What’s Emotional Labor and How Does it Cause Stress?  

Many of us have roles to play at home and work. Many of these roles require us to model certain behaviors consistently, perform necessary duties, and maintain important relationships. As women, we may have young children that require our care in the form of tolerance and patience. Working women may serve as leads or managers in the workplace, making grounded consistent communication a necessity when managing work relationships. The emotional energy we put towards maintaining work and home relationships is referred to as emotional labor. It’s no secret that maintaining these relationships can be stressful, especially when we’re balancing our internal demands as well as other obligations.

What is Emotional Labor?

Emotional labor is the act of controlling and managing your emotions when dealing with others in ways that help you to maintain your role, either professionally or in your household. Emotional labor differs from physical labor because the exertion is internal and emotional instead of physical. Emotional labor tends to be female dominant and often centers on caregiving and service-related situations or jobs. 

Emotional labor can be just as stressful as physical labor. Many women work hard to show care in ways that affect the people around them, both in the household and at work. Imagine a guidance counselor who deals with a student with social anxiety. Her encouragement and attentiveness to the student’s feelings is an effort that must be made by paying attention to detail and responding appropriately. Both can be difficult.

What are the Common Issues Associated with Emotional Labor?

Emotional labor can be exhausting. The pressure to conform and behave in a manner that keeps everyone around you satisfied can be stressful and pressuring. In an effort to make others around you happy, your own feelings often have to take a backseat to the feelings of others. Emotional labor can be a selfless act that leaves many women feeling disillusioned and unrecognized. These feelings can rear their ugly head in both home and work settings.

What are the Effects of Emotional Labor in the Home?

If you’re a mother, a wife, or someone that lives with others, you may feel the urge to constantly play the peacekeeper, or do things that force you to put your feelings, wants, and needs aside. Over time, many women feel disconnected from their own feelings, wants, and needs, which can be very stressful. A person’s home is supposed to be a place where they can rest mentally, physically, and spiritually. Home is where you can let your hair down. But when you’re compelled to do and say things to feed the emotional needs of others, you often end up quelling your own thoughts and feelings by putting other people’s feelings first. You lose your voice, which is a big part of your identity.

Emotional Labor in the Workplace

Teamwork and effective communication skills are important in the workplace. When female team members that work in the service sector feel compelled to provide uncompensated emotional support to coworkers to keep them happy and content, they begin to feel unheard and unimportant over time. The thoughts and feelings of others are pushed to the front, while theirs are tabled and silenced. The outcome of this kind of pressurized emotional performance isn’t difficult to predict. These negative feelings can cause depression, panic disorders, and psychological distress. Many women feel the need to please people, which ultimately creates negative outcomes like job dissatisfaction

The effects of emotional labor in the workplace can negatively impact female employees in service encounters by creating feelings of depersonalization. These negative feelings impact customer service, and coworker relationships. It’s safe to broadly label all of these feelings as factors that lead to job dissatisfaction. Although emotional labor focuses primarily on feelings and how emotional expectations can negatively impact female employees, the effects of emotional labor have tangible, 3D effects on a woman’s health by creating emotional exhaustion, memory loss, heart disease, and hypertension, in addition to other health issues.

What Can Be Done to Offset Emotional Labor?

If you’re a woman struggling with emotional labor, taking proactive steps and measures at the right times can work wonders to alleviate stress. In the workplace, many women feel the need to push their emotions aside and focus on the needs of others. When repeated over time, this can lead to disillusionment, depersonalization, and feelings of invisibility. 

It can be overwhelming to constantly put the feelings of others ahead of your own. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to offset and avoid the stress of emotional labor. Most of us understand that managing the emotions of customers and coworkers is a necessity, just as many mothers feel compelled to manage the emotions of their children. The demands of the household and the workplace often require women to be accomodating and manage the emotions of people around them. But women can offset the impact and effects of emotional labor by using proactive coping strategies. If you need help, you can always reach out to get support with your mental and emotional state. But you can also practice self-care. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a moment to step back and catch your breath and utilize these methods to help manage stress:

  1. Honestly discuss your feelings.
  2. Take care of your physical and mental needs.
  3. Be flexible and allow others to help you if you can. 
  4. Be fair to yourself as well as others.

Emotional labor can be managed but it requires awareness and a willingness to care for yourself, while also meeting the needs of others. This may look different at different moments. In short, put self-care at the forefront of your needs while caring for others. This allows you to be present for yourself and the needs of others, and to share the load when needed. 

 

Sources

bbc.co.uk – Emotional Labor: What is it and why is everyone talking about it?

Forbes.com –  How Emotional Labor Affects Women’s Careers

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Emotional  Labor and Burnout

Flexjobs.com – 6 Ways to Manage Emotional Labor in the Workplace | FlexJobs

Sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Benefits of CBT

 

Written by Andrea Poteet-Bell with Sunshine Behavioral Health

Andrea Poteet-Bell is a journalist and editor for Sunshine Behavioral Health. Her writing has appeared in local daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, and websites across the country. She graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in print journalism and lives in Michigan with her husband and their dog, Charlie Brown.

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