The link between the experience of racism and stress is evident. Social factors in our environment can have real, permanent consequences on our health over a lifetime. And unlike a zebra, not only do we experience moments of intense social stress, but we also have the ability to replay them over and over again in our minds long after the fact.
Jennifer Gilhool wrote a piece for Forbes magazine entitled “Confessions Of An Anxiety Ridden Workaholic: Why Sexism May Be Part Of The Rising Anxiety Level In American Women.” In it, she discusses how the experiences of being a woman in the business world (or any high-performance career) can negatively affect the physical and/or emotional state. She writes:
Sitting up in bed, I wondered: If you can induce depression in animals with electric shocks, can you induce depression in women by demeaning them, belittling their efforts, creating unattainable images and goals for them to aspire to? If you repeatedly follow the advice in magazines and books about how to have it all and you keep failing, will you start to feel powerless?...And, what if you are also low on the socioeconomic ladder, what if you are a woman and poor?
And what if you’re a woman of color? These everyday stressors and casual microaggressions add up, and over time, it becomes increasingly difficult not to “sweat the small stuff.”
As with the effects of racism on health, we know what the problems are: the glass ceiling, lack of equal pay, being expected to excel in work and in caring for a family—those are the obvious ones. There’s also the fact that simply by growing up in a culture that assumes male as the default (like how engineers are assumed to be men in the Volkswagen Super Bowl Ad this year) women can often feel as though they don’t belong in their career and may feel instead as if they are an especially gifted faker (this is called the Impostor Syndrome, fyi).
Like I said: we know the problems. Now can we find a solution?