It is of no surprise to anyone that women in their thirties or forties coping with work, young children and ‘running a home’ are exhausted to an extent which is dangerous to their health. What can we do about this dramatic state of affairs?
The Daily Mail, UK, reports an unspecified study here on http://www.psycport.com with the unsurprising conclusion that women in their thirties or forties coping with work, young children and ‘running a home’ are exhausted to an extent which is dangerous to their health.
85 percent of those polled (an unspecified group) said they ‘frequently feel tired’, and 59 percent of them ‘feel tired all the time’. Only 25 percent regularly get seven or eight hours sleep a night. Seventy percent of the thirty-something women felt stressed on a weekly basis and 78 percent reported not having time to eat properly, 31 percent saying that they snack all the time rather than sitting down to proper meals.
92 percent said lack of sleep had weakened their immune system and complaints such as headaches, chest infections, heart palpitations and eczema were experienced regularly. Stress and lack of good nutrition obviously play a part here as well. The body needs more energy to cope with the demands of life and lack of sleep, and is typically getting less, plus being overloaded with unnecessary and harmful sugar, salt, fat and other stuff hidden within your typical ‘snack’.
Most of those surveyed knew, of course, that eating more fruit and vegetables, sleeping more and taking more exercise would make them feel better. Women in their thirties and forties are also, after all, overloaded with information on health and well being. But they claimed that they couldn’t do so because they had so little free time.
How have we come to feel so out of control? How come we stubbornly persist in putting our needs last and end up having to find another hour in the week in which to go to a therapist with entrenched anxiety problems, or having a physical or mental breakdown which forces us to reassess our priorities?
The first phrase which struck me in the article was ‘running a home’. Were all the women studied single parents living alone? There is no reason at all for the woman to feel that she has to ‘run a home’ — that is the shared responsibility of everyone living there, including children when they become old enough to help out. The first step to getting in control of your time has to be to sit down with the people you live with and work out how tasks can be divided fairly, and according to people’s arrangements, personalities etc. “Women’s work”, as feminists pointed out 50 years ago, has a tendency to be invisible unless it is brought out into the open and discussed.
Then health needs to be prioritised by all members of the family. It’s not the case that taking care of ourselves is an extracurricular, ‘free-time’ activity. Of course social and financial factors are absolutely crucial here, and the difficulties of keeping a work-life balance should not be our individual problem to solve. Ultimately, within our own unique and usually constraining set of circumstances, we choose what we do with our time. Drawing a life-pie or other kind of diagram in which you set down in concrete form what percentage of your day is spent on which activity, can be an eye-opener! If you normally spend time playing with the children, watching TV with them, or taking them to some class or event or other, maybe more of that time could be spent cooking together or taking a walk, going for a swim. If there’s time for children to eat a healthy meal, there’s time for Mum to sit down too. Other things can wait, indeed they have to.
The idea is to get back the feeling of being basically in control of your life. This dramatically reduces stress and anxiety. And practising assertiveness at work and with family members works wonders in clawing back those little pieces of time that can make all the difference, the difference between being tired (which let’s face it is inevitable) and dangerously exhausted.
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