by Denise Berger
“AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!! I am sooooo stressed!” How many times have you been screaming those words - - in your head - - while externally you look calm, cool and collected? You may have just come from a business meeting and now rush frantically to your child’s school… or you may be sitting in a pediatric appointment, the doctor is running late, and now you fear that you will miss a scheduled meeting back in the office. How about the times when little errands creep into your day’s plans, or something breaks in the house, the school calls that your child is sick, or your husband asks you to pick up / drop-off something because he, himself, hasn’t the time. All of a sudden you find yourself in a pressure cooker, taking on too much for the amount of waking hours in the day. There are countless examples when our working and personal worlds collide, when there aren’t enough minutes in the day, and the boss is calling, the kids are fighting, the husband is asking, the school is requesting, the house needs fixing, the “to do” list is growing, the deadlines are approaching. Don’t you just want to scream sometimes?
The impact of stress has relevance to both genders and all age groups, actually, and bears direct influence on the economy, business, families and our environment. Colleen Contreras and Jim Claitor, authors of the book Build the Life You Want and the program overwhelmedandovercommitted.com, provide the following staggering statistics:
Up to 9 out of 10 visits to a general / family doctor in the US are due to stress – which fuels the much-debated high costs of medicine;
Annual cost of work time lost due to stress equals $30 billion in the US alone – affecting productivity of our businesses;
40% of worker turnover is due to stress – The cost of turnover is between $3,000 and $30,000 per employee, and as high as 6-digits for highly skilled employees, not including lost productivity; and
$300 billion, or $7,500 per employee, is spent annually in the US on stress-related compensation claims, reduced productivity, absenteeism, health insurance costs, direct medical expenses (nearly 50% higher for workers who report stress), and employee turnover.
And, it is not just the person under stress who is impacted; it is also those around us, including our children. In the Mommy Track'd Newsdesk feature called “Kids Want Parents to Chill Out , ” a recent finding by the The Families and Work Institute is cited -- wherein surveyed children between the ages of 3-10 wished their parents to be less stressed and tired, above all other choices about their parents’ work lives.
An obvious contributing factor to stress is in the hours we work, especially Americans who now work more hours than employees in any other first world country. In fact, The Center for Economic and Policy Research reported in 2006 that there would be a rise in energy consumption by 15-30% if the world increased their work hours to American levels. By the year 2050, the increase in carbon emissions would result in a 1-2 degree Celsius up-tick in the air temperature, ie. a contributing factor to faster global warming! According to CareerBuilding and careerpath.com, 77% of workers felt that the increased use of mobile devices has done nothing to reduce time spent working; isn’t that obvious? We know that electronics and computers are responsible for connecting us faster, globally, and moving us into higher levels of expectations. The result: delivery expectations within the hours in which we work puts an inordinate amount of pressure (and stress) on turn-around time. Thus, the world moves at lightning speed so people work at a much faster pace and the expectations grow beyond capability within the hours presented and the vicious cycle begins. Welcome the onset of stress and the growing struggle to reconcile work and life, and to find moments to decompress physically and mentally.
And throughout all of this, time just seems to slip by faster and faster and emerge again, in a blink of an eye, a year later. After all, as Jim and Colleen valiantly point out, “it doesn’t matter how many variables you have ultimately, the equation always has to balance to the 24 hours that are in a day.” Time management tools are not the panacea alone. Understanding your priorities, having the discipline to prioritize those choices and maintaining self-awareness are integral components to achieve better balance. This all leads to the dirty two letter word, “no”, that so many of us, especially the stay-at-work, guilt-driven moms, have trouble using.
So, speaking of us stay-at-work moms, do we incur more stress than the average person? In August 2007, researchers surveyed 17,000 men and women in 27 countries, including the U.S., and revealed that men do an average of 9-10 hours of housework/week- that's 32%- compared to women who perform 21+ hours/week of housework-about 70% of the labor. Furthermore, the National Organization for Women reports that the division of housework has not changed from what it was nearly 20 years ago - - despite the fact that more women have entered the workforce! Not surprisingly, this leads to greater stress among women. Recent research shows that male blood pressure and stress-hormone levels drop dramatically after 5:00 p.m. while women's levels rise significantly as "they turn their attention from their 'first-shift' jobs to their 'second-shift' responsibilities.” What are we as a community going to do to combat stress? Virginia Valian, Ph.D., points out to us, "The usual solutions proffered to solve women's problems are higher-quality, more affordable, more widely available child care; flexible work hours; and family-leave policies." All those improvements are certainly needed, but what are we going to do in the meantime?