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Work, Home, Multiple Roles and Stress

What are women’s roles in society today?

Women have taken on multiple roles to adapt to changes in today’s society. They continue to meet household and family responsibilities, while at the same time working outside the home and trying to pursue personal interests. Women can view these roles as challenges, or they can perceive them as threats. As the demands increase to fulfill these roles, women often feel a sense of helplessness and loss of control, making them prone to stress and burnout.

For most women, stress ranks at the top of the list of daily problems. Women are more likely candidates for stress than are men. They strive to be perfect in all areas of their lives, but they do not spend enough time taking care of themselves. To maintain health in all dimensions of their lives, women need to understand stress, recognize warning signs, and develop coping skills.

What is stress?

Stress is a response to daily life. Acute stress might produce temporary physical changes from which the body recovers. When stress becomes chronic or excessive, the body might not be able to adapt and cope. Chronic stress for women can build up in the daily experiences of life: pressure at work, relationship conflict, caretaking for an elderly parent, and rearing children.

Not all stress is bad. For many women, stress can be a positive force in their lives, enabling them to do their best.

Stress is psychophysiological (involving mind, emotions, and body), which means that stress includes:

  • Psychophysiological factors—Thoughts and emotions are critical elements in determining the level of stress a person experiences.
  • Physiological (bodily) reactions—Physiological reactions might be voluntary (what can be controlled) and involuntary, such as the "fight or flight" reaction when faced with physical danger or high emotional stress. This response produces physical changes in the body, including increased heart rate, muscle tension, and a rush of adrenaline.

What are the stress warning signs?

As stress increases, women develop warning signs in multiple areas, giving them the sense that their lives are out of balance. A personal stress profile to identify these signs is the first step in managing stress. Here are a few signs:

  • Physical—headaches, insomnia, fatigue, appetite change, smoking, alcohol, or drug use.
  • Emotional—anxiety, anger, unhappiness, irritability, depression, frustration
  • Mental—forgetfulness, worry, inability to make decisions, negative thinking, boredom
  • Occupational—work overload, long hours, conflict in relations, unfulfilling job
  • Social—lack of intimacy, isolation, family problems, loneliness, resentment
  • Spiritual—apathy, loss of meaning, emptiness, unforgiving, doubt, guilt, despair

How can women manage stress?

You manage stress by learning to cope with it, not by avoiding it. Women who undergo periods of intense stress need to make sure they have sufficient recovery periods along the way to help replenish lost energy. During high stress periods, build in time for self-care.

Take a wellness approach to life. This can be achieved through balancing and integrating different parts of life. Recognizing the connection between mind, body and emotions can also help women manage stress and give them healthy control over their lives. Women need to recognize their own unique makeup and tailor a stress management program with healthy coping skills. Here are some examples:

  • Physical—regular exercise, relaxation, yoga, healthy eating, leisure time, adequate sleep
  • Emotional—know/express emotions, positive emotions, healthy self-esteem
  • Mental—positive outlook, realistic thinking, resilience attitude, creativity
  • Occupational—prioritize, doable goals, home-work balance, limit setting
  • Social—loving relationships, healthy boundaries, attentive listening
  • Spiritual—meaning/purpose, gratitude, present-moment focus, living life fully

How can women develop well-being and balance?

  • Confront stress—Face and manage stress rather than hid it with unhealthy coping.
  • Face change—Accept change as a challenge and opportunity, not a threat.
  • Focus on the present—Stay in the present. It doesn’t help to worry about the future.
  • Listen to your mind—Examine beliefs and how they influence life.
  • Integrate love, work, and play—Learn how to live fully in each area.
  • Practice acceptance—Accept the things that cannot be changed and change the things you can.
  • Accept yourself—Honor and love your inner self.
  • Seek professional help—Seek professional help in managing difficult stress.
References:

The National Women’s Health Information Center. US Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women’s Health. Stress and Your Health: Frequently Asked Questions. www.womenshealth.gov Accessed 2/2/11.

The Association between Role Overload and Women’s Mental Health. Keva Glynn, Heather Maclean, Tonia Forte, Marsha Cohen. Journal of Women's Health. February 2009, 18(2): 217-223. doi:10.1089/jwh.2007.0783.

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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: 10/21/2010...#5545


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