If you’re “dashing through the snow” this holiday season, chances are you’re experiencing stress — especially if you’re a woman. Women are vulnerable to stress due to:
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- Socialization. Women are taught to nurture others and spend less time caring for themselves. They often feel guilty saying “no.”
- Too many hats. About 70 percent of married women with children under 18 work also outside the home. Struggling to meet the “male standard” at work and the “perfect wife and mother” standard at home is a recipe for stress.
- Hormones. Premenstrual, post-partum and menopausal hormone changes make women more biologically vulnerable than men to stress and depression.
Even positive change causes stress
Stress is normal; it’s a physiological or emotional response to stimuli. “It is how we react and handle demands placed on our body,” explains Lauren Weber, DO, of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health. “Even positive life events, like a new baby or a job promotion, trigger stress because they cause so much change and create new demands in our lives.”
The triggers of stress are different for everyone but the effects are similar, and include:
- Negative thinking and depression.
- Trouble concentrating and making decisions.
- Feeling overwhelmed.
- Anger and hostility.
- Frequent mood swings.
- Excessive smoking or eating.
Tactics for managing stress
Stress isn’t all bad. It can be motivating if you learn to manage it. According to Dr. Weber, the first step is identifying the cause of stress to see if you can eliminate it. If not, you can experiment with one of these coping strategies:
- Writing thoughts and feelings in a journal.
- Crafting, gardening, or another hobby you enjoy.
- Playing with pets.
- Exercise, dancing or yoga.
- Taking leisurely baths.
- Talking to friends.
- Listening to or playing music.
- Joining a choir or book club.
Carving out daily “me time” for an activity that soothes you is essential during periods of stress. You may find yourself relaxing and forgetting your troubles, even for a short period of time. Dr. Weber also suggests a practical stress-prevention tip: “Make sure you leave plenty of time to get somewhere so you are not late.”
Making a list and checking it twice
Making lists is another way to make hectic times like holidays manageable. Write down everything you need to do, and cross tasks off as you complete them. You’ll see how much you’ve achieved, and just what still needs doing. And don’t be afraid to assign a few tasks to someone else — it’s OK to ask for help.
In striving to relieve your stress, avoid these common temptations:
- Drinking excessive alcohol.
- Using drugs.
- Driving recklessly.
They will only compound your stress in the future. Even drinking too much caffeine — including energy drinks — can worsen stress. So can the resulting lack of sleep!
Talk to your doctor
If you find your stress completely unmanageable, talk to your physician. Your doctor may recommend medication, acupuncture or massage therapy, or refer you to a therapist to work through larger issues.
Meanwhile, don’t sentence yourself to a stress-filled existence. Take steps to reduce your stress so that you can get back to “making spirits bright” for the holidays.