Stress as an issue for women

Stress as an issue for women

Stress is a normal part of our lives, and while men and women stress differently (read more here), a recent study found that women in the workplace reported higher stress levels than men. These women felt more under-appreciated, tenser and regarded themselves as underpaid compared to their male colleagues.

In my coaching practice, I hear the term “burnout” more and more. Cathy (name changed) was criticised by her manager that she was not tough enough and just wasn’t “producing the goods”.

Cathy felt that she was being unfairly held to a different standard than her colleagues. She tried hard to meet other people’s expectations at work and at home, but no matter how hard she pushed herself, she felt she disappointed them.

Cathy started doing even more work in the evenings and on weekends. As she drove herself and her team, she became irritable and short tempered. She couldn’t relax, felt overwhelmed and slept poorly. She felt if she took time off, she would pay the price when she came back to work.

It took a panic attack and a visit to her doctor to realise that the situation was untenable, and she opted for a different role at work.

Looking back she says that her biggest lesson was that she needed to develop her self confidence to challenge her bosses’ perception of herself.

Why should a lack of self-confidence cause stress? The answer seems to lie with our ancient negativity bias which makes us constantly alert to potential threat and react to negative things quicker and stronger than to good things. This habit of focusing on the negative unfortunately traps us into low self-confidence.

It may be that testosterone (of which men have about 7 to 8 times more than women) also plays a role in self-confidence, with research finding:

  • Men are consequently typically more risk-taking and have a greater sense of dominance.
  • Men over estimate their abilities by approximately 30%, while women under estimate their abilities.
  • Women are almost twice as likely to suffer anxiety and depression as men
  • Women are more likely to ruminate over the inability to cope than men

In light of these findings and understanding how stress was undermining Cathy’s self-confidence, in our coaching we developed six strategies to boost her self-confidence and change her response to stress:

1. Nurture your work relationships

Cathy got to know her colleagues better, and went out of her way to support them. Gradually her network of supportive colleagues also supported her.

2. Find meaning in your work

When I asked Cathy why she worked, she said incredulously: “The money of course”. On probing deeper however, she re-connected with her belief that she improved her customers’ lives through her team’s sales and service. This deeper perspective helped renew her energy for her job (read more here).

3. Change your self-talk

When experiencing stress and your resilience is low, it’s common to experience negative self-talk and rumination. Cathy learnt to listen to her self-talk, and notice when it was overly negative and inaccurate. She learned to restructure her thinking to be more accurate and more useful (read more here and here).

4. Set boundaries

She changed the way she dealt with unreasonable requests, by explaining the impact on her and fielding the request back to the person. For example: “If I took on this project, I would have to work through the weekend and I have promised the kids to go camping. I really want to keep my promise to them, so is there another way we can meet the client’s deadline?”

5. Be kind to yourself

Cathy de-cluttered her life at work and home. She went back to gym and consulted a dietician about her weight. She even scheduled time in her diary for herself, no longer filling her day with back-to-back meetings. She enjoyed spending time with her close friends.

6. Hold yourself lightly

Cathy changed her self-perception from being “super woman” to “well woman”. She came to realise that mistakes and even failure are not the end of the world, as long as she learnt from them and only made them once. Each evening, before going to sleep, she reflected on what she was deeply grateful for or alternately three what good things that had occurred that day. This put a day’s events in perspective and she slept better (read more here).

The six strategies helped Cathy recover her zest for life – would these strategies be useful to you too?

Mental Strength training
NEW! Mental Strength Training!

Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).

Building Resilience workshop

Building Resilience Workshop

Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).

Resilient Leadership WorkshopResilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).



Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at