It's Not in Your Head — 80% of Women Say 'No' to This Question and It's Hurting Our Mental Health

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May 28, 2024 at 1:14PM UTC
Ever look around your office after a long day and feel like all of your female colleagues are burnt out? Or, in 2021, ever feel like every message you get from your female colleagues makes her sound exhausted or on edge? Chances are, you probably aren't reading the situation wrong. 
Women are facing a burn out epidemic that's only worsened with the pandemic. According to a recent study published by CNBC earlier this year, 65% of women say things have gotten worse in the workplace and only 42% describe themselves as very ambitious, down from 54% in 2020.  
If you're a woman, you know this epidemic is the result of a multiple conditions: Unequal expectations of physical labor at home, unequal expectations of emotional labor at work, uncertainty during a time of massive social upheaval, pushing through trauma. But it's also the result of women not being able to set boundaries against these exhausting forces. 
Recently, online community Chairman Mom shared that when they were researching their new course on combatting burn out, they asked women on social media if they’re good at setting boundaries. More than 80% said no.
While it can feel cheesy to believe that saying "no" is a radical act, these numbers prove it is, in fact, radical to set boundaries for yourself. I mean, less than 20% of women are doing it! 
That could easily be because many women feel they are socialized to feel guilty when we say "no." Chairman Mom shares that this socialization is all around us — from the Mother's Day cards that celebrate martyrdom to the lessons we learn early in our careers about "paying our dues," even from female mentors. 
But the struggle setting boundaries goes a step further than feelings of guilt: Some women feel scared when they say "no." They feel their reputations or future opportunities are on the line, especially when they already face bias for aspects of their identity. And in too many cases, many women have experiences where their "no" has gone unheard or been overridden. Say, the boss who wouldn't accept that you needed to log off at five and forced you to find another job, or the ex-husband who refused to be home for your sick child, or any other series of traumatic events where they weren't heard. 
While lacking boundaries can feel safe, it can also feel like a string of angry emails sent at 10 pm, a sense of impending doom and a lack of ambition. Still, the choice of boundaries instead of burn out is easier evangelized than done. It starts inside — with reminding yourself that saying "no" to some things helps you say "yes" to others. But it's reinforced by situating yourself in a world that accepts you. That's a process — for some, lifelong — and it requires mutual buy in. For as much as it is women's job to set boundaries, it is the world's job to listen. 
This article does not reflect the views of Fairygodboss.

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