Wondering why you can’t shake that headache or cold? Why your muscles always seem tense and you sometimes get chest pains? It could be stress, and many women may not realize how stressed they are. Traffic, a late-night deadline, tension with a teenager…the stress can build gradually. Many women don’t notice how much they are juggling and how their immune system is bothered by stressors at work, kids, neighbors, and marriage.
Women also feel the effects of stress differently than men. The natural anti-stress, feel-good hormone oxytocin is produced during childbirth, breastfeeding, and during orgasm. Nurturing activities actually boost oxytocin levels in women. However, women need more oxytocin than men to maintain their emotional health. For example, women are more negatively affected when they’re not touched, and also feel more stress than men in relationships.
According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, the effects of stress on women’s health can range from headaches and irritable bowel syndrome to eating disorders and depression. When the body remains in a constant state of stress, it sends physical signs of mental discomfort such as:
- Muscle tension
- Upset stomach
- Chest pains
- Rapid heartbeat
- Skin reactions – breakouts, rashes, hives
- Increased frequency of colds
- Difficulty concentrating
If unchecked, stress becomes continual or “chronic”. In this situation, stress hormones are being continually released in the body, which can result in increased risks of:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Digestive disorders
- Hormonal and reproductive problems
Research presented at the most recent Western Psychological Association meeting found that 25 percent of happiness hinges on how well a person handles stress. What was the most important stress management strategy? Planning — or anticipating what’s going to stress you out — and having the tools in place to tamp down the tension. The next time you feel stressed, take a moment to think about your stressful situation. Rather than reacting to the stressful feeling, think about the best options for responding to the situation.
To begin the process of decompressing, remember to keep it simple. Choose one and act. You might find the list below helpful:
- Create a daily to-do list of all your tasks. You may want to make a list for both personal and work life.
- Take a few moments to prioritize the list and determine which tasks are most important.
- Mark off each task as it is completed and feel stress “melt away.” Move undone tasks to the next day’s task list. Don’t stress about what you did not accomplish today.
- If you are experiencing financial stress, create a budget to gain control over your finances. Find the area that’s triggering the most stress and create a plan to tackle it.
- When you’re feeling the pressure build, pause and take deep breaths. Turn on quiet music if you’re able to. Then consider what the next best thing you need to do is.
One last note about symptoms. As you begin your stress management journey, take stock both physically and emotionally of their severity:
Do you feel so stressed that you are unsure whether you can learn stress management strategies or not?
- Are you experiencing physical symptoms such as chest pain or pressure, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shakiness, insomnia or difficulty breathing?
- Do you feel chronically tired, anxious or feel so depressed that you are sometimes unable to think and function?
If you are feeling or experiencing any of the symptoms above, and are unsure about your ability to learn stress management techniques, a visit with your physician would be your next best step.