AIS Executive Director Dr. Heidi Hanna appeared on Good Morning San Diego on April 3, 2018 to talk about women and stress at work.

A study found that 30% of women reported that their mental health struggles affect their ability to perform their job. Dr. Hanna says we always have to look at these studies carefully and she thinks that stress is under reported.

“30% is a lot, but those are people that are willing to say that it is impacting them. Even though we’ve gotten better about sharing mental illness and mental health concerns publicly with their colleagues, I think people still really hesitate because they’re afraid it’s going to be a sign of weakness. Especially women, because we already worry that we’re already being perceived as emotional and that is a negative thing. So we really don’t want to complain or bring everybody else down around us.”

Dr. Hanna says that women are neurologically wired to process stress differently. One of the analogies she likes to use is if a man and women are given a task, the man is more likely to take a direct beeline to getting the task done, finishing it and moving on to the next thing. The female brain processes a lot more holistically, thinking about other options and how they might affect other people. These are great skill sets to have in the workplace. Studies have also shown that companies with women in leadership, or a woman on the board, tend to be more profitable that companies that do not. Women are taking more time to make sure that it’s the right decision around the task and they’re thinking a little more about how it affects other people, as they listen to make sure everyone is contributing to the task at hand.

“Instead of trying to avoid the negative of it, lean into the strength of it. For example, we tend to be better listeners. Lean into relationships and really relying on each other for social support. There’s a brain chemical called oxytocin that is shown to decrease the negative impact of stress. So if you and I are going through something together and we feel connected and bonded, that will actually cause our brain to grow instead of atrophy because of that oxytocin. Women have more of that naturally.”

She says that this has an effect on work because we listen more thoroughly and we’re able to collaborate more effectively. She thinks it’s also important to realize when a task is just a task, but more often than not, a task is innovative and creative and collaborative, with people bringing different things to the table to make a group decision more effective.

For men that are wanting to help their spouse or partners alleviate stress, Dr. Hanna gives some ideas for support.

“The female brain wants to talk, and that’s okay. Being there and being supportive to listen and talk about the experience is actually one thing. Women can also use a little bit of help getting the nourishment that we need and taking downtime. Having other things that may even be distracting temporarily like going to a movie or that are nurturing for us like going to the spa or going for a walk or spending time with friends, those are all helpful. Of course, one of my favorites is embracing humor. Not laughing at problems, but studies have also shown there is something called an inner coping style that helps to minimize the effects of stress.”