(NEW YORK) — Women in the United States are more stressed than men about the global coronavirus pandemic and are taking more precautions because of it, according to a new report.
Women are worried that they or someone in their family will get sick from the new novel coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19. They worry more about losing income and worry more about putting themselves at risk because they can’t afford to stay home, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a non-profit organization focused on national health issues.
KFF’s poll of over 1,200 adults ages 18 and older in the U.S. found that women also worry more than men that they may not be able to afford testing or treatment for COVID-19 and report that the worry and stress related to the virus have had a “major negative impact on their mental health.”
The poll’s findings showed heightened stress among women even as data from around the world shows that the mortality rate for COVID-19 is higher for men than women. Experts point to the fact though that women are often placed in more of a caregiver role.
Research has shown too that women in opposite-sex couples do more of the domestic work in the household, even if they make more money outside the home. A 2019 Harvard University study found that women hold the cognitive labor for household tasks, including anticipating and monitoring what needs to be done.
“From social science work, we do know that women experience the pressure of caregiving more than men,” Shainna Ali, a Florida-based licensed mental health counselor told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “Now we’re having all of the roles overlap more than usual.”
Ali points out an important caveat in the poll’s findings, which is that the findings are self-reported so the higher percentages for women may suggest that women are simply reporting more honestly about how they’re feeling.
But with schools and offices closed across the country as officials try to slow the spread of coronavirus, many women are trying to balance working from home while also homeschooling their children and figuring out how to keep them engaged while socially distant from their peers.
Women have also taken on the burden of developing a response to the pandemic for themselves and their families, according to the KFF poll.
More women than men reported they decided not to travel or changed travel plans, canceled plans to attend large gatherings, stocked up on items like food, household supplies and medications and stayed home instead of going out, according to KFF’s poll.
“The findings of the survey reinforce much of what we have known about the impact that balancing multiple responsibilities – often without a safety net — has on women,” KFF said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the gaps in workplace supports, such as paid sick and family leave, as well as the lack of affordable childcare and long-term care supports.”
Eve Rodsky is the author of a bestselling book Fair Play that explores how women bear the brunt of child-rearing and domestic life responsibilities, whether they work outside the home or not, and offers ways couples can divide the domestic load.
Rodsky told GMA that she was not surprised by the findings of the KFF poll that women appear to be shouldering the extra stress and anxiety brought on by the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Women in good times are diagnosed with anxiety disorders twice as much as men and it’s because we’re holding the conception and planning of every household activity,” she said. “[A woman’s brain] is a brain that doesn’t shut off”.
“The problem during a pandemic is that emotion is high and cognition is low,” Rodsky said.
Rodsky and Ali shared five steps women can take to help reduce their anxiety and make sure they are carrying a fair domestic load as we see our way through the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Give yourself five minutes to write down everything that is worrying you at the moment, Ali said. Next, look at your worries and see if you can pull from each one something that is in your control, something that you can manage.
Then, acknowledge in each worry the things you cannot do anything about, i.e., not being able to control when schools will reopen or whether someone at the grocery store may have coronavirus.
“Manage what you can and release what you can’t,” said Ali. “Recognize what you can do and focus on the ability to do that.”
2. Practice self-love in the form of deep breathing and mindfulness and gratitude practices.
“These are things that don’t take a lot of time and cost us nothing and even five minutes is better than not doing anything at all,” Ali said. “Find those little times throughout the day to find your center so you can better help yourself therefore your partner and your children.”
3. Find community in this time that you may be physically alone.
“It’s really important to recognize that social distancing is not social isolation,” Ali said. “Even if you have individuals in your home with you, it could be helpful to reach out to siblings and friends and colleagues and make a connection.”
4. Start where you are now and realize there is no one way to handle a pandemic, Rodsky said.
“Understand that your home is going to look different than other homes and it doesn’t have to look like others’ homes,” she said. “Start where you are and where and your partner are, accept what’s important to your family, what your priorities are and it is what it is.”
5. Spend 20 minutes every night debriefing about how everything is going.
“Sit down with your partner and say, “How are we doing? How’s it going with us? How are we doing with homeschooling? Who’s doing laundry tomorrow?'” she said. “Ask open-ended questions.”
Rodsky said asking open-ended questions and starting by explaining why something is important to you instead of just why something has to get done.
“If you can focus on why it’s important to you in your nightly check-in, it’s the most important communication tool in a crisis,” she said, noting that couples also need to agree that “all time is created equal,” i.e., we all only have 24 hours in a day.
If you don’t have a partner, the nightly check-in is still a valuable tool to help you see what’s going well, what’s causing stress and what you can control versus letting go of.
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