Stress Is a Women’s Issue: How to Build Resilience and Stay Afloat

Stress is part of normal life in our culture and few, if any, escape its vice grip of tension, worry, and fatigue. But according to the APA’s “Stress in America” report, women now report higher levels of stress than men, along with the nagging sensation that they’re flat-out underappreciated at the office (not to mention underpaid). And they’re generally more likely to be tense during the workday.

The Wall Street Journal reported on this research (in “Office Stress: His vs. Hers”), calling attention to some powerful statistics about stress in the workplace:

  • Thirty-two percent of women said their employers don’t offer enough opportunities for advancement (vs. 30 percent of men).
  • Thirty-eight percent of women said they don’t receive adequate compensation for their job (vs. 27 percent of men).
  • Thirty-three percent of people said work interfering with family/personal time has an impact on stress
  • Around 30 percent of respondents said their employers don’t provide enough resources to help them manage stress

See the infographic here. (And learn more about how stress impacts your health.)

Not to mention that if you’re a woman with a very stressful job, you’re nearly 70 percent more likely to have a heart attack — and 40 percent more likely to suffer other traumas such as stroke. (Read Catherine Pearson’s story on the topic.)

How to Cope With Stress at Work

Your stress response — at work, or anywhere else — is determined not by what happens out there, but by how you respond to it. Which is why having a sense of purpose, connection, and strong relationships can boost your resilience no matter what’s going on, and keep you from an eternity of worried days and sleepless nights.

Here are some strategies for shifting your stress response at work.

Take stock of the good stuff. Sure, there are lots of areas that could use improvement at your workplace (and just about everyone else’s). But shifting your focus to all the great things that have happened and are happening can go a long way to shift your attention and your mood. What have you accomplished, contributed, and enjoyed in your role at work in the past week, the past year? Maybe you love your team or just received public praise for solving a major problem. Perhaps you’ve put new systems in place that have made a world of difference in the way you and your colleagues work. Or it could be as simple as loving your easy commute or having a view of the park. Rather than get caught up in what’s giving you a headache, anchor yourself each day with the things that are going well. Maybe really well.

Invest in your work relationships. You probably see your work colleagues more than you see anyone else. Some you like, others, not so much. And while they don’t all have to be besties, the quality of those relationships will see you through the roughest storms at work. Give to those connections what you need most — support, camaraderie, friendship. Forge real connections by taking breaks together, getting lunch or drinks. Get to know them. When you show up for coworkers in real ways, you’ll reap the rewards in return.

Know why you’re there. A paycheck and benefits may be two of the driving reasons, but it doesn’t end there. Our research has shown that nurturing a connection to the people and the purpose of your work builds resilience and resist the downward spiral of stress. Zoom out: What are you doing every day? Improving other people’s lives with the goods or services you offer? Helping clients through a difficult time? Using your skills to contribute to the greater good? (Read more about how to build your resilience.)

Schedule more than just meetings. Put relaxing, fun, and social events on your calendar like anything else you want and need to do. Make it a point to get out for a walk at lunch and to meet up with friends for dinner every week. It’s not a matter of whether you have time — you can’t afford not to do the things that keep you calm, revitalized, and engaged.