Adapted from an online article from the Cleveland Clinic (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/5545-women-and-stress)
Stress is your body’s response to the daily events that occur in your life. It can be positive and motivate women to achieve goals, yet it can be negative and destructive, taking its toll in many life areas.
When stress becomes chronic or excessive, it becomes harder to adapt and cope. It can cause a pattern of anxiety that seems normal, yet it has an adverse effect on the emotions and the system overall.
What’s the “Stress” Difference Between Men and Women?
Men and women share many of the same sources of stress, such as money matters, job security, health, and relationship issues. But stress affects women differently because of the added responsibilities they take on and accept without questioning. Theses added tasks are due largely to the socialization and expectations that fall into women’s laps, such as family obligations, caregiving for children and/ or elderly parent and work responsibilities.
When demands increase to fulfill these roles and there is no means of support to help with these tasks, women 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. A common theme with women is that they spend more time meeting the needs of others rather than nurturing their own needs. They may not recognize what their needs are if life becomes overwhelming.
Stress Symptoms that Develop Over Long Time Periods
If women carry stress over a long period of time, they can experience these symptoms:
- 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.
Managing Stress – Focus on Key Health Areas
Women can manage stress by practicing healthy self-care strategies for coping with stress. Ask yourself questions so you can become aware of how your system is reacting to the stress: Where are you feeling the symptoms of overwhelm, fatigue or frustration? Are you experiencing neck and shoulder tightness? Do you want to self-isolate after work? Do you find purpose in your work? Here are six key areas that you can build awareness and use the suggestions to achieve more balance and let go of stress.
1. Physical– Exercise and Diet – Practice relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, listen to relaxing music), schedule exercise daily, eat healthy (i.e. follow a Paleo or Keto diet), schedule leisure time and get enough sleep (7 to 9 hours/night).
2. Emotional. Express your emotions, repeat positive emotions and self-talk and build yourself up to a healthy self-esteem.
3. Mental. Have a positive outlook, realistic thinking, a resilient attitude and balance your work with creative, fun activities.
4. Occupational. Establish realistic, doable goals with action items, identify home/work balance, have set work limits with the amount of time spent at the job.
5. Social. Strive to maintain loving relationships, establish healthy boundaries and stay connected with friends.
6. Spiritual. Find your meaning/purpose, focus on gratitude and be in the present moment.
Create a Personal Wellness Plan
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 choices and changes. 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