Surviving the Shecession

By: Kristen Ori

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic – claiming lives, good health, and economies worldwide – has affected us all.  Here in the United States, shutdowns and social distancing measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus have unfortunately also led to an economic crisis of unprecedented scale.  And while the forecast for our country’s economic recovery may remain unclear, one truth is certain:  the economy’s downturn resulting from COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on women.  The high rate of job loss coupled with increased responsibilities in the home has created a phenomenon worthy of its very own nickname:  the “shecession.” 

The shecession is a term coined by researcher C. Nicole Mason, President and Chief Executive at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a national, nonpartisan thinktank.  According to Mason, the sectors most affected – hospitality, retail, state and local government – are heavily dominated by women and saw the most job loss.  Moreover, with closures of schools and daycares, many women have been forced to leave their jobs to care for children, or placed in the position of home-schooling kids while simultaneously working. 

Research conducted at Northwestern University has gone a step further, demonstrating that progress toward gender wage equality has not only halted, but reversed.  “We know as women are losing their jobs during the recession, or taking a step back voluntarily to care for kids, this could mean that when they re-enter the economy when it recovers, they’re finding worse-paying jobs,” reported Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, a researcher at Northwestern University. 

She concluded that the gender wage gap is actually expected to increase by five cents on the dollar and may not return to pre-pandemic levels for ten to twenty years, highlighting the long-lasting consequences for women and their families.  

It is only logical that the shecession has led to a rise in stress, exhaustion, and depression among women.  Time for self-care and attention to wellness has fallen low on the priority totem pole, as women juggle many roles and face career uncertainty, resulting in mental and physical burnout.  For some, the daily struggle can become unbearable and more women are turning to alcohol or unhealthy eating as an escape mechanism. 

Lindsay Armour, a health and wellness coach and founder of Armour Wellness Coaching, has helped many female clients to “find more balance during this unbalanced time.”  She notes women are “helping to formally educate their children at home, either full-time or part-time, as well as balance their previous work and life responsibilities.  We are all eating more meals at home, cooking and cleaning more, and learning new skills to keep our families connected,” which has put a strain on the overall well-being of women.  

Armour offers guidance for managing stress and maintaining good mental and physical health.  One of her  primary tips is the reminder that, as we spend more time at home, food is not something to “do.”  She advises eating to fuel your body and mind versus treating food as a form of entertainment.  Rather, time in the kitchen is better spent trying new healthful foods or learning different methods of cooking.  Personally, I have prepared Lindsay’s recipe for cauliflower fried rice and it was a huge hit. 

Next, stay active for your mind and body. “Movement is good for your heart, lungs, waistline, and sanity,” Armour points out.  The warmer spring and summer months offer endless opportunity to get outside and get physical.  For city dwellers in small apartments, search your social media and streaming services for an in-home workout you enjoy, many of which require no equipment. 

Third, separate your workspace from your living space, whatever that may look like.  Though remote work  has definitely proven convenient, it has denied us the “off-button” to press each night when leaving the office.  To have home and work collide into one space provides little reprieve from day-to-day stress and leads to psychological clutter.  Thus, making a concerted effort to create separation in your space will help reduce anxiety. 

Finally, a discovery of my own this past year:  daily breathwork.  Find a time in your day to practice a breathing exercise or guided meditation in solitude.  A screen should only be involved as a resource, as online platforms contain a plethora of free meditations and breathing routines.  I have found that daily breathwork allows my mind to clear so that I can organize my intentions and create my own internal “structure” for the day.  

As women, no matter how many roles we play, the most important role will always be that of our own selves.  While the pandemic may have cost us in our fight for equal pay, if it has taught women anything, it should be that self-care is priceless.

Kristen Ori is a partner at the law firm of Angelini, Ori & Abate, where she specializes in construction and medical negligence litigation. Kristen currently serves as co-chair of the WBAI Community Outreach Committee. Outside of work, Kristen enjoys staying active and spending time with family.