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The mental-health link between stress, coronavirus, and women

President of The Florida Bar Columns
Dori-Foster-Morales

Dori-Foster-Morales

Stress Awareness Month is right around the corner, coming on the heels of Women’s History Month, and the negative effect of stress is a fitting topic now more than ever. There’s no doubt that 2020 was a hard year for everyone, overflowing with heightened anxiety, worry, and confusion. However, as people around the world transitioned to remote work, one group was put under more stress than others: women.

Even though more women have entered the workforce in recent years, studies show that women still perform the majority of domestic work, including cleaning, cooking, and caring for children. On average, women do two more hours of housework daily than men. This includes women who are considered the breadwinners of their respective households, proving that women attorneys — and in other professional positions — are not exempt from this reality.

Women have also shouldered the majority of the anxiety associated with the coronavirus, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that women have been more likely to create a response plan for the pandemic. Men and children have largely turned to the women in their lives to guide where they should go, who they should see, and what household items they should buy, further adding to the array of women’s responsibilities.

Typically, women in professional positions have experienced a divide between work and home, one providing a break from the duties of the other. But with entire families having spent the last year under the same roof all day, women rarely get a break from the mental burden of anticipating and monitoring all that needs to be done. Women have always experienced the pressure to perform well in their dual roles at work and as caregiver, but now those roles overlap far more than before.

I, myself, have experienced this struggle firsthand. Service professionals have been hit hard by the pandemic, and especially lawyers — those of us who are in the business of helping to solve other people’s problems. Not only are we solving our clients’ problems, we’re also solving the problems of home and family. Female lawyers need to be able to focus on themselves, too.

Certainly, we’ve seen many women show incredible creativity, patience, and perseverance through this pandemic. But despite the ability to persist through difficult times, which women have demonstrated over centuries, it’s critical to remember the importance of mental health. During Stress Awareness Month and throughout the year, here are some things we can do to try to reduce stress.

  • Focus on Community: Connecting with family and friends can be difficult when isolated but calling up a friend or family member can provide a distraction and a break during the day. When feeling overwhelmed, try making a quick phone call to redirect your focus to something that isn’t work-related.
  • Ask for Five Minutes: If you start to feel particularly tense, politely ask the people around you to give you five minutes to yourself. During this time, breathe deeply or try writing down everything that’s making you anxious. Even if you just sit and relax, five minutes can be the break you need to continue through your day.
  • Do Something You Love: Although the pandemic has brought on added responsibilities, it also may be a time to do more of what you love. Whether that means trying a new recipe, getting outside to enjoy the springtime weather, or playing a virtual game, doing something enjoyable and unrelated to work can mitigate some tension.

With the Florida Lawyers Helpline, the emphasis is on ‘help’While there are things you can do to decrease your anxiety levels, sometimes stress can turn into something more serious that needs the help of a professional. In such a case, I strongly recommend the resources available to Bar members, one of which is the Florida Lawyers Helpline, a free, confidential 24/7 lawyers helpline with professional counselors. The Mental Health and Wellness Center has a wealth of CLE videos, podcasts, meditations and self-assessments, studies and news articles, suggested reading, and places to find help.

In the end, we will get through this, together — as professionals, as lawyers, and as women.

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