International Women’s Day this year focuses on Balance for Better in all aspects of our lives. I wrote for the Telegraph following research published last month showing that women seem to be more vulnerable to depression that men, but perhaps there are ways in which we can balance the scales in this area.
The multiple demands on some women in particular seem to exacerbate what my late mother would call “death by a thousand cuts” when I would feel overwhelmed.
Research published last month showed that women who worked 55 hours or more a week had 7.3 per cent more depressive symptoms than those on a standard 35-40 hour week. I for one wasn’t surprised to read that long hours at work do not seem to impact men in the same way.
I have been forced by mental ill health to impose limits on the way I live: good mental health maintenance means I have trimmed back my life, working as a freelance writer. I watch what I eat, get enough sleep and treat myself rather like a nervous pet. Above all, I have learnt to say no: I find “I would love to but I am already committed” works best, and never give the reason why.
What, though, is the solution for those facing long hours at work – short of changing jobs, which may be something we all need to consider from time to time?
There are steps you can take to feel more powerful, even in a challenging long-hours environment. I’m the first to admit this is hard.
1. You have to believe you have power over your working life, because you do.
You may be able to make some quick small changes to your routine, or workload, whether it is what you decide to eat for lunch or how you travel to work to reduce your stress.
2. Watch your language.
Rephrasing statements about your own powerlessness. So instead of saying “I’m at the mercy of my boss,” you might say, “I can choose how I respond to my boss’s demands.”
3. Finally, ask for help.
In the domestic sphere, we can be our own worst enemies by not doing so. Even if the kitchen looks like a bombsite afterwards, husbands or children can lighten the load, and indeed can be flattered to be trusted with the fish pie.
I have reassessed my relations with others: we know women are especially vulnerable to depression given the pressure they put on themselves to maintain friendships and other relationships. My new attitude to all-important relationships, including that with my husband and friends, but especially with my children, is to aim to replace ‘good’ with ‘good enough’.
A final answer is to become more aware that we all embrace multiple selves, be it our work self, our family self or our sporting self (less developed in my own case).
I know I enjoy life when I find time in my life for all of my different roles. Over-develop one side of our personality, and we can become unbalanced. It’s rather like a bird with an unduly strong right wing, which leaves it in danger of flying round and round in circles.
One way of doing so is to give myself different names and symbols for the different aspects of my life, be it my parent role, or my work role. For my parent role, I think of myself as Mum, at work I’m Rachel Kelly, with friends I’m Rach, And then there’s just Rachel, who likes being on her own with her dog.
Being conscious of these roles has helped me fully inhabit my different identities, and potentially switch roles if that’s appropriate. Sometimes, when I am distressed, I try and figure out which aspect of me is dominant, and is that appropriate? There’s nothing worse than being in my professional work mode when a child needs some attention.
Above all, I try and remember that I need some time just for me.