Author: Sahana Rajan
Starting with a cup of strong beverage early morning, the daily schedule of 75% of working women spans an average of 8 to 10 hours spent at the office followed (and often preceded) by a series of household activities. Today’s women find themselves sandwiched between the target lists of their office and check-boxed functions as house-makers fixated on the label of a ‘mother,’ ‘wife’ or ‘daughter’. Such a hurried lifestyle results in various mental and physical health issues.
What makes the issues of working women any different from that of working men? While we have settled on the fact that the intellectual capacities of a person cannot be determined solely on basis of their gender, answers to the question – ‘Who is the caretaker of the house?’ are still dipped in the waters of socially conditioned outlooks. Thus, working women walk on a tight rope hung in the air, oscillating between the deadlines of office work and demands of home.
Body of Gaia: Lifestyle Diseases
The changes in our lifestyle brought about by urbanization, marked by a system of cabin-ridden jobs have arrived at such a rapid rate that our bodies have found it incapable of adapting to it. Lifestyle diseases refer to those set of medical conditions which arise due to bodily inadaptability to the changes in our ways of living. These changes include sedentary working conditions, maintaining a rigid body posture for a long time, imbalanced diet, disruption in sleeping cycles and lack of physical activity. The most common lifestyle diseases that women suffer from are: multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and depression. A recent study on health of working women (between the ages of 32 to 58 years) revealed that 78% suffer from lifestyle-related acute and chronic illnesses such as obesity, hypertension, backache, heart and kidney diseases.
Among working women, the following factors have formed the matrix of ill-health:
Physical activity: While the morning and afternoons are packed with household work and office tasks respectively, working women do not find adequate time for exercise. They also feel anxious about lack of family members to share household work in case they opted for gym or exercise regimes during evenings. The long-term consequence of insufficient exercise is cardiovascular issues, breast cancer and diabetes.
- Diet: Over 40% of working women do not find time to have a healthy breakfast in the morning. They either skip the breakfast or grab a bite of fast food on their way. Both of these habits conclude in higher insulin resistance and greater weight gain. Without opportunities for sufficient physical activity, women resort to fad and crash diets (like Atkins diet, Caveman diet, Lemonade diet and Hollywood diet) which wind up in lethargy, weight irregularity, nutritional deficiencies and low muscle and bone health.
Smoking and alcohol: It has also been found that number of working women who smoke has drastically increased and is associated with stress and fear of weight gain with quitting. The demands of networking in the office have brought the habit of drinking to women’s tables, coupled with the psychologically luring media tactics (like Bailey and Four Loco advertisements). The habits of smoking and alcohol have the following consequences in the long run: mouth and throat cancer, liver cancer and cardiovascular issues.
Duration of sleep: Recent studies have found that working women only sleep about 4 to 5.5 hours daily on an average. With low amount of sleep, the brain doesn’t reach the threshold over which it (enters deep sleep and) can renew the body tissues, release necessary hormones and ready the body for next day of work. Over a period of time, low amount of sleep (less than 7.5 to 8 hours) results in obesity, diabetes and heart illness.
- Dress code: The common dress code for women in corporate houses includes tight clothing that causes meralgia paresthetica, a case of numbness in the region below thighs due to constriction. Formal clothing is also manufactured with synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester and rayon which could contain carcinogenic chemicals.
- Medical check-ups: The best way to steer away the repercussions of a disorder is by the earliest diagnosis possible. Due to lack of regular health check-ups, many lifestyle diseases are caught only in advanced stages, which eliminates the path of prevention and cure.
Mind of Gaia: Depression and Unhappiness
While there is much talk of the increasing representation of women in the work-life, the substratum of happiness is still far for working women. Having gained financial independence, they find both the home and office as domains that do not support but challenge their opportunities of well-being.
At work: Around the world, women are roughly paid only 60 to 75% of what men earn for work. Called ‘unpaid care work,’ women spend twice to ten times the time taking care of children, the sick and elderly than men do. Further, most of the women face sexist treatment from their male counterparts during their office work time.
At home: That they work the same amount of time and labour as the male members of the family do does not stand as a reason for them to expect sharing household responsibilities. Fueled by the desire to abundantly care for their family and community, they find themselves tugged in war between the demands of their home and office.
These conditions generally produce serious mental illnesses over a period of time. While sexist treatment at office leads to low self-confidence and a negative body image, the demands of home fuel anxiety and isolation. Unable to seek help due to the fear of being accused of incapable of handling responsibilities, they wallow in their pain, which in extreme cases also culminates in suicide and other self-destructive behaviour.
The cure for lifestyle diseases is fundamentally rooted in changing our ways of living. While medicines might help to reduce the symptoms, the illnesses can be managed and their onset prevented by breaking unhealthy habits and letting our approach be well-being oriented than only bodily health.
- Balanced diet (with special consideration in case of medical condition)
- 7 to 8 hours of regular sleep
- 45 minutes of moderate exercise every day: Exercise can include any activity that allows you leisure along with bodily activity – walking your dog, yoga and sports.
- Comfortable clothing: While choosing office attire, go for natural fabrics like cotton, silk, hemp and wool.
- Positive ways of coping with stress: Those who face issues of sharing household responsibilities must initiate dialogue with their families about the same and create a space where every member can contribute towards house-care. Pick up a hobby that allows you to unwind and allow it to detox your stress. This could involve singing, playing with children and participating in social causes.