women to give ourselves permission to not have to do everything,” she said.
Townsel believes in setting clear boundaries when you’re starting to feel burned out at home, “Developing and implementing boundaries is one of the greatest tools to alleviate stress and anxiety. Boundaries are a necessity for not just our mental and physical health, but also the health of our relationships. It is important to establish boundaries within all our relationships, that includes family, which can be very difficult for some to do,” she explained.
What is going on at work?
Home isn’t the only place where women are doubling down on work and stress. Despite the fact that we’re living in extremely stressful and difficult times, only 41 percent of employees reported their employer changed policies to allow more flexibility during the pandemic. While these numbers aren’t exclusive to women, you can see how they can affect the previously mentioned working women who are feeling burnt out. Women balancing childcare or eldercare in particular may find a lack of flexibility to really impede their ability to balance their work and personal life. Just 31 percent of workers said their manager or someone from HR checked in on their well-being. Friendly reminder to any employers reading this: ask how your employees are doing and how you can help them get through this challenging time.
Say what you need
When it comes to the workplace, Krista Williams and Lindsey Simcik, the co-hosts of the Almost 30 podcast, recommended taking charge of the situation by openly communicating with your boss or company about your needs. They suggest setting aside time to acknowledge what will help you cope right now and on an ongoing basis. Put on soothing music or anything that helps create a sacred space, then simply put pen to paper and write down what you need. Don’t judge what comes up. Is there anything on the list that you can clearly communicate with your boss or company? Perhaps you need different hours to accommodate childcare, want set hours where you do and don’t take meetings, or need a mental health day. They emphasized that you shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to express when you need support. Townsel agreed with this advice, “Let go of the assumptions that you are expected to do everything. Give yourself permission to ask for help. Be assertive and request to collaborate with others. This helps to eliminate stress, while adhering to personal and professional outcomes,” she noted.
The same rules apply at home. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by family and household responsibilities, do the same exercise. Then sit down with your partner to discuss your needs and how they can step up to help. If you’re tackling eldercare, you may need to have this conversation with siblings or other family members who should be sharing those responsibilities with you.
According to Williams and Simcik, when they feel anxious or out of control, they always come back to gratitude.
They recommend trying this gratitude practice: close your eyes and put your hands on the part of your body where you feel the most tension. Start to notice your breath and lengthen it to ground you. Say something you are grateful for in the present moment out loud. It can be as simple as, “I am grateful for the breath in my lungs.” They encourage you to follow your gratitude with a “why.” With everything going on around us, what we can control are our thoughts in the present moment. When you choose to focus those thoughts on gratitude, it will shift your perspective and help you feel lighter and more peaceful.
Avoid the internet
Williams and Simcik have one major piece of advice for sending burnout packing. Scale back the time you spend online. They feel there is a lot of negative energy online, on social media, and in the news, and as a result you need to protect your energy as much as you can. You get to decide what you take in. They like to do a digital detox for a day or a weekend to unplug from social media and TV. They recommend taking walks in nature, reading, journaling, meditating, and spending time reconnecting with yourself.
Also, please note that we are living in an unprecedented time right now and you’re not alone. You’re doing your best and that’s more than enough.