Stress can be your friend or your foe. When stress fuels the spark
of personal achievement, it can work to your benefit by making you more
perceptive and productive, acting as a motivator and even making you
more creative. But when stress flames out of control–as it often does
for many of us today–it can take a terrible toll on your physical and
emotional health, as well as your relationships.
While stress isn't considered an illness, it can cause specific
medical symptoms, often serious enough to send women to the emergency
room or their health care professional’s office. In fact, 43
percent of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. 75 to
90 percent of all physician office visits have stress-related
components, according to the American Psychological Association.
In today’s fast-paced world, women are experiencing more
stress at every stage of their lives than ever before. Juggling job
pressures, family schedules, money issues, career and educational
advancement and child and elder-care concerns are only a few of the
common stressors confronting women.
Stressors are the external events, including pressures, in
people’s lives, such as divorce, marriage, children. Work and
money pressures. The experience of stress, however, is how you respond
to these stressors. One person’s stressor can be another
person’s motivator. One’s response to stressors is the
key. You can learn to intervene in terms of how you respond to stressors
through relaxation, meditation, some forms of psychotherapy and
exercise, among other methods. However, you can also work to reduce the
stressors in your life, such as learning to say no to commitments,
simplifying your life, leaving a bad job or relationship, etc. Sometimes
interventions that are originally designed to simply reduce your stress
response and improve coping (e.g., meditation, psychotherapy) can lead
you to choose to reduce the stressors in your life because you begin to
see what needs to change in your life more clearly.
Working mothers, regardless of whether they're married or single,
face higher stress levels–both in the workplace as well as at home. The
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the U.S.
agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations
for the prevention of work-related illness and injury, provides these
statistics regarding stress in the workplace:
* 40 percent of workers reported their job was very or extremely
* 25 percent view their jobs as the number one stressor in their
* 75 percent of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job
stress than a generation ago
* 29 percent of workers felt quite a bit or extremely stressed at
* 26 percent of workers said they were “often or very often
burned out or stressed by their work”.
* job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints
than stress related to financial or family problems
Stress has been linked with a variety of physical ailments from
headache, to symptoms that mimic a heart attack and depression. The
balance between stressors and your ability to cope with them, however,
can determine your mental health. When the stressors in your life meet
your coping abilities, your feel stimulated, engaged and appropriately
challenged. Too many stressors in your life, however, that overwhelm
your attempts to cope can result in depression or anxiety.
Depression can feel like a pervasive sense of hopelessness, a
feeling of wanting to give up, tearfulness. A sadness that doesn't
seem to go away after a couple weeks. Anxiety can feel like a chronic
state of feeling ‘keyed up’. ‘on edge.’. Some
people who are depressed and/or anxious have physical symptoms, such as
changes in sleep or appetite (too much or too little). Chronic
depression and/or anxiety has been linked to other physical problems,
such as cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, hypertension and diabetes.
If you notice symptoms of depression or anxiety, it's important to get
them treated. Effective treatments exist and can involve either brief
psychotherapy (even as few as six sessions, depending on the problem) or
medication. Your health care professional or mental health professional
Regardless of your physical or mental symptoms, talk about the
stress in your life with your health care professional. A thorough
assessment by your health care team will help determine the cause of
these symptoms. You may find that stress has triggered an illness, such
as high blood pressure.
Stress and Your Body
Research indicates that women’s biological response to stress
is actually to “tend and befriend,”. I.e., make sure the
children are safe and then network with other women. Whereas men’s
biological reaction to stress is to go into the “flight or
fight”. Mode. Studies indicate that the hormone oxytocin is released
during stressful events or periods in both men and women.
