Why are Women so burnt out?

By Dr. Maryam Zeineddin, MD, CCFP, FCFP


Most of us believe, or at least want to believe, that we are in a new era of increasing equality for women in the workplace. Yet at the same time,  women’s mental health is suffering more than ever. Why are we struggling so hard to make it all work? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself and my patients constantly.

A Question of CEO Mentality
Working women generally have another full-time job outside of the workplace: they are the CEOs of their homes and families, and the caregivers for their parents. They may also volunteer in their kids’ schools, community centres, and community organizations, or sit on one or more boards of directors. This is all on top of their home and work responsibilities. To top it all off, working women have the added societal pressure of practicing the lifestyle measures of getting fit and slim, and trying to do everything possible to look younger than their age. Our society has somehow come to accept that women have unwittingly signed up to do all this; while a high-velocity stream of consumerism feeds us the products we think we need to reach these goals.   

The questions is: why do we buy into all this? What is the driving force that makes us need to be so many things to so many people? Is it purely guilt, or is it an innate caregiver role that we are born into?

We endeavor to do our very best professionally, no matter what role we are in. To climb the ladder of leadership, we have to truly believe we deserve a promotion before we can even attempt to apply or request one – and we have a great deal of self-doubt. It’s a pressure-filled mentality: we must always be working at one hundred percent capacity to accomplish our tasks and goals to the best of our abilities.

Outside of work, we strive to be the greatest mothers, wives, friends, daughters, aunties and more. These roles are often prioritized over taking care of ourselves. It is very rare that we commit to taking the best care of ourselves before committing to the many other demands on our time.

Taking Best Care
Most of us are unable to recognize that we don’t even know what it means to “take the best care of ourselves.” It has just never been a priority; it’s something that comes after everything is completed at work and at home – which it rarely ever is. Even when we do have time to spend on ourselves, we fall back into “I should” statements, with goals of physical health (often with a focus on appearance), rather than mental health. This mindset is a major contributing factor to anxiety and depression. At the same time, there is still so much stigma attached to anxiety and depression, and many women do not wish to show signs of what they may perceive as “weakness” (which anxiety and depression are absolutely not).

Taking care of your mental health is at least as important as caring for your physical health, if not more. In fact, if you have a mental illness, it can translate into physical signs and symptoms including muscle ache, fatigue, and increased risk of heart disease, stroke, inflammatory illnesses and cancer.

The Insight to Let Go
The key to mental health is having insight into what your body and mind can handle each day. That means setting boundaries for yourself, and letting go of guilt. It means focusing on quality time rather than quantity of time with your loved ones. It requires letting go of your need to control everything, and allocating some of those responsibilities. But how do you get there?

Think about the way you try to exercise to improve your physical health. We need to take that same approach to exercising our minds to achieve a healthy mental state. And that can be accomplished with meditation.

Even just 10 minutes a day of meditation with a guided app on your phone will start giving you the insight you need to understand how you feel, what you can handle, and how to accept your thoughts without judgement. It’s a remedy I use in my own life, and I preach it to all my patients.

Physical activity, good nutrition, connection with others, intentional living, and health screenings are the pillars of good physical and mental health. But the foundation for each pillar is mindfulness. Find a way to incorporate meditation into your life as a daily habit. If all working women meditated daily, I truly believe we could achieve a much healthier, happier society as a whole.  If all women took ownership of their health, we would change the world.