Somewhere along the way, women got socialized to take responsibility for everyone and everything. In a modern day world where women are still hauling the load at home, but then also hauling a load at work, our stress and anxiety is worse than ever. Unfortunately, when we live life taking on responsibilities in every sphere, the effects can be boundless; yes, stress and anxiety are the widely recognized byproducts, but where it also shows up is in how we take care of ourselves and in how we talk to ourselves.
As women, that stress and anxiety means we so often put ourselves last, mentally berate ourselves for every imperfection, endlessly compare, we worry, we exhaust, we engage in numbing behaviors like shopping or mindlessly scrolling Facebook; it trickles into our marriages, our friendships, and into our openness to experiencing joy and remaining present. And those are just a few of the unique effects women face as we push ourselves to give everything to our families and to our work.
As a business owner, mental health practitioner, wife, and mother, I know this all too well. I think about the time recently when my daughter got sick. I had to move my clinical schedule around to stay home with her again, after what had already seemed like an endless string of snow days causing me to change my schedule pretty much every week. That sick daughter had been screaming all day with barely a breath. If that weren’t bad enough on its own, I hadn’t gotten anything done that I needed to, my business-to do list was completely on hold (which was causing relative panic, guilt, and horror). I was suffocating in the present while having a panic attack about the future. That night as I was heading to bed totally depleted, my husband jokingly said to me, “did you just leave your cup in the sink?” and I found one long lost zap of energy enough to absolutely lose my shit. I have never done this before, but in that moment I grabbed a nearby wooden spoon and brandished it at him, waving it an inch from his chin with a violent shake like an old Italian nonna (that I will likely someday be). I screamed a primal scream, and without words threw the spoon into the sink, and totally horrified at myself, ran to bed.
Perhaps you have your own rock-bottom work-life stress story like mine. And I’d like to think that was my one and only rock bottom, but I’d be fooling all of us to think I could be that lucky. Perhaps, like many women, you more notice your work life stress as it seeps into your day here and there. The women I see in my practice confess many of those familiar and constant thought processes shared by so many of us. These thoughts reflect our feelings of stress and anxiety AND make them worse. This is just a random sampling, but they include: “I’d love to do something for myself but I don’t have enough time” “I’m not good enough/pretty enough/thin enough” “If I’m not home, there will be no dinner” “I can’t afford to be sick” “It’s not worth asking for help because it will take me more effort to explain it than to just do it myself” “I know other people have it harder – I have no right to feel this way” “what do I really want for myself?” and on and on… Those thoughts are second nature to us. They reflect scarcity, overwhelm, and under-value.
Eventually, we wind up in a place where we are spending most of days at our max capacity. It’s true that women uniquely bear the burden of responsibilities at home AND are under immense pressure at work and in business, and that the result can be exhaustion, loss of self, and as I see often in my practice, simmering resentment. But if we can learn to take a step back and restructure our own thoughts, there is hope for better balance, and daresay, a bit of the sanity we deserve.
In times of struggle, we could certainly all use a little guidance and managing. In moments of real or anticipated high-stress, I want you to ask yourself,
“what would a great boss say to me in this situation/right now?”
Then I want to ask yourself if you’re saying the same thing, or whether your message to yourself is different.
If any of you have been fortunate enough to have an amazing leader for a boss or mentor, then you know that a great boss extends flexibility, thoughtfulness, support, motivation, and encouragement to her top performers in order to ensure that they’re happy, well, and productive. A good boss is innately and acutely interested in the quality and sustainability of her employee’s experience. This activity of handling your own stress like a boss first requires that you recognize one fundamental truth – that you are your own life’s absolute best employee. Think about it. Who do you rely on the most in your day to day? Who do you trust to get it done? The answer for most women is: "myself".
And so, if we can harness our inner boss and learn to talk to ourselves the way she would to her most valuable employee (you) then we can stop the knee jerk reactions to stress and get back in control.
For example, in my rock bottom scenario, a good boss would have told me that the world wasn’t going to end because I had to reschedule my clients. She would say that life happens, to go take care of my daughter. When I’d push back and tried to convince her the world WAS going to end, she’d probably have laughed and reminded me I was being an irrational high-achiever. She would have reminded me that this moment wasn’t the right moment to be holding myself to that expectation. And she would have been absolutely, unequivocally right. Her words would have leveled me, allowed me to separate my clashing work-life worlds, and would have ultimately kept me hanging in there.
In the next parts of this series, I’ll share with you a few scenarios that present common work-life stressors for women, and then I’ll share with you how, by thinking like a great manager would, you can stop the frantic cycle and bring yourself back to a sense that you can function.
The acronym BOSS will help you remember the points you need to beat stress and live life on your terms:
B – Be aware of your needs;
O – Open up about them;
S – Share the load; and
S – Say your strengths and successes.
We’re going to work backward, starting with how you can use the two S’s to fix more commonly recognized problems; then we’ll spend more time on the B and the O; which require a more detailed exploration. Read on for Part 2: "Share the Load & Say Your Strengths", and prepare to get seriously in charge of your work-life stress. I can't wait to share this content with you!
This blog series is adapted from a talk given by Lauren Drago Therapy as part of the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Series.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, and call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.