Estrogen may enhance oxytocin release, while testosterone may
diminish it. This may be one reason that women seem to seek social
support more often then men when under stress. However, women have also
been socialized from an early age to look to their social group,
particularly their female friends. Support when under stress,
whereas men tend to engage in activities, such as exercise or even using
substances, when under stress. During stress, hormones including
adrenaline and cortisol flood the body, in both females and males
* the body’s need for oxygen to increase
* heart rate and blood pressure to go up
* blood vessels in the skin to constrict
* muscles to tense
* blood sugar level to increase
* blood to have an increased tendency to clot
* the body’s cells to pour stored fat into the bloodstream
All of this can strain your heart and artery linings. Much so
that if you already have coronary heart disease, stress might make you
feel chest pain, called angina. The increased tendency for the blood to
clot may predispose some people to develop a clot in their coronary
arteries, causing a heart attack. The tendency for your bowel and
intestinal muscles to constrict, also due to a sudden release of
adrenaline, can lead to stomach problems. In addition, it can
precipitate a number of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
Stress doesn’t cause these mental illnesses. It can activate
these brain disorders in people who may already be prone to them.
it's important to distinguish between the acute stress
response–when your heart beats faster and your breath comes faster, you
get the rush of adrenalin–and the chronic stress response, in which you
are continually under stress it's really the chronic activation of this
stress response that's problematic. it's fine once in a while.
over time, activated repeatedly, causes a ‘wear and tear’. On
the body, eventually resulting in disease. These systems were originally
designed (so we think) to help us in emergency situations, such as
fleeing an attacking animal. In modern society, we activate them
chronically, which is the real problem.
Stress can cause “toxic weight.”. Cortisol is a powerful
appetite “trigger.”. That’s no surprise if you’ve
found that you eat more–and less-than-healthy food–when you’re
under a lot of stress. Those extra calories are converted to fat
deposits that gravitate to your waistline. Fat deposits around the
abdomen–the “apple-shaped”. Figure vs. the “pear-shaped
figure”–are associated with life-threatening illnesses such as
heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer.
Chronically high levels of cortisol actually stimulate the fat cells
inside the abdomen to fill with more fat. As you age, your expanding
waistline can be life threatening.
Too much stress can also affect your immune system, weakening it
and making you more susceptible to colds, coughs and infections.
Some physical symptoms of stress include feeling anxious, depressed
or irritable, muscular tension, headaches and gastrointestinal
illnesses, sleeping and eating more or less than normal.
You may feel stressed in response to external or internal triggers,
such as stressors in your life or your own way of relating to yourself,
* trauma or crises
* small daily hassles
* conflicts or unpleasant people
* barriers that prevent you from reaching your goals
* feeling little control over your life
* excessive or impossible demands from others
* boring or lonely work
* irrational ideas about how things should or must be. Perceiving
that life isn't unfolding as you think it should
* believing you're helpless or can’t handle a situation
* drawing faulty conclusions like “they don’t like
me”. “I’m inferior to them,”. Having
unreasonable fears of dire events such as “I’ll be
* pushing yourself to excel and/or failing to achieve a desired
* assigning fault for bad events. Example, placing blame on
yourself or on others
* realizing you may have been wrong but wanting to be right
* overreacting to current stress as a result of intense stress
years earlier, especially in childhood
Stress is an individualized experience. What may be stressful to
you may not affect someone else. Your past experience, other stressors
in your life and even heredity can impact what you experience as
“Stress at Work”. National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH). Publication No. 99-101. http://www.cdc.gov.
Accessed September 10, 2004. .”How Stress Affects the Body”.
American Medical Women’s Association. http://www.amwa-doc.org.
Accessed September 10, 2004. “Fight Fat After 40.”. Peeke, P.
New York: Viking Press. 2000″Stress”. American Psychological
Association. http://helping.apa.org. Accessed September 10, 2004.
Editorial Staff of the National Women’s Health Resource Center
2002/03/01 2005/05/25 A normal part of life, stress can work to your
benefit by making you more perceptive and productive —. Acting as a
motivator and even making you more creative. When it’s manageable,
stress can light the fire for personal achievement. But when stress
flames out of control, it can take a terrible toll on your physical and
emotional health, as well as your relationships.
Adrenaline,Angina,Coronary heart disease,Cortisol,Deep
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