Women and Stress
Experts say women are more susceptible to stress. 5 tips to help beat stress.
You might describe yourself as someone who works best under pressure. But the pressure of daily living can actually be detrimental to your health.
WHAT IS STRESS?
Life stressors involve changes in your environment that your central nervous system must adapt to during the course of daily living. Stressors include either positive or negative life events that require you to alter your life:
- New job
- New house
- New baby
Stress results when pressures, challenges, or demands in life exceed your coping abilities.
WHY DO SOME EXPERTS FEEL THAT WOMEN ARE PARTICULARLY SUSCEPTIBLE TO STRESS?
Women are socialized to be caretakers. Women, now more than ever, are juggling traditional responsibilities after hours along with careers outside the home. In fact, more than 70 percent of married women with children under the age of 18 are employed outside the home. Sociologists describe women as struggling to achieve the “male standard” at work, while trying to maintain the “perfect wife and mother standards” at home.
Women find it harder to say no to others’ requests and often feel guilty if they can’t please everyone. They tend to spend less time nurturing their own emotional and physical needs, as that might be perceived as selfish. In addition, changes in relationships through divorce, death of a loved one, or children leaving home can cause stress.
As women progress through life’s stages, hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation, pregnancy, post- partum and menopause can affect a woman’s vulnerability to stress and depression.
PHASES OF THE STRESS EXPERIENCE
There are three basic phases of the stress experience. Understanding these phases can help you to identify and cope with stress in your life.
Stressors trigger your body’s response to stress. This physiological response is also known as the “fight or flight” response in your nervous system. Symptoms include:
- Increase in heart rate and blood pressure
- Decreased blood flow to the extremities
- Slowed digestion
The Stress response is meant to improve your chances of surviving a physical threat to your safety (i.e., outrunning a predator), but becomes dangerous to your health if activated for prolonged periods of time.
Troublesome events that can activate the stress experience include death, divorce, illness, conflict, job loss, and retirement. Other negative stressors are worries, memories, or images that are produced internally by our minds. Positive life events also trigger the stress response in our bodies. These include marriage, birth of a child, purchase of a new home, or starting a new job.
Interpretation of stressors affects our ability to cope with stress. Our beliefs, attitudes, and values determine how we interpret and react to potentially stressful situations. If we tend to see those situations as threats, pressures, demands, and catastrophes, we compromise our ability to cope. The resulting feeling of helplessness sets us up for a variety of unpleasant responses to stress.
Reaction to stress might create or worsen physical, emotional, or behavioral symptoms if the fight or flight response is activated chronically over time.
- Physical - high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, strokes, rashes, migraine, tension headaches, infertility, irritable bowel
- Emotional - anxiety, depression, anger, forgetfulness, panic attacks
- Behavioral - overeating, poor appetite, drug abuse, excessive smoking, irritability, social withdrawal, insomnia
HOW CAN I COPE WITH STRESS?
Leisure time must be considered a necessity, not just a reward for doing more. Personal time for rejuvenation may not be at the top of your list unless it is planned. Prioritizing based on principle rather than demand is sometimes difficult to learn, but is critical for overall good health.
You can’t be all things to all people all of the time. Avoid taking on too many projects at once. Learn to ask for help and to say “no”. The following all play a part in improving your physical, behavioral, and emotional response to stress:
- Relaxation through meditation
- Guided imagery
- Good nutrition
By increasing your physical resistance to stress and learning deep relaxation, you can reduce your vulnerability to stressful events. Developing a network of social supports through family, friends, co-workers and community is also protective against the effects of stress. Adopting good self-care practices will serve as a buffer against the inevitable stresses of daily living.
5 TIPS TO BEAT STRESS
- Take control of your schedule. Prioritize what needs to be done each day, and ask others for help.
- Avoid negative “self-talk” and “what-ifs.”
- Praise yourself for a job well done.
- Take a five-minute relaxation break and practice a relaxation technique such as deep breathing, focused imagery, or yoga.
- Accept that you may not be able to change certain situations.