Is 36 the most stressful age ever?
New research has pinpointed the most difficult age to be a female is 36, when home life becomes as stressful as work. We meet three Irish women who agree.
'I was sending work emails from the labour ward'
Joanne Regan (36) owns the Heaven chain of beauty salons in Dublin. She lives with her partner of six years and their one-year-old son, Finn.
"I opened my first beauty salon on Grafton Street at the age of 24, so I've always worked hard. I often worked ten-hour days, six days a week, which was physically demanding, but I had a lot more freedom then. I had no worries and could do what I wanted.
All that has changed. I've never experienced the same level of mental stress as I do at 36. I now run three salons, which is pretty hectic, especially when you factor a new baby into the equation. My days are planned on a rigid timetable starting with getting my son, Finn, dressed and out the door to his grandmother's. I spend a lot of my working day in the car, going between the salons, visiting suppliers or doing admin and sorting wages.
Unfortunately when you run your own business, you don't really get maternity leave. When I had Finn last year, I only took two weeks off - I was even sending work emails from the labour ward. I had a C-section so couldn't drive for six weeks so I had to get my dad to drive me between the salons.
There is a lot more pressure since I became a mum: the 5am starts, the tiredness... but you get used to being a zombie most of the time. Now that I have a baby to consider, I worry so much more. I can't just drop everything if there is a crisis at work.
I worry a lot: about Finn, about my staff and paying the bills and the mortgage. Yes, I'm in a privileged position in that some of the paperwork and admin side of the business can be done from home, but on the flipside of that I hire more people, which means that there are more wages to pay, more bills to pay and I am responsible for more people. That leads to a lot of mental stress.
There are not enough hours in the day and I often work late into the evening doing paperwork. There is no time to wind down. But no matter how stressful a day has been, I just need to come home and play with my son. He melts my heart every single day."
'My biological clock is ticking fast'
Timea Erdei (36) works at Dublin airport. She is married with no children.
"The first question I get asked at family events is 'When are you going to have children?' I am definitely feeling the pressure in that sense. All my friends have children and that is their focus.
My husband and I would like to have children, but when we were in our 20s and early 30s we were both focussed on our careers. Now that I'm 36, my biological clock is ticking. The big 4-0 is looming, and I keep reading that it is more difficult to have children after 40. I am feeling a lot of pressure from friends and family, but also internal pressure from myself.
I am very ambitious and have not achieved everything I had hoped I would in my career by this stage. I have worked in Dublin airport for six years, first as cabin crew, then in operations. Now I work at the security gates.
I would love to go for a managerial position. I was hoping to be at a higher position by this time, but certain things happened, for example supporting my husband in his career. There was a time when his career came first. Now, I feel a lot of pressure to reach my career goals before I get too old. There is also a lot of competition from young graduates in their 20s.
I believe it is possible to achieve my career dreams and my dream of starting a family. You can do both, but I'm aware you have to be very well organised and you need a balance."
'I rely on Pro Plus and Red Bull to keep going'
Cliona O'Boyle (36) is a divorced primary school teacher from Belfast, County Antrim. She lives with her two children, aged eight and five.
"The biggest stress in my life is juggling both my job and family life. I'm a primary school teacher in a middle class school where the children are very bright and the parents are very demanding, so the job can be very stressful. I give it my all when I am there, but I am also aware that I have two children at home who need me too, and often those two pressures come into conflict.
A lot of my colleagues are not married or they don't have kids yet, so they often stay late to work after the school has closed, while I have to rush off to pick my children up from creche.
I'm a natural-born perfectionist so I strive to do my best both at work and at home, but that comes with a lot of pressure. I have to be ultra-organised as a result, which means having the uniforms laid out and lunches packed the night before.
By the time I've helped the kids do their homework, and done bath and story time, I usually don't sit down until 9.30pm at night. I rely on Pro Plus and Red Bull to keep me going. When I crawl into bed, I'm exhausted but my mind is usually racing with everything I have to do for the next day.
There is a lot of financial pressure too. Between paying rent, paying off my car, paying for childcare, and saving for a mortgage, the bills mount up. Sometimes I think my brain is going to explode with worrying about how I'm going to cope. I just have to take it one day at a time for my own sanity.
Weekends should be relaxing, but they are usually just as manic as I'm running around getting groceries or buying the kids what they need for school. It's non-stop. Life is very different than it was in my 20s.
I had a great social life and was out three times a week. I was always organising school trips to Dublin, Galway and Letterkenny, and had plenty of spare cash to spend on clothes and make-up for myself.
Now, I barely get any time to see my friends. Any spare money I do have goes towards the kids' future or towards family holidays. But I'm also at an age where I've realised that material things aren't important.
I've resisted going for a promotion at work as I don't want to spend any more time away from my children than I need too. I'm already time-starved as it is, and my children and my family are too important.
Particularly when you have been through a failed marriage like I have, you have a much better idea of what you want. Love and spending time with the kids is the most important thing."
Why is this age group so stressed?
* Psychologist Allison Keating from Dublin's BWell clinic says: "I have seen a lot of women in their mid-30s struggling to try and have it all. It's a very busy time. Typically at 36, women are in jobs where they have a lot of responsibility, then when children come into the picture the first thing to drop is self-care. Women are doing everything for the family and for their work but they are not looking after themselves properly, which results in anxiety, depression and stress. That's why heart disease is on the rise among women.
I see a lot of burn-out among 36-year-olds. The words I always hear are 'I'm absolutely exhausted'. There is also a level of cynicism because perhaps there have been disappointments at work. When women are juggling career with children, they often feel they are not doing well in any area. You often get a look from colleagues for leaving on time, yet when you get home you might have missed something that the kids have done at school. There is a real sense of conflict between the head and the heart. It's very difficult to reconcile the two.
For others, 36 brings a sort of existential crisis. Women are looking for more purpose, if the job that they are in isn't fulfilling them anymore or it doesn't feel the same. If you don't have children, there is a genuine sense that there is a window of time, and that the biological clock is ticking which brings with it a lot of stress."