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A Work & Life Article

Women and Stress: the Endless Juggle

Take the stress test!

Women experience symptoms of stress 30 percent more often than men, research has shown. And according to one study, women are more likely than men to maintain elevated levels of stress hormones in their system - even at night when they are sleeping.

You may think that being a woman and being stressed is a given. You're worrying about your kids or about trying to get pregnant or whether you should have kids. You're worrying about your marriage or about trying to find a partner or about your impending divorce. You're worrying about your career or about whether you should have a career. And you are worried about aging parents, volunteer work, keeping up with friends, paying bills. The list goes on and on.

Physical Effects of Stress

So why think about stress? It's because if stress gets out of control, it can make you sick. Stress has been linked with heart disease (the leading cause of death in the United States), high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, a weakened immune system, a reduced ability to heal, fertility problems and chronic colds. It may even play a role in some cancers and diabetes.

"You need to take stress seriously. It is significant, and it is real," says Tracy W. Gaudet, M.D., director of the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine." It has very real physiological effects. You can either pay attention to stress and its effects now, or pay attention later, with interest. If you pay attention now, your life will be more enjoyable and productive. If you stay stressed, you're putting your long-term health at risk."

Dr.Gaudet, whose specialty is obstetrics and gynecology, also serves as the medical expert fro Oprah Winfrey's Lifestyle Makeover Team, which helps women take control of their lives so they can be healthier and happier in pursuit of their dreams. On a recent Oprah show, Dr. Gaudet said that 90 percent of women live their lives disconnected from their bodies.

She notes that stress in and of itself is not harmful - it's being in a chronic state of stress that is damaging. "Stress is the body's reaction to a perception of danger or threat and provides us with safety and protection," she explains. "Our blood pressure goes up, as does our blood sugar and heart rate, all the things that maximize our energy and responses. But our bodies were not designed to function this way all the time," Dr. Gaudet continues. "Yet today, it seems we spend more and more time in a crisis mode."

Technology is a Major Contributor to Stress

Technology contributes to the sense of stress. It used to be that if someone phoned you, and you were not at home, they would call you back. Now most people have an answering machine, as well as a cell phone, pager and email. Younger people, especially, find the idea of not answering the phone or pager alien.

"This increased access means we're turned on to demands all the time, " Dr. Gaudet says. " But the body needs downtime when you're doing nothing, and we have very little of that any more. Women are especially vulnerable because they often juggle multiple demands, and our culture makes them feel a greater need to respond to those demands. They are the caregivers, and are pulled in many more directions than men, who tend to be better about setting boundaries. All this puts women at high risk for stress-related health problems."


For more information on effective stress management contact your Employee Assistance Counselor at 202-628-5100.

RESOURCES

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Sapolsky, Robert, W.H. Freeman and Co., June 1998.

Inner Simplicity: 100 Ways to Regain Peace and Nourish Your Soul, St. James, Elaine, Hyperion, May 1995.

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, Breathnach, Sara Ban, Warner Books, November 1996.

Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter,
St. James, Elaine, Hyperion, May 1994.

Emotional Intelligence, Goleman, Daniel, Ph.D., Bantam Books, July 1991.

Healthy Pleasures, Ornstein, Robert, Ph.D. and Sobel, David, MD, Persues Publishing, May 1990.

Reprinted with permission of LifeAdvantage, LLC
Edited by Alden Jordan

This material may be reproduced without permission provided that it is not modified or altered in any way and acknowledgment is made to COPE, Inc.