‘Dual role stress’ affects more urban women every year, resulting in spurt in cardiovascular diseases at younger age, writes Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.
Women are known as champions at multi-tasking – meeting deadlines on projects, developing solutions to bottlenecks, managing a critical deadline over the phone while packing the family’s lunch boxes, checking their child’s homework while ensuring the domestic help doesn’t miss a spot behind the couch, and reminding their spouses of important last dates. They are also sleeping late, struggling to get up early, missing breakfast, skipping exercise only to fulfill the list of responsibilities that looms large over every new day. Women in urban India are increasingly falling prey to serious health risks, given the multiple expectations that they are required to meet.
‘State of the Indian Heart’, an analysis of trends in cardiac diseases conducted by the Fortis Escorts Heart Institute over the last 25 years, revealed some startling facts. Numbers indicate an alarming rise in cardiovascular diseases across age groups. Of these is the worrying trend of cardiac diseases in women, with the percentage of women undergoing Coronary Artery Bypass Surgeries increasing from roughly 6% in the late eighties and early nineties to approximately 15% in the past 3-4 years. This amounts to a significant 150% rise in numbers.
Drastic changes in lifestyles, eating habits, lack of physical activity are all well-recognised factors, common to both men and women. However, managing multiple responsibilities and expectations puts women under considerable stress. Doing the balancing act leads to women doing not one, but two jobs a day. The medical fraternity has started terming this as ‘dual role stress’. An excess of pressure from all sides causes women to feel fatigued and often leads to anxiety and depression. This combination of physical and psychological factors is responsible for several health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, rise in cholesterol levels, thyroid imbalance, menstrual disturbances and eventually, heart disease.
This worrisome situation not only indicates an impending health crisis in women but also, sounds the alarm bells for the health of the family as a whole. With CVDs and other co-morbidities making their appearance in the child-bearing age, doctors are also seeing a rise in complications in pregnancy, affecting the health of the foetus and the newborn.
But, this is not to say that women must give up one or the other to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Experience has taught us that women are brilliant professionals, sometimes even better than their male counterparts at problem-solving and project management. We, at the Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, are proud of our women cardiologists for making a mark for themselves in a field previously dominated by men.
What we need is for workplaces and families to build a support mechanism that will enable women to function efficiently without putting needless stress on them. Some corporates have already shown the way by better talent planning, flexible and rationalized working hours and office crèche and concierge services. More organisations need to recognise the role women play and integrate employee-friendly policies to improve work processes and cultures. Healthy employees lead to better productivity and lower costs, both for the employer and employee.
Changes at home are, in fact, easier and quicker to implement. Families must value women’s financial independence and intellectual fulfillment by supporting their professional ambitions. Spouses, in-laws and even older children can nurture their female family members by helping out with simple but time-consuming chores, freeing up some part of the day for them. They must also participate in women’s health by encouraging them to eat healthy, exercise and rest, along with reminding them to get preventive health checks every year.
Women are wonderful partners in our progress. And they need just as much care as everyone else at home. As yourself this question everyday, have you helped the women in your life to live healthy today?