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Women Who Try to 'Do It All' Risk Depression

< Aug. 24, 2011 > -- Working moms are less likely to be depressed than stay-at-home moms - but only if they have realistic expectations about balancing work and home life.

Photo of woman in business attire smiling at her young son with his backpack

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle looked at a survey of 1,600 women who were married with kids at home. Those who worked full or part time and knew that juggling work schedules and child rearing would be difficult showed fewer signs of depression than mothers who didn't work.

But working mothers who thought that balancing career and family would be a snap also showed more signs of depression than the more laid-back moms.

Signs of depression included difficulty concentrating, feeling lonely, sad or restless, having trouble sleeping or getting going in the morning, and feeling unable to shake the blues.

A disconnect on expectations

"The findings really point to the mismatch between women's expectations about their ability to balance work and family," says study author Katrina Leupp at the University of Washington. "Women still do the bulk of household labor and child care, even when they're employed full time."

Leupp and the other researchers used results from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which, when it began, included women ages 22 to 30. The women were asked their opinion on various statements about women, work and family. The researchers then measured the participants' level of depression when they turned 40.

About 65 percent of the mothers of young children and 80 percent of women with children older than age 5 are employed, according to 2006 statistics cited by the researchers.

'Supermom' viewpoint

Some of the women who think it won't be difficult to work and take care of kids may feel more stress because they see themselves as "supermoms" - trying to be overachievers in all aspects of life, Leupp says.

Instead, working moms may be happier when they let a few things slide and delegate some of the work.

"We do know that, having to do things like answer an email at night is associated with feelings of guilt for women but not for men, and that guilt is associated with psychological distress," Leupp says.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Work-Home Stress

Many women face difficult challenges and responsibilities that may overlap or conflict, causing stress that can affect their health. Stress can arise out of difficulties at home, in relationships, and in the workplace.

Tips to reduce or manage the stress in your life:

  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. A nutritious, well-balanced diet and regular exercise can keep your body fit and able to resist disease. Exercise is also an excellent way to elevate your mood.

  • Talk about your stressful situations with someone you trust. Sometimes, just talking about your problems and concerns can help you put them into perspective and give you insights into ways to deal with them.

  • Stay organized to help manage your time more efficiently.

  • Remember, no one can do it all alone, so ask for help.

  • Use relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body.

  • Get professional help if you need it.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Psychological Association - Stress Tip Sheet

Mental Health America - Live Your Life Well

National Women's Health Information Center - Good Mental Health