Have you ever had a tough day, and someone says, “Boy, you look tired.” And oddly, that makes you feel better?
That’s what happened last week for millions of American women when the Center for American Progress and Maria Shriver released The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, a vivid portrait of women’s real lives and their changing roles. Many women exhaled a collective sigh and said, “Finally, you noticed.”
The news was mixed. Although there have been advances in education and career opportunities, many of the women Maria Shriver talked with say they feel increasingly “stressed, misunderstood, isolated and invisible.” They shared that “never before has so much been asked of them.”
In my own work, I meet women who are feeling the pressure: balancing work with child-raising, worrying about layoffs, caring for aging parents, or staying at jobs that drain them so they can keep their health insurance.
What Can We Do?
Clearly government and business policies need to adapt to the changes in American life. But what can women do until that happens? How do we handle day-to-day stresses so we can be happier?4 Strategies For A Happier Life
As author Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” So how do you surf these waves of change? I believe you can do it, in part, by rewiring your brain and strengthening your body so you become more resilient to stress. You do it by learning to calm and soothe yourself during difficult times. You do it by creating your own emotional toolkit: a system to help you understand your stress points and practical strategies to boost your ability to respond effectively. Here are four of those strategies.
1. Connect. When men and women talk with a caring person about their worries, their bodies produce hormones that calm and relax them. But for women, estrogen magnifies and intensifies that soothing effect making you feel even better. Indeed, women are physically hardwired to connect with others. The next time you have a hard day, talk with your mate, a friend, your sister or a counselor. Share your story with others. Use your connections for logistical as well as emotional help. Create a support network like a rotating carpool, a college student helper or family back-up system.
2. Be Realistic. Many women have too much to do, and then blame themselves when they don’t do it all perfectly. If you can’t remove things from your plate, focus on success rather than perfection. Realize that when you strive to be perfect at anything, you set yourself up for failure — either you’re perfect or you’re a failure. Stop all-or-nothing thinking. Aim to be good enough by asking yourself, “What’s the worst that would happen if I was good enough, and not perfect at this task or this role?” Chances are, you and everyone around you will still be okay.
3. Learn To Negotiate. As roles change for the sexes, becoming a true partner with your mate is critical. According to The Shriver Report, “An overwhelming majority of both men and women said they’re sitting down at their kitchen tables to coordinate their family’s schedules, duties, and responsibilities, including child care and elder care, at least two to three times a week.” If teamwork is the path to relationship and life success, then knowing how to negotiate is crucial. Take a positive approach to problem solving. Use “How” questions rather than “Why” questions. For example, “How can we make this work?” rather than, “Why does this always happen?” Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Sometimes relationships aren’t always 50/50. They’ll be times when you get more and times when your partner will. That’s okay as long as each is guaranteed a turn.
4. Sleep. It’s no secret that most women don’t get enough sleep. The prescribed 7-8 hours can easily fall by the wayside when you’re too busy to go to bed or too frazzled to fall asleep. But you need to try anyway. Sleep reduces your stress by improving your ability to think clearly, lifting your mood and boosting your energy. Sleep can even help you lose the weight that stress helped you gain. If you’re not getting enough sleep, try these tips:
- Write a To-Do list for tomorrow so your thinking won’t keep you awake.
- Exercise: Take a walk during your lunch break or after dinner. If that’s not possible, try to move more during the day by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or stretching your body before going to bed.
- Cut back on caffeine, especially at night.
- Practice deep breathing before bed to relax and slow your mind.
In A Woman’s Nation, there are more opportunities for both achievement and stress. I hope the day will come when our society figures a way to support both men and women in their quests for balanced and healthy lives. Until that day, having an emotional toolkit is vital to your happiness.
Darlene Mininni, PhD, MPH is the author of “The Emotional Toolkit,” producer and host of the Los Angeles radio program “The Dr. Darlene Mininni Show,” and a former UCLA educator. To learn how Dr. Mininni can help you live a happier life or to receive her free guide “3 Things Happy People Do,” go to EmotionalToolkit.com.