Women have long been the nurturers and often caretakers at all levels in society. The demands of surviving in a modern-day world means that we are often having to balance work and life, often to the detriment of our health and self-care.
Women function as wives or girl-friends, mothers, aunts, grandmothers even, while working full time in the labor force. Research shows that although women are spending more time in the work place, they are also spending more time in child-care responsibilities. Women have continued to have to work two full time jobs, sometimes more, to make ends meet, as well as to meet demands both at home and work. In the majority of cases, women are single parents with the primary responsibility for raising children.
Additionally, more and more women are involved in business and are either entrepreneurs or working as executives in organizations, which very often are male dominated and unsympathetic to the needs and support systems that would help them to properly fulfil their roles. Many women in the executive arena have written books giving voice to their experiences, primarily with the aim of empowering women that they can do it all in this quest to thrive in spaces previously dominated by men. From Sheryl Sandsberg, who advocated that women could have it all, to Arena Huffington of Thrive, who herself became an advocate of mental health after being diagnosed with burn out, to Michelle Obama, who talked about “becoming” in your own space, more and more women are writing in an effort to encourage not just survival, but thriving in all aspects of their lives.
Here in the Caribbean, to a large extent, we receive that encouragement from our mothers and we see how it has fueled the thriving of our girls and women in academia, the working world, and now the business world. This, to a large extent, is due to the matriarchal society in which we were raised and the messaging received, either overt or subtle.
Central to this ongoing struggle, though, is a unique challenge to women: achieving work-life balance! It is unique to us because the dynamics of the work environment continue to exert enormous pressure on working women. The scientific literature is clear that “working women experience greater difficulty than men in balancing work and family”. There is often conflict as there is “job spill-over” into the home environment; and often working women are called upon to make sacrifices in one or other environment, and to adhere to distinct norms which are different to men. As I experienced recently, when one is forced to make a professional sacrifice for family empowerment, our society neither understands nor has structures in place to support this changing reality of the work and business place as it relates to women.
Impaired work life balance results in multiple mental health challenges for women. Chronic stress related conditions, depression, anxiety and burn out, and the multitude of related medical illnesses are not uncommon as a result. Not to mention the effect on family and professional relationships as one navigates potentially rough waters. Following are some tips to improve our personal resilience so that we can effectively manage the stresses of the multiple roles which we may be required to carry:
- Start by stopping: Stop comparing yourself to other business-people. Create a personal – professional balance that works for you. Remember that no one is perfect and we all have some form of challenges. Find ways to self-motivate, use positive affirmations and favorite sayings to elevate your mood and mindset. Have regular appointments for self-care, and these appointments should be non-negotiable.
- Find an organization calendar or app that works for you. There are many out there, but we all have different personalities and we have to use what works best for ourselves as individuals. Ensure that you can see in one place all the roles, so that there is less chance of conflict and stress.
- While being organized and structured is key to achieving goals and living to your fullest potential, accept that things will not be perfect and the best laid plans can be disrupted by busy seasons, child care, school demands or crises at work. Have a plan to get back on track quickly in those situations.
- Have a social circle and social network that supports you and your goals. Use delegation both at home and at work to members of your home and work team. Sometimes as women, we feel obligated to do it alone but that is not good for our mental health in the long term.
- Have long term personal and professional goals set and track to align your behaviors and activities with these goals. Time is precious and most time is limited, so using that time for developing yourself is essential.
- Make exercise a required appointment in your schedule. Workouts can be done in time capsules and varied depending on your personal needs. Create a workout schedule and try incorporating it into other activities in which you may be engaged. Simple replacements like taking the stairs and not the elevator, or walking a predetermined distance to work, all add up over time. Exercise is one intervention validated in several scientific studies to contribute to improved mental health and wellbeing.
- Take real time outs. Have device-free days and social media-free periods. Go out with friends, family, significant others; plan time outs and quiet times. The “over connectedness” and “infodemic” age contributes to the high level of stress as a part of our multiple roles.
- Take care of your health both physical and mental. Women present more often to doctors with health care issues, and while this may just be our health seeking behavior styles, the reality is our life demands place us at risk for multiple health conditions. Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high, as are diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Women are in the lead –of the affected. Taking care of ourselves first, is paramount, in order for us to take care of others as we are so often needed to do.
Accept that finding that “sweet spot” between work and home is not a perfect science and we must let go of the ideal in our heads. Do your very best in each area of responsibility and advocate for what you may need to be successful. We are not required to be perfect; we should only aim to live our best lives possible in the time we have allocated on this earth.