What is stress?
Stress is your body’s response to the daily events that occur in your life. Everyone experiences stress. Stress can be positive and motivate women to achieve notable goals. But stress can also be negative and destructive, taking its toll in many life areas. When stress becomes chronic or excessive, it becomes harder to adapt and cope. Chronic stress builds up so that stress seems like a normal way of life for some women. Oftentimes women are so busy that they do not take time to slow down long enough to think about how stress is negatively affecting them.
What are the symptoms of stress?
There are many symptoms of stress. Each woman reacts to stress in unique ways. Common symptoms of stress in women include:
- Physical. Headaches, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, pain (most commonly in the back and neck), overeating/under eating, skin problems, drug and alcohol misuse, lack of energy, upset stomach, less interest in sex/other things you used to enjoy.
- Emotional. Anxiety, depression, anger, unhappiness, irritability, feelings of being out of control, mood swings, frustration.
- Mental. Forgetfulness, worry, can’t make decisions, negative thinking, lack of focus, boredom.
- Occupational. Work overload, long hours, tense relations, poor concentration, unfulfilling job.
- Social. Less intimacy, isolation, family problems, loneliness.
- Spiritual. Apathy, loss of meaning, emptiness, unforgiving, doubt, guilt, despair.
What causes some of the stress seen in women?
There are many causes of stress. Men and women share many of the same sources of stress, such as money matters, job security, health, and relationship issues. Perhaps a little more unique to women are the many roles they take on. In today’s society, women’s roles often include family obligations, caregiving for children and/or elderly parent (statistically more likely to be a woman) and work responsibilities as well as other roles. As demands increase to fulfill these roles, women can feel overwhelmed with time pressures and unmet obligations. They may feel a sense of failure in not being able to meet expectations for themselves and others. Oftentimes women spend more time meeting the needs of others rather than nurturing their own needs. If functioning at high stress levels, women may not even recognize what their needs are.
How does stress affect a woman’s health?
In addition to the health symptoms that are brought on by stress, these additional health problems can develop in women exposed to stress over long periods of time.
- Depression and anxiety. Women have higher rates of these conditions and other psychological disorders including panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder than men.
- Heart problems. Stress increases blood pressure and heart rate.
- Headaches and migraines. Tension headaches are more common in women than men.
- Obesity. Women are more prone to stress-related weight gain than men.
- Bowel problems. Stress can lead to such bowel problems as irritable bowel syndrome.
- Pregnancy issues. Women with higher stress levels have a more difficult time becoming pregnant than women with lower stress levels.
- Menstrual problems. Premenstrual syndrome is more severe with increasing stress levels.
How can women better manage stress?
Women can manage stress by practicing healthy self-care strategies for coping with stress. Examine your negative stress signs in each of these six life areas: physical, emotional, mental, occupational, social, and spiritual. What would you like to be different in your life? What do you need to do to achieve more balance or potential? Here are some suggestions.
- Physical. Exercise, practice relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, listen to relaxing music), eat healthy (for example, follow the Mediterranean diet), schedule leisure time, get enough sleep (7 to 9 hours/night).
- Emotional. Express your emotions, repeat positive emotions, work toward a healthy self-esteem.
- Mental. Have a positive outlook, realistic thinking, resilient attitude, be creative.
- Occupational. Establish doable goals, identify home-work balance, set limits.
- Social. Strive to maintain loving relationships, establish healthy boundaries, stay connected with friends.
- Spiritual. Find your meaning/purpose, focus on gratitude, stay in the present moment.
Personal wellness plan
A personal wellness plan with goals can be helpful. Goal setting can seem overwhelming. These practical steps can get you started.
- Review life areas. Examine the six life areas for potential change.
- Identify goals. Be aware of what needs to be done and set goals.
- Be specific. Know what you want to accomplish.
- Set measurable targets. Move in the right direction.
- Be realistic. Set smaller goals that are achievable.
- Identify resources. Use helpful resources to reduce potential problems.
- Set time limits. Consider reasonable, specific time limits.
- Evaluate progress. Make changes as needed
Women will continue to experience stress in their lives. A personal wellness plan with built-in periods of recovery and self-care can help women manage stress and empower themselves to make healthy life changes.
Other helpful hints
- Reflect on the sources of your stress. Can you offload any of these areas? If you haven’t done it, why not? Look for meaning and purpose in what you decide to keep.
- 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 what can’t be changed and change what can be changed. If you can’t change the situation, change how you react to it.
- Accept and care for yourself like you do others. You are kind to them so be kind to yourself. Remember, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first before you help others.
- Seek help. We all need help sometimes. None of us are so good that we “shouldn’t” need help. We are human beings who need each other.
- Reflect on aspects of your life for which you are grateful. Remind yourself that gratitude leads to happiness.
- Look for time to exercise, even if that is only taking the stairs every day.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables; processed foods sap your energy. Drink lots of water.
- Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the negative. A positive outlook carries health and social benefits.