May 30, 2020
By Denise Brodey
When Covid-19 quickly turned from impending threat to isolation and lockdown, many women spoke about having a level of stress so high it topped anything they’d ever felt—at home or at work. How can we stop feeling so burdened and out of control right now? was a question my female friends and I have asked each other often. Oh, that’s easy, one friend said: Women should make the rules. Are we there yet? No. But we are shining in the spotlight.
Most women agree, when we are seen and heard, we’re less stressed. Being in the middle, according to research, is the worst place to be. “Women who were middle managers had higher stress levels than men at middle and senior level management positions. The only point at which women had less stress was at the executive level, according to Myers- Briggs, which did a combined analysis of three work behavior studies. And that was in research done before Covid-19.
The Myers-Briggs stress, gender and leadership report is a stark reminder of the tropes we are all so tired of—women as stress-monsters, naggers and control freaks. The Myers-Briggs report analyzed data from 1,182 women and 485 men men. You could look at it two ways: Stress is rampant for everyone at the top and the bottom. Or men’s stress is just different. They seem to brush away criticism like a few flecks of dandruff. Under pressure, their stress magically gets uncorked. They let it go and rise to the top, like Willy Wonka. This particular research doesn’t offer insight, although Myers-Briggs Company has plenty of archives to mine.
For now, with all of us, men and women in crisis-mode, I sum it up like this: Never waste a good crisis.
Maybe the pandemic could launch a new respect for women’s work and offer them more control over their time? The study did say that the levels of stress for men and women were at their highest just before they reached executive leadership, but held senior positions.
Extreme stress is affected (and can therefore be controlled) by adjusting three things: how great the demands placed on you are, how much choice or control you have and how much support or time you are are given. I asked experts to take that knowledge and personalize it for readers so it’s easier to see how to take action now:
Don’t Take No For An Answer
During the pandemic, women and men’s work on the frontlines is being lauded equally, maybe for the first time. For every Dr. Fauci, there’s a Dr. Birx. Neither takes no for an answer. I’ve rarely seen two cooler heads prevail under pressure. In this new normal, model yourself after Fauci-Birx instead of Myers-Briggs. I’d bet good money that the not-so-stressed men in the Myers-Briggs research were either denying their own stress or consistently putting themselves first, speaking their minds and delegating work. Start doing the same.
Check Your Self Perception
Know the difference between self-protection and self-sabotage, writes Jennifer Louden in Why Bother? Discover the Desire for What’s Next. Although it was written pre-pandemic, Why Bother? is the perfect mix of reality and comfort when it comes to advice. Author Louden suggests “letting your anger pave the way to self-renewal. She adds, “Your anger can tell you what matters and what doesn’t. It can make you roar, ‘get out of my way!’”
I second that emotion: Roaring should be less of a rarity for women. But before we all begin a group primal scream, I want to pause for minute and address the news. The enormity of the stress, grief and struggle for truth and power being playing out in front of us daily is overwhelming. American men and women are, rightly so, roaring in outrage most recently over the George Floyd case, and marking the death 100,000 Americans . Sadly, there will be much more to grieve. Now is not a time to turn inward and think about our grievances while sitting mindfully on a cushion. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I think that comes after the roar.
Putting the U.S. back together again in some new form lies in how we manage it, either as a challenge to be conquered or a beast to be feared. It’s a beast right now. Most likely, we’ll tame that after we have made it through this pandemic to the other side, where we will all be forced to deal with the trauma and grief this country has endured. Until then…
Take the Help or Delegate
Another common piece of advice that continues to stand the test of time is to adopt a growth or open mindset. Retrain your brain to think of doubts as just speed bumps and traffic jams, not head on collisions. Don’t grind through the days. Attack problems with grit, suggests Louden. Her point: Grinding through work and home life on autopilot will only lead you down the path of asking, Why bother?
No amount of willfulness will make this present crisis go away quickly—and it’s certainly a grind. One tactic to start using immediately: Say ‘yes’ to well-meaning friends and family who offer to help. Don’t delay. When someone says, ‘I can help you do x or y,’ make a plan and get it done. Don’t push your goals off until the world feels safer.
Don’t Wait Until It’s ‘Safer’ to Start Managing Stress
The world is never safe, we just think it is. Your job, whatever it is, was never safe. Your health wasn’t either. You can manage this uncertainty by taking the help you need. When you knock on doors confidently and navigate in a way that lets you claim some power, you will feel less stressed.
I can clearly remember just after Hurricane Katrina, a woman at a very high level working on disaster relief spoke at a conference on business leadership. The slide behind her said, “no one is coming to help you.” It’s something I will never forget. No matter where you move or whoever you choose to build your post-pandemic relationships with, there you are. Only you can help you to begin again after a crisis.
On Your Way To The Top
“Middle management positions may be more stressful for women than men because these positions are often characterized by a need to prove yourself as a leader,” the Myers-Briggs experts report. Personally, I’m not buying that argument, and I won’t suggest you should either. Women’s leadership is on display all over this country. Men’s buffoonery is also well represented.
What you can do is forget the male-female comparisons and adopt a ‘growth mindset’, a phrase most often associated with influential researcher Carol Dweck. To grow, your mind must see possibilities, explains Dweck. You must embrace learning. In the coming years, knowledge will be power Even if you are unemployed or a gig worker, you can embrace a growth mindset.
You don’t need an organization to push you forward. You need an organizing principle. Put yourself at the center. Your stress matters just as much as anyone else’s. When standing in the messy middle of all this, ask yourself, what do I need to lower the panic level in my life? Put anything that helps you get to that goal at the top of your to-do list every darn day.
And as was mentioned earlier, stop taking no for an answer.
Once you do, you’ll also be able to stop taking what people say about your work at face value, too. There will be no more ‘whatever makes you happy’ in relationships or ‘it’s just not going to work’ in the workplace. You will have spoken up confidently sooner and with more of your own goals in mind. Sometimes we have to learn all of those lessons again and again until we get better at them. Never waste a crisis. As for me, I started my own business and I make the rules. Myers-Briggs says owners have lower levels of stress.
See the original article in Forbes.