Ask the Expert: Women and Stress

What is stress?

Stress can involve a recent change or a daily pressure. Stress happens to everyone and can be motivating and productive or negative and destructive. Tension and anxiety, as well as depression, are frequent emotional consequences of stress.

The mind and body are linked throughout our lives. We must learn to respect both our emotional and physical needs, or we will lose our equilibrium and ability to adapt.

Symptoms of stress
  • 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
Stress increases the risk for:
  • Accidents
  • Headaches
  • Bowel disorders
  • Poor digestion
  • Skin disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional disorders
  • Asthma attacks
  • High blood pressure/strokes
  • Colds/infections
  • Backache
  • Arthritis/immune disorders
  • Heart attacks/recovery
  • Cancer
  • Ulcers
  • Sexual dysfunction
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 along with a career outside of the home. 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 often spend less time nurturing their own emotional and physical needs, as that might be perceived as selfish. In addition, changes in relationships through divorce or the 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.

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 on 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". Exercise, leisure, relaxation through meditation, guided imagery or yoga, and good nutrition all play a part in improving your physical, behavioral, and emotional response to stress. 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.

What activities can help relieve stress?

Here are some examples of activities that can help to refresh the body and mind:

  • Taking baths
  • Reading
  • Doing breathing exercises
  • Receiving back rubs/massages
  • Listening to relaxation tapes
  • Writing in a journal
  • Meeting with a friend
  • Napping
  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Engaging in spiritual reflection
  • Stretching
  • Listening to music
Finding it hard to untangle?

Seek a little help:

  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Support group therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Relaxation training

For more information, visit Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Psychiatry and Psychology.


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