Sneha Agarwal, a young IT professional in her mid-twenties, was looking at the silver lining when the national lockdown was announced. Being recently married (she tied the knot last September), she welcomed any opportunity that allowed her to spend time with her busy husband. She believed working from home would be a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, she had no idea what was in store for her. In the absence of the support staff consisting of a cook and two maids, the major share of household chores rested on her fragile shoulder. Her day started early, almost at 6 am because she needed to cook breakfast and clean the house before she started her office work at 9 am. Around noon she would leave her office work unattended to cook lunch and since she didn’t have the time to eat her meals peacefully, she would eat whatever she could between online meetings and presentations. At night when she would try to catch some sleep, her husband’s request to make love, which she enjoyed earlier, would make her cringe now. Unable to handle the pressure after twenty days, she broke down and sought help from a counselling psychologist.
Sneha is not alone. Women seem to be more stressed than men during the lockdown. A recent poll conducted on the ETimes Lifestyle Twitter account, the results too brought to light the same fact. 61 per cent of the respondents voted that women are more stressed than men during the lockdown. According to Dr. Samir Parikh, Director of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, this an issue faced by many working women now. “I have witnessed this issue cropping up in various webinars I have been doing with leading corporates. Many women, who are working in these companies, found it especially difficult and stressful at the same time to be working from home as well as doing household chores and other activities without much support from their partners. This has resulted from the absence of any self-corrective measures to correct gender responsibilities. On the other hand, the few who have been able to share the load of household chores, they have been able to maintain a cordial atmosphere in their daily lockdown period,” said Dr. Parikh.
Dr. Parikh also explained that gender equality remains a concern in many families even today in urban India due to lack of self-corrective measures. “There is a need to introspect the rigidity around gender responsibilities in the traditional meaning of the term. Women belonging to families, where these responsibilities are not as rigid as it used to be, are not as stressed during this period of lockdown.”
While it’s easy to understand the predicaments of working women and how stressful they are during the lockdown, what escapes our notice is the condition of homemakers. According to Rachana Awatramani, a Mumbai-based counseling psychologist, women who are housemakers are facing a lot of challenges as their workload has increased due to lack of house help. “Men and children who used to go out for work and school respectively are at home most of the time, which also creates a demanding situation for women. For instance, a client of mine is getting physically tired as she is keeping up with the demands of all the family members constantly, that is about their food, cleaning the house, etc. She feels exhausted and stressed as the house is small and people are at home all the time, which is creating lack of emotional space as well,” said Awatramani.
As per a recent study conducted by a Bengaluru-based sleep solutions startup, about 67 per cent of people in India are suffering from sleep deprivation during the lockdown. “Women who are working, are being mentally frustrated as due to household work and professional commitment she is not able to get appropriate sleep. Stress and anxiety levels have been high. This is also leading to arguments and fights between relationships,” said Awatramani, adding, “Some of the common issues that all women are facing during the lockdown are health issues, change in sleep patterns, feeling of frustration, pressure, guilt, fear and anxiety.”
What could be the best way to lessen the burden resting on women’s shoulders and relieve some of the stress? “Creating boundaries in such situations is extremely important, that can happen only by communicating and sharing responsibilities. Taking care of yourself and the community is important and also understanding what is in your control and accepting the limitation of the current situation,” advised Rachana.
It’s not always wise to believe that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Asking for help is not a weakness. During difficult times, it’s very important to take care of your health—both physical and mental. And like Dr. Parikh said, there is a need to introspect the rigidity around gender responsibilities in the traditional meaning of the term. And only when we do that perhaps we will be able to proudly say women share equal responsibilities, not more, right?