Stress is the "wear and tear" the body goes through as it adjusts to the constantly changing environment. Anything that causes change in a person's life causes stress.
Stress occurs all the time in most people's lives. At some point in their lives, almost all people will go through stressful events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope. Too much stress, however, can seriously affect physical and mental well-being. Stress decreases the quality of life by reducing feelings of pleasure and accomplishment. In addition, the body's response to stress can cause symptoms and illnesses of many kinds, especially if the stress is prolonged.
A woman's role has changed a lot since the 1950s and 1960s. In those days, very few women worked outside the home.. Today, women make up almost half the US work force. In most cases, this is done out of necessity to make ends meet, to pay the monthly bills. Women are more likely than men to have multiple roles. These include employee, spouse, housekeeper, and primary caregiver to children and elderly parents.
More women are now holding management positions and work in trades that were mostly occupied by men. Studies show that a job with high demands, low control over how the job is done, and low social support lead to greater decline in health status.
About half of marriages now end in divorce. There are many single parent households now. Working mothers, regardless of whether they are married or single, face higher stress levels. The stress generally occurs more at home than in the workplace. The woman may feel guilty for leaving her children while she works, and try to make it up by being "super mom." This only increases her stress when she realizes that she cannot do everything.
Many women are waiting to have children until they have become established in their careers. Because fertility declines naturally with age, some couples find that when they decide they are ready to have children, they cannot. Infertility adds another level of stress.
Women are particularly prone to stress caused by hormone changes. These changes occur during puberty, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause. Women's stress hormones and blood pressure remain high when they get home after the workday.
Some tips for reducing stress in women include: Prioritize. A woman should decide which part of her life is really important and which parts need less attention.Simplify. Cooking dinner every night may be stressful after working all day. Women can try ways to make this less stressful, such as using a crockpot.Share work. Women should ask for help from the family. Children can be taught to do chores. Women should know that it is okay to ask for help.Be active. Regular exercise is essential for a woman's physical and emotional well-being.Communicate. A woman should talk with her family about ways to make life less stressful. Together they can pinpoint what causes stress and come up with ways to reduce this stress.Slow down. If a bed is left unmade or the house is not spotless, it is not the end of the world. Quality time spent doing things that are meaningful are more important.Get plenty of rest. The world is hard to cope with if a woman doesn't get a good night's sleep.Eat sensibly. A balanced diet provides all the necessary energy needed during the day. A woman should avoid illegal drugs and excessive use of alcohol.
Sometimes, especially in highly stressful situations of a temporary nature such as the death of a loved one, medications can be helpful. However, over the longer term, the risks of dependence on medications, or of substituting medication for other productive steps, must be weighed against the benefits.
Eliminating stress from life is impossible. However, doing nothing to counteract stress will virtually guarantee that a woman will experience harmful physical and emotional consequences.
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"Women, Work, and Stress" Harvard Women's' Health Watch: September 2000