‘Dashing Through the Snow?’

Posted on December 06, 2012

What do the holidays, a job promotion and a new baby have in common? They’re all cause for great celebration — and sometimes great stress. You know the feeling. Maybe you become more impatient, worried or cranky. Maybe your memory or concentration isn’t as sharp. Maybe you feel overwhelmed or helpless. And sometimes those feelings can lead to other physical problems, such as headaches, eating or digestive disorders, fatigue and more.

But these truths about stress may cheer you up:

  • Stress happens to everyone. Simply, stress is the body’s way of responding to external or internal stimuli. It can be physical or emotional.
  • Even positive life events can be stressful because they bring change.
  • Stress doesn’t have to be negative and destructive. Stress can be motivating and productive if you know how to manage it.

Women may carry more stress

Stress and its triggers are different for everyone. What causes tension for one person may be no big deal to someone else. But some experts claim that women are particularly susceptible to stress.

Why? It could be because:

  • Women are socialized to take care of others, but they often spend little time nurturing themselves. Saying “no” to others’ requests or not pleasing everyone can make some women feel guilty.
  • About 70 percent of married women with children under 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 standard” at home.
  • Throughout life, hormonal changes due to premenstrual, post-partum and menopausal issues can make women physically more vulnerable to stress and depression than men.

What you can do about it

When patients complain about stress or have symptoms that indicate high stress, I tell them that stress is normal.

Common signs of stress include:

  • Feeling tense
  • Depression
  • Poor memory
  • Poor concentration
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Anger/hostility
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Negative thinking
  • Distractibility
  • Excess smoking or eating
  • Feeling overwhelmed or helpless

I explain that it’s important to identify what’s causing their stress so they can avoid the problem or take steps to minimize it, if possible. Plus, I advise patients to find a healthy activity to help them cope. Just as stress is different for each of us, so are stress reduction strategies. You may find some of these stress reducing activities more appealing than others:

  • Writing about your feelings and thoughts in a journal
  • Doing hobbies, like crafting or gardening
  • Reading
  • Playing with pets
  • Exercising or doing other physical activity, such as walking, dancing or yoga
  • Meditating
  • Taking a bath
  • Talking to a friend
  • Listening to music
  • Joining a choir or book club

It’s important to take time for yourself every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Leisure time is a necessity, not just a reward for doing more.

If busy-ness stresses you out, especially around the holidays, try this:

  • Every day, make a list of everything you need to do, in order.
  • Cross things off as you do them. That way, you can see exactly what you’ve accomplished and what you still need to accomplish — even if it’s on another day.
  • Finally, know that it’s okay to ask for help to get things done.

What not to do

When you’re seeking relief from worries or the rat race, avoid things that could be harmful and lead to more stress later, such as:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Using illicit drugs
  • Driving recklessly
  • Overspending

And remember that drinking too much caffeine or too many energy drinks can worsen stress. So can lack of sleep.

Talk to your physician

Every situation is different, so talk to your physician about the stresses in your life. In some cases, medication, acupuncture or massage may help. Therapists can also help you work through larger issues that cause stress.

Stress doesn’t have to mean misery or gloom. Take control of it and get back to “laughing all the way” and “making spirits bright” for the holidays and every day.

By: Lauren Weber, DO
Women's Health Specialist and Family Practice
Center for Women's Health, A NorthBay Affiliate