Without a doubt, this is an anxiety-provoking time. We’re not only facing the obvious stress of a major health threat, but an economic downturn, extended confinement in our homes, troubling reports of racialized police violence, and social isolation.
Furthermore, more women are experiencing anxiety than men. Research conducted by the CDC suggests that approximately 40% of women have reported symptoms of Anxiety or Depressive Disorder between April and July, as compared to approximately 30% of men. A survey organized by LeanIn and Survey Monkey reported that over twice as many women as men are experiencing severe anxiety with physical symptoms.
Why are women experiencing more anxiety than men? The answer is likely three-fold. Men are less likely to report anxiety, and are also raised to deal with it externally, making them less attuned to feelings of worry. The third reason is perhaps the most clearly responsible for the anxiety gap – women are stressed by the additional burden of childcare.
Psychologist and author Dr. Melisa Robichaud explains, “I have absolutely seen this with my own clients. Whoever is taking on the lion’s share of childcare at home is likely to be experiencing markedly greater anxiety and stress. Although I would say that this task is likely being taken on by women more frequently at this time, you will find similar levels of stress and anxiety among men who are either taking care of child-rearing at home or who are equal contributors.” Research suggests that women are spending about an hour more on childcare than men. As the school year begins, and many districts opt for online education, it seems likely that this increased level of stress will not lessen. Even for those of us without children, the continuing pandemic promises nothing but uncertainty, leading to more anxiety for everyone.
Given these challenging circumstances, how can we protect our mental health and manage our anxiety? Consider the following strategies:
Establish a Routine
Developing a morning routine or a set structure for your day will help create a sense of order in your day-to-day life. There are many things outside of your control at the moment, and committing yourself to particular tasks, such as always eating a healthy breakfast, getting eight hours of sleep, or establishing specific work hours, will help your life feel organized and under control.
Practice Resilience Techniques
When passengers from the Diamond Princess ship were among the first to be placed in quarantine early this year, David Cate was recruited to help them take care of their mental health. You can easily try some of the resilience techniques he used: deep breathing, meditation, and gratitude. Take a few moments during your day to pause, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. It doesn’t have to be long, and don’t worry about doing it “right.” You can also try keeping a simple gratitude journal: write down three things that you appreciate every night before bed.
Be Deliberate About Checking the News
While it is important to be aware of the news, consider limiting the amount of time you spend checking headlines. Though it may allay your fears initially, following the news closely will increase anxiety over time by keeping the pandemic regularly in your thoughts.
Let Go of Expectations
Of course, most of us would rather we didn’t devour a pint of ice cream for breakfast. Most moms would rather their kids not spend all day on a screen. All of us would certainly rather not be in the midst of a global pandemic! These are unusual times and holding yourself to your usual expectations isn’t realistic or helpful. Shift your expectations and be forgiving of yourself and those around you.
Anxiety, like the coronavirus, is with us for now and the foreseeable future. Fortunately, just as we can wash away germs with soap, we can manage stress with shifts in our behavior and thinking. Take a deep breath, be kind to yourself, and wear a mask – we’ll get through this together.