Maybe life feels like it's hitting the fan at home, and you feel forced to put on a brave face at work to just get through the day. You're not alone. It may surprise you just how many women are silently struggling at their desks, too.
Whatever it is that you're going through, the chances are high that another woman in your office is dealing with issues at home, too. She may be coping with depression, anxiety or just the sheer feeling of being overwhelmed, as well.
After all, it’s estimated that 16.1 million adults in the United States, or 6.7 percent of American adults, have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year. Maybe you're not depressed, but you are dealing with debilitating anxiety. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 40 million adults in the United States, or 18.1 percent of the population every year. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), specifically, affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1 percent of the U.S. population, and only 43.2 percent are receiving treatment for it. GAD often co-occurs with major depression, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Women have it the worst — they're twice as likely to be affected by GAD as men. It's no secret that working women are tasked with wearing multiple hats — being the primary caretakers of their homes and working while at it. And they're often the subjects of shame for how their parenting choices affect their careers and vice versa. Throw on top of that the everyday pressures of family, marriage, finances, home ownership and more — and the potential conflicts that could come with those (read: being unable to afford the astronomical costs of childcare or college tuition, fighting custody battles, going through divorce, coping with various forms of abuse, caring for a sick or elderly parents, missing mortgage payments, the list goes on...) — and surviving some days can feel like an impossible feat.
We spoke with experts to share their best advice on how to separate issues at home from work, so women can make sure their workplaces are still productive safe spaces.
"The women’s movement has opened an array of opportunities in education and careers for women; however, in many families, women are still primarily responsible for raising the children and caring for household chores," says Theresa Gil, psychotherapist, psychology professor, and trainer who works with women, children and families dealing with recovery from child abuse and trauma. Gil is also the author of Women Who Were Sexually Abused as Children: Mothering, Resilience, and Protecting the Next Generation. "The women I work with in my practice are not only caring for the physical and emotional needs of their children, but they are also responsible for the household tasks such as laundry, cooking and cleaning. Mothers find it very stressful to balance the tasks of managing home and work schedules with parenting responsibilities. It is understandable why mothers feel exhausted with the multiple tasks involved in caring for their children and work. Many of the mothers I work with, particularly single moms, express that working full-time while managing household and mothering responsibilities leaves them feeling overextended, and it limits the physical and emotional energy they desire to provide to their children.
"A woman’s family responsibilities are never-ending and easily seep into other arenas of her life including the workplace. It is necessary that working moms be gentle with themselves. Many of the expectations we have in our roles as mothers and in our careers are standards that others set. We have images of what it means to be 'good' and 'effective' in our multiple roles. Many times these external standards are unrealistic and should be re-evaluated. It is important to take the time to assess our own personal values, goals and beliefs and to ensure that we are living our life congruent with our values.
"The mothers in my practice are able to manage their family and work responsibilities by creating a realistic structure in their lives. A predictable structure and routine reduces daily stressors. They also have friends and family that offer emotional and caretaking support. Cultivating a supportive system in and outside of work helps to alleviate stressors and increase energy, focus and a sense of well-being."
"A good strategy to mentally separating home issues from work time is to see your work time as an escape from your home issues," says Miki Feldman Simon, founder of IamBackatWork, a company dedicated to returning women to the workforce. "Embrace the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in your work and not think about whatever troubles you have at home.
"By making that decision you are setting up a positive separation between the two worlds. It can help you create a healthy place for your mind to ‘have a rest’ from the issues at home. You are telling yourself that now, at work, is not the time you want to think about home. When thoughts about the home issues re-enter your mind, you can repeat to yourself 'this is work time.'"
"I’m a therapist and I work solely with women, many of whom are working and raising a family at the same time," says Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, professional counseler, registered play therapist and author of Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life's Most Difficult Challenges and Changes. "Give yourself a set time and space when you will be able to process what was going on at home. It may not be until later in the evening when you can sit down and journal, call your best friend, talk to your spouse, etc.
"Any time the issue pops into your head during the work day, gently remind yourself that you will be able to process it at 7 p.m. that evening (as an example). Use self-care practices such as meditating, mindfulness/focusing on your five senses, exercising, journaling, etc. as means to help you stay present and grounded in the here-and-now."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.