Positive stress is a great motivator. It helps us to be efficient and to achieve our goals. But too much of it can be negative. Sometimes stress can even become part of our lives where we are no longer aware of the negative effects that it has on us. In today's fast-moving world, both men and women are facing more stress than ever. What do you think is the biggest stress factor for women today? Do you work in a male dominated environment that can contribute to further stress?

Negative effects from chronic stress

We have all experienced stress. Experiencing stress for a short period of time gives us the adrenaline to achieve things that we never thought could be possible. Moderate stress is extremely positive. But if it continues for too long, we have all felt its toll – headache, heartburn, insomnia and sometimes even depression. I have always been a driven person who hates sitting around and feeling useless. It is super positive but my tendency in striving for perfection, coupled with my will to try to please people around me makes me extremely vulnerable to stress. Looking at myself today, it is hard to see how I went through several years in my twenties not enjoying life. I lived in a beautiful city with great access to the best skiing resorts. I was working in a place that I had always dreamt of, meeting the smartest and most interesting people every day. So much positive was around me. And yet, I was miserable. That is what chronic stress does! It stops you from appreciating things around you because your body and mind are screaming for a 'STOP'. How does stress affect you? Do you know when you need a 'timeout'?

Work life balance

Work is perhaps the most common stress factor for a lot of people. For me, I feel stressed at work because I always feel inadequate. I struggle to deal with the many roles that I am expected to play at work. I am a scientist and you probably think I sit in the lab or in front of a computer all day. This cannot be further from the truth. Besides the obvious competences, I am also expected to be:

Not just in the lab - a reflection of the many roles women have to play today.

I struggle to become and be good at all of this, while at the same time keeping up with the latest research and knowledge that I need. This is a parallel reflection in many women's lives today, where women are expected to play many roles. Today, you will find women to be colleagues, leaders, doctors, engineers, soldiers, mothers, grandmothers, wives, and many more. We are also expected to look perfect all the times. Juggling between so many roles. No wonder one is stressed.

Do women suffer more stress than men?

Being in the lab is only one of my many roles at work.

Confidence has a lot to do with one feeling stressed or not. From a young age, I had been told science is not for us. I really hope and I do believe things have changed since I was young. But I still remember vividly, when a man who interviewed me for a place at university told me, 'We are all different. Girls play with Barbie and boys play with trains. You are not made for engineering'. Or during my university internship, a man said to me on the phone that he wanted to talk to someone who studied engineering when he was already talking to one. How can one be confident when this is what you have been told? Looking back, I had been a very strong person to have the career that I have today. From a young age, science interests me. I could not care about languages.  History bored me. I was never going to give up my dreams because some dudes told me I am not made for it. I am stubborn in that sense and love to prove people wrong. It is very positive but as a result I often push myself a bit too much. I had my share of times suffering from stress and at times I have even felt depressed. I think I only learnt just how amazing I am and that I need to stop beating myself up only when cancer hit me. But I even felt stressed about work while going through cancer treatment, which is somewhat ridiculous! Today after many years of struggle, I have of course found my happy balance, mostly.

I often wonder though if I were not a tiny woman of oriental ethnicity, in a world doimated by white male, would I be more confident or have an easier time at work? For a starter, I would not have received those negative comments. So possibly, the answer is 'yes' . No one would ever know what effects it might have on me. Perhaps I would be lazy, or be too arrogant to achieve the things that I have today. On the other hand, besides negative comments, I have had enormous support and encouragement from many men throughout my career.  I am eternally grateful for having such fantastic mentors! I wouldn't be here today without them! I have been lucky that way in life. During my darkest, hardest hours of my life, I have always met my 'angels' along the way!

Male dominated environment

I hear people saying every day that they need more women in science. Then, year after year, I still find myself sitting in every meeting as the only female, and often the only person of non-European descent. It is particularly the case here in Oslo. The society is quite divided. There was certainly a wider diversity when I was back in England or when I was visiting Stanford and Berkeley during my PhD.  I think for many years, I have refused to believe that this has a negative effect on me. Now that I understand myself better, I have realised just how different men and women are at work, both emotionally and methodically. In every workplace, men and women of different backgrounds are needed to bring the best teamwork and results. If too many of one gender or background are in a team, the results might be sub-optimal. The worst would be that the person who is 'different' from the rest can feel isolated, and more prone to stress. So, I think 'yes', women and people of ethnic minorities can experience more stress than others. Besides, statistically women are still bearing a heavier load on the domestic front, even in the Western world! This has become even more apparent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How should we cope?

As more and more women are in careers dominated by men, women can experience higher level of stress than their male counterparts. The truth is though, every profession needs women and diversity. Different people bring differnet perspectives, and create a unique team dynamic that ultimately leads to better results.  We must spread our joy of science to younger girls.  

The world is expecting a lot from us, women today. The world expects us to be smart, to present ourselves well, to be a mother, sister, wife, and many more. If you are missing just one of those roles, you might experience stress and judgement from others too. The bottom line is, girls, we are all different regardless of gender. We do not need to play all the roles that are expected of us.

Do the things that you love and in return love yourself! Life is too short. Do not let anyone or anything stops you from reaching your dreams! And at last, take care of yourself! Do the things that reduce your stress level :

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Practice good sleeping hygiene (new blog coming up on this)
  3. Be realistic with your goals
  4. Don't be too harsh on yourself
  5. Forget everyone elses' expectations! 
  6. There is only one person you need to please, yourself!

And if you are not pleased with yourself, you are in no good position to help others including your kids and families. So, it is a 'must' starting point, be happy with yourself.  But it can only be achieved if you set yourself realistic goals! Only then you are in a good position to be a kind, loving and caring woman for your family, friends, and colleagues. 

On this note – join our Asics team (This is for me) to run around the world starting on International Women's day, today! We aim to join and support women around the world, to run a total distance of 40 075 km, the distance around the Earth's equator! Let us empower each other and rule the world! 

Sign up and run until the 17thMarch via this link!  https://linktr.ee/asicsfrontru...

Join us to run around the world! (Photo: Sylvain Cavatz)

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Angela Kok

Seniorforsker fra Oslo



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10 km Halvmaraton olympisk triatlon-distanse

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