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Women's Health

Women: Jugglers of multiple roles

Women's lives are affected by the roles they take on: for example, wife, mother, worker, caretaker. While past generations of women organized their lives primarily to meet family-related objectives, some combination of work and family is the lifestyle preference of most American women today.

Less than 12% of families today are "typical," where the father is the wage earner and the mother is at home with several children. In 50% of marriages, both partners are employed. Also, 70% of married women with children under age 18 are in the work force.

Juggling multiple roles can be irritating, frustrating and distressing. When a woman's demands exceed her resources for managing them, stress and strain result.

Consequences of role strain

  • Strained personal relationships
  • Decline in physical health
  • Anger and hostility
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a consequence of role strain because women may "medicate" their symptoms of stress with alcohol. We now know that women metabolize alcohol differently than men and feel the effects of alcohol faster and more easily. Also, studies show that some women tend to drink excessively during the premenstrual phase of their cycle.

Women's risk for depression

Women have a greater lifetime risk for depression than men, and there are several reasons for this. Events associated with the reproductive cycle may cause depression. These can include premenstrual and postpartum phases, perimenopause, and menopause.

Other reasons for the increased incidence of depression in women include sex role stereotypes and life conditions that support devaluation and helplessness. Also, there is an increased incidence of depression in women because they report symptoms of depression more readily than men and are more likely to seek help.

Women in their perimenopausal years are at greater risk for depression. Issues associated with this time of a woman's life include aging, marital changes, "empty nest" syndrome, competition with adolescent daughters and loss of control over bodily changes (such as hot flashes and cessation of menstruation ).

Whatever the cause, treatment for depression is at hand. In most cases, individuals no longer need suffer or remain non-functional due to the symptoms of depression.

Balancing families and careers

Fact: A woman's biological clock and career tick in synchrony. Here's how to cope:

  • Set attainable personal and professional goals. Periodically ask yourself, "If something catastrophic happened to me today, would I have any regrets about the way I have lived my life?" To prevent burn-out, set limits.
  • Choose a partner and others who share your goals. Choose competent and trustworthy support people, such as child care providers and secretaries.
  • Establish your priorities. Make time for your family (attend school performances and sports events, take family vacations) and take care of yourself (eat right, get enough exercise, sleep). Remember to maintain a sense of humor.
  • Two potential spheres of support (ie, work and family) can serve as a useful role model for children.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/20/2009…#4063