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Eight out of 10 of women have felt unable to cope in the past year – here's why we're so stressed




Like every other age known to humankind, these are hard times to be a woman. According to the UK’s biggest survey into the impact of stress, 81% say they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope in the past year (compared with 67% of men). The other 19% were probably too damn busy, or perhaps just drained by being paid less than the man sitting next to them, to respond.

For those of us doing the woman thing day in, day out, this inordinately high figure is about as shocking as misogyny still being rife at Cannes. I am, like most women I know, one of the 81%. There have been moments in the past year when I have felt overwhelmed by what life has hurled at me. Major moments such as my son receiving an autism diagnosis less than a week after I gave birth to my daughter. But also minor moments, because that’s the weirdly indiscriminate nature of stress, including finding out I was only entitled to $27 a week state maternity pay, which, thankfully, turned out to be an error. Or, some days, the hell that can be simply leaving the flat. When I’m on my own with an impatient four-year-old slamming the door repeatedly, a screaming baby on one hip, a dog in the histrionic throes of separation anxiety and a buggy that refuses to open, the stress can momentarily be as overwhelming as when I’m in genuine crisis.

It’s not hard to identify the causes, and I’m not talking about hormones or some innate biological sensitivity, both of which are routinely given as reasons why women experience more stress than men. I’m talking about deep and growing inequality, otherwise known as the cause that doesn’t blame women. The gender pay gap, which results in profound workplace stress – alongside increased levels of sexism and harassment – for women.

Stress is what happens when we are not supported to do what needs to be done. And women’s work, paid and unpaid, is both structurally undervalued, and, famously, never done. This is why women working in heavily male-dominated workplaces suffer greater stress than in more gender-balanced environments. It’s why women’s stress has been shown to peak between the ages of 35 and 44, my own age bracket, when we are at the apex of juggling work and caring responsibilities. It’s why women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men. Not because we aren’t coping, but because too much is being asked of us for too little pay.

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