As women take on the roles of income-generator, teacher, helper, adviser and caregiver, they are increasingly at risk of burn-out.
Janine Roos, of the Mental Health Information Centre at the Medical Research Council (MRC), says while men are beginning to help more at home, it’s been estimated that mothers still spend twice as much time with their children as dads do.
Women are participating in the workforce as well as shouldering a great deal of responsibility at home. From early on we get the message that we can achieve anything if we work hard enough.
“Achieve more, be the best, push to the top, reach your goals, have no limits. It’s inevitable that the pace of life, work overload, job insecurity and increasingly high expectations will eventually catch up with us if we are not mindful about the danger of burnout,” she said.
Burn-out is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors and is usually job-related. It is characterised by inefficacy, exhaustion, cynicism, and withdrawing from people and activities you once enjoyed.
“It is an insidious process that creeps up on you. It becomes progressively worse if there’s no intervention to break the cycle,” Roos said.
Burn-out does not just affect the individual, but can have catastrophic consequences for families, colleagues and friendships, she added.
She said the centre received regular calls relating to burn-out.
Many senior business managers still do not believe stress, anxiety or depression is a serious enough reason for employees to take time off work, she said.
Crick Lund, of the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health, said it was important that women bear in mind physical and mental health go hand-in-hand.
Women face stressors, and it’s very difficult to juggle their many different roles. It is important for women to look after their mental health, through finding time to be with their families, eating well, sleeping well and maintaining their overall health. Physical and mental health are interlinked, Lund said.
If the stresses of daily life added up, combined with traumatic experiences or a genetic predisposition, it could result in symptoms of depression and anxiety, he said.
Roos said women need to take ownership of their circumstances and know that their response to the demands of the world determines their stress levels.
She advises women to stay active, avoid unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking, focus on the positives in their lives, create limits and learn to say “no”, and get help in time to prevent burn-out through family support and counselling.
Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn’t mean never going through bad times or experiencing emotional problems, but the difference is that people with good emotional and physical health have an ability (resilience) to bounce back from adversity, trauma and stress, she said.
– IOL Lifestyle