Why Women Carry More, and How to Overcome This
The feminism movement has come a long way. We have earned our right to vote, to work, and to lead. For a while, I never realized how far we still had to go. Little did I know that one of the biggest gender gaps in society affected me so much. This is the stress and pressure that women carry every day because of the way we have been told to always look out for everyone else, while still being happy and kind. So yes, we have come a long way, but we’re definitely not finished yet.
Growing up, I always felt pressure to do it all. Being a soft-spoken girl, this pressure and stress heightened because I felt I had to work even harder to prove to others that I was strong and capable. In high school, I joined any club or team I could in order to do this. From the outside, my life looked great! I had amazing friends, I was super involved and was the Head Girl on my student council, and I was doing well in all of my classes. But from the inside, I was struggling. I felt a lot of pressure and stress to be perfect and I thought I was alone with this battle. I hated making others upset or uncomfortable which made it difficult for me to stand up for myself even when I really needed to.
After talking with other women this year, I found that this wasn’t just a personal problem that I was having, it was society's problem. This stress and anxiety has become common for women, but that does not mean it is okay. There is lots of scientific evidence as to why women are usually more emotionally stressed than men. For one thing, the limbic area of the brain that primarily controls emotions is more active in women when we are stressed[i]. But science isn’t the only reason why women are often more stressed than men. The majority of the issue is because we were raised in a generation that taught us the only way to be recognized and appreciated is to work harder. On top of this women are also fed a conflicting idea that they must be quiet and please others in order to be palatable.
I found so much comfort in knowing that other women go through the same thing. Empowerment begins when we come together to talk about hardships and biases because it is then that we can work towards a change. Although it is extremely difficult to break this cycle, it is necessary to do so as this stress is having negative effects on the mental wellbeing of women everywhere.
So, how can you avoid this unnecessary stress?
1. Learn how to say no.
Although sometimes it can seem easier just to say yes rather than explaining why you can’t do something, it is not worth the feelings of exhaustion and stress that you will hold by saying yes. It is particularly hard as women because we have been raised as “people-pleasers”, putting our self-worth in how much we do for others. It is easy to feel like we are only lovable if we are always helpful, but this is far from the truth and leads to burnout. Understanding yourself and knowing that you are worth more than your grades, how full your resume is, or how many people like you is key to feeling less guilty saying no! Don’t just say yes to things because you are nervous saying no or because you feel setting this boundary makes you worth any less!
2. Ask for help.
As women, we try so hard to be independent so that we are not fulfilling the stereotypes that we need men to help us. But, asking for help is truly a sign of strength, not weakness. If you never ask for help and keep trying to do everything on your own, you will eventually reach a breaking point. By asking for help, you are protecting yourself! No person has gone through life without the help of someone else. We were not made to only work on our own, so reach out when you need it!
3. Allow yourself to feel all your emotions, and don’t hide them!
There is this expectation that we always have to be happy and kind to everyone as women, when in reality, forcing positivity can actually be very harmful. When you feel like you always need to turn everything into something positive, you are putting others' comfort before your reality, and the continuous impact of that is not worth it. No matter what you’re feeling, it is there because it has a purpose for you. Whether that is to tell you you’ve taken on too much, or that you love someone, process those feelings because they are so important! As women, we are empathetic and often carry the feelings of others. These feelings and emotions could be from friends that are going through a hard time, or even from someone you passed by crying in the grocery store. You probably didn’t realize you absorbed their emotions, but you did so unconsciously. These extra emotions may fog your own emotions and can be very draining. This can also make it difficult to figure out why you are feeling a certain way, but the more you lean into yourself and clear out other feelings that you can’t control, the brighter you will feel!
4. Set boundaries.
Train yourself to be more assertive and stop thinking that it’s selfish! Allow your emotions to help illustrate boundaries to yourself first, and then communicate these boundaries openly to others. While it is hard to not want to seek validation and approval from others, which may get in the way of you being vocal about a situation that you’re uncomfortable with, try not to think about others' opinions of you! When you allow others to push your boundaries, you take on an extra burden on top of everything else you’re dealing with in your life! This not only ends up being too much for you to handle, but it also may result in others not taking full accountability for their actions. You are the best version of yourself when you stop caring what others think of you and you stand up for yourself! Be yourself loudly and don’t worry about what a woman “should” look like. I promise, there is nothing more fulfilling than feeling full on your own!
As Women’s History Month is coming to a close, let’s bring the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day with us into every single day of the future, and that is to choose to challenge. Choose to challenge biases and things that make you uncomfortable if it’s degrading your mental health. But also, choose to challenge yourself to say no to that extra shift or club if you’re feeling burnout, to focus only on the emotions that you have the ability to deal with, and to ask for help when you need it. Figure out the habits or norms that are not filling you up and challenge them, because you deserve to be full.
To anyone reading this, and especially women struggling, never hide your expectations or discomfort. It is in that vulnerability to share those things with the world that you will inspire so many afraid of the same thing. I believe in a society where women can share the pressure and stress we all feel, to work through it together and find our way back to one another, but most importantly, to ourselves. By healing yourself, you are helping to heal so many other women around you.
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Brain Imaging Shows How Men And Women Cope Differently Under Stress." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071119170133.htm>.
About the Author
Ashley is a First-Year student in the Concurrent Education program and is one of the Interfaculty Liaisons on QWIL. She loves going outside, traveling, and working out! As a future educator, she is passionate about using education as a vehicle for activism and inspiring others to learn how to cope with pressure and stress!