Most of the data linking women and stress doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Compared to men, women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress such as headaches, being close to tears, and having an upset stomach. We’re also more likely to report having a great deal of stress—28 percent compared to men’s 20 percent. Almost half of women say their stress has increased in the past five years.
The one area where women excel, statistics-wise, is recognizing the need for stress management. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), women do a better job of connecting with others, which helps us navigate our stress ”mines,” and we understand the positive effects of a good night’s rest, even if we’re too stressed to complete a REM cycle. At least, at the very least, we have that.
Of course, there’s a difference between knowing when you need to manage your stress and actually managing it, and that’s the gap we want to bridge today. You’ve likely read that bubble baths, meditation, hot yoga, CBD, and a variety of other self-care strategies can help you calm your nerves, and sometimes they can. But long-term stress reduction is the result of exposing your core problem-makers and remedying them with something heartier than mere moments of zen. These are some of the stressors you should root out now to save yourself the literal headaches later.
Know your finances
Here are some facts to get you sweating: Women typically live longer than men, yet they are three times as likely as men to say they can't afford to save for retirement, a result of factors like the gender pay gap and the motherhood penalty leaving women underpaid compared to their male peers. For this reason, women also find it harder than their male peers to repay debts, such as student loans. Finally, because women are often discouraged from learning about money (it’s traditionally been considered a man’s world), women have significantly lower rates of financial literacy, which means they don’t learn smart money tactics like investing.
Believe it or not, the goal of this article is not to freak you out, but to remind you that money factors hugely into women’s stress, and educating yourself on the things men have been learning about for decades is integral to your future happiness. Ask your coworkers how much they make, always negotiate your salary, learn how to tap into different forms of passive income, and make a plan for how you will tackle financial barriers to retirement.
Finally, ask someone you trust to explain how things like 401(k)s work. (My favorite opening line here is, Talk to me like I’m stupid.) No one is born understanding finances, and it’s not your fault if no one ever taught you.
Balance your relationship
Break up with your boyfriend! Just kidding. He seems nice. But you do need to talk to him—or whoever your partner might be—about dividing up “life” responsibilities because, despite the fact that women now outnumber men on payrolls, women still bear most of the burden at home, clocking about four and a half hours of unpaid labor compared to men’s two. This contributes to a stress gap in opposite-sex relationships and can build resentment.
Instead of becoming a human pack mule (And calendar! And holiday shopper! And did you call his mom yet about the family reunion?), talk to your partner about division of labor. Being in an equal partnership doesn’t mean you split unpaid work 50/50. It means you sit down and, line item by line item, discuss who’s in charge of what based on your current work and life schedules. Depending on the intensity of your careers and flexibility of your hours, you might go 70/30, 20/80, or 60/40. Do whatever works for your relationship.
Structure your time
Whether paid or unpaid, your work will never really be done, but that doesn’t mean you won’t stress over fitting as much of your to-do list into the day as possible. You could lower your expectations, sure, but a more realistic, not personality-altering way to approach time is to learn how to maximize it. Go-to ways are through strategic time management, time blocking, delegation, and becoming more organized.
Within all of that work-doing, be sure to set aside time for you as well. Vacations, personal days, mental health days, and, fine, bubble baths are times when life shouldn’t feel like a live-action day-planner. Create a self-care plan that helps you balance your work with the time you need to read that book that’s been on your bedside table since last July.
Read more: 13 Busy Women on How to Stay Organized