Stress occurs when you feel like the demands placed on you — such as work, school, or relationships — exceed your ability to cope. It can be a reaction to a short-lived situation, such as being stuck in traffic or late for an appointment, or it can last a long time if you're dealing with relationship or money problems, the death of a loved one, or other serious situations. While some stress can be beneficial, such as stress that motivates you to study for an exam or perform well in a sporting event, long-term, untreated stress is linked to serious health concerns including depression, heart disease, obesity, and a weakened immune system.
Since 2007, the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey has found that women consistently report higher levels of stress than men. We don’t know whether this is because women often have more demands on them than men, such as frequently taking on more family responsibilities, or because women experience stress differently. But it’s clear that if we don’t find better ways to manage our stress, chronic stress can have physical and emotional consequences.
Stress can cause symptoms such as irritability, problems sleeping, changes in appetite, headaches, stomachaches, intestinal problems, nervousness, excessive worry, and sadness or depression. Stress can negatively impact a woman’s ability to get pregnant, the health of her pregnancy, and how she adjusts after giving birth. It can also affect menstruation and sexual desire, and it might make premenstrual symptoms worse.
For women juggling many responsibilities, it might seem difficult to find time to adequately manage stress. People with high stress levels may try to manage their stress in unhealthy ways, such as over- or under-eating, drinking alcohol, or lying around the house. The good news is there are effective ways to manage stress. Here are seven smart ways to help you cope:
- Track your stressors. Use a journal to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting, and how you reacted. Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them so that you can develop a plan to manage your stress.
- Set limits. List the projects and commitments that are making you feel overwhelmed. Identify which commitments are priorities and cut back on anything nonessential. Refrain from accepting any more commitments until you feel your stress is under control. Setting limits on nonessential obligations is important to lessening chronic stress.
- Tap into your support system. Reach out to family or friends. Your friends or family members may have tackled similar challenges and have useful ideas and perspectives. There is no need to face challenging life circumstances alone. In fact, support from family or friends may help you start and continue to take better care of yourself.
- Make one health-related commitment. Do what you can to boost your health so that you have the energy and strength to tackle the challenges you are facing. One small step, like cutting back on excessive snacking, can have a positive effect. Similarly, a brisk walk or other aerobic activity can increase your energy and concentration levels and lessen feelings of anxiety. Physical activity increases your body’s production of good-feeling endorphins and decreases the production of stress hormones.
- Manage your devices. People who report constantly checking email or social media typically report more stress. Give yourself a break over the weekend and in the evenings. Put your phone to bed before you go to bed.
- Enhance your sleep quality. Women who are chronically stressed often suffer from lack of adequate sleep and, in some cases, stress-induced insomnia. Begin winding down an hour or two before you go to sleep and engage in calming activities such as listening to relaxing music, reading an enjoyable book, or practicing relaxation techniques like meditation.
- Seek additional help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed or are having trouble getting through your daily routine, seek help from a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to help you develop strategies to manage stress effectively and make changes to help improve your overall health.
I hope these tips help you manage your stress, as effective coping is an important part of our overall health.