What are some of the most common causes of stress?
Stress can arise for a variety of reasons. Stress can be brought
about by a traumatic accident, death, or emergency situation. Stress
can also be a side effect of a serious illness or disease.
There is also stress associated with daily life, the
workplace, and family responsibilities. Itâ€™s hard to stay calm and
relaxed in our hectic lives. As women, we have many roles: spouse,
mother, caregiver, friend, and/or worker. With all we have going on in
our lives, it seems almost impossible to find ways to de-stress. But
itâ€™s important to find those ways. Your health depends on it.
What are some early signs of stress?
Stress can take on many different forms, and can contribute to
symptoms of illness. Common symptoms include headache, sleep disorders,
difficulty concentrating, short-temper, upset stomach, job
dissatisfaction, low morale, depression, and anxiety.
How do women tend to react to stress?
We all deal with stressful things like traffic, arguments with
spouses, and job problems. Some researchers think that women handle
stress in a unique way: we tend and befriend.
Tend : women protect and care for their children
Befriend : women seek out and receive social support
During stress, women tend to care for their children and find
support from their female friends. Womenâ€™s bodies make chemicals that
are believed to promote these responses. One of these chemicals is
oxytocin (ahk-see-toe-sin), which has a calming effect during stress.
This is the same chemical released during childbirth and found at
higher levels in breastfeeding mothers, who are believed to be calmer
and more social than women who donâ€™t breastfeed. Women also have the
hormone estrogen, which boosts the effects of oxytocin. Men, however,
have high levels of testosterone during stress, which blocks the
calming effects of oxytocin and causes hostility, withdrawal, and
How does stress affect my body and my health?
Everyone has stress. We have short-term stress, like getting
lost while driving or missing the bus. Even everyday events, such as
planning a meal or making time for errands, can be stressful. This kind
of stress can make us feel worried or anxious.
Other times, we face long-term stress, such as racial
discrimination, a life-threatening illness, or divorce. These stressful
events also affect your health on many levels. Long-term stress is real
and can increase your risk for some health problems, like depression.
Both short and long-term stress can have effects on your body.
Research is starting to show the serious effects of stress on our
bodies. Stress triggers changes in our bodies and makes us more likely
to get sick. It can also make problems we already have worse. It can
play a part in these problems:
- trouble sleeping
- lack of energy
- lack of concentration
- eating too much or not at all
- higher risk of asthma and arthritis flare-ups
- stomach cramping
- stomach bloating
- skin problems, like hives
- weight gain or loss
- heart problems
- high blood pressure
- irritable bowel syndrome
- neck and/or back pain
- less sexual desire
- harder to get pregnant
What are some of the most stressful life events? Any change
in our lives can be stressful?even some of the happiest ones like
having a baby or taking a new job. Here are some of lifeâ€™s most
From the Holmes and Rahe Scale of Life Events (1967)
- death of a spouse
- marital separation
- spending time in jail
- death of a close family member
- personal illness or injury
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a debilitating
condition that can occur after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal
in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic
events that can trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults such as
rape or mugging, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or
Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in
the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening
thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects that
remind them of the trauma. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger
symptoms. People with PTSD also can have emotional numbness, sleep
disturbances, depression, anxiety, irritability, or outbursts of anger.
Feelings of intense guilt (called survivor guilt) are also common,
particularly if others did not survive the traumatic event.
Most people who are exposed to a traumatic, stressful event
have some symptoms of PTSD in the days and weeks following the event,
but the symptoms generally disappear. But about 8% of men and 20% of
women go on to develop PTSD, and roughly 30% of these people develop a
chronic, or long-lasting, form that persists throughout their lives.
How can I help handle my stress?
Donâ€™t let stress make you sick. As women, we tend to carry a
higher burden of stress than we should. Often we arenâ€™t even aware of
our stress levels. Listen to your body, so that you know when stress is
affecting your health. Here are ways to help you handle your stress.
- Relax. Itâ€™s important to unwind. Each person has her own way to
relax. Some ways include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and massage
therapy. If you canâ€™t do these things, take a few minutes to sit,
listen to soothing music, or read a book.
- Make time for yourself. Itâ€™s important to care for yourself.
Think of this as an order from your doctor, so you donâ€™t feel guilty!
No matter how busy you are, you can try to set aside at least 15
minutes each day in your schedule to do something for yourself, like
taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, or calling a friend.
- Sleep. Sleeping is a great way to help both your body and
mind. Your stress could get worse if you donâ€™t get enough sleep. You
also canâ€™t fight off sickness as well when you sleep poorly. With
enough sleep, you can tackle your problems better and lower your risk
for illness. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
- Eat right. Try to fuel up with fruits, vegetables, and
proteins. Good sources of protein can be peanut butter, chicken, or
tuna salad. Eat whole-grains, such as wheat breads and wheat crackers.
Donâ€™t be fooled by the jolt you get from caffeine or sugar. Your energy
will wear off.
- Get moving. Believe it or not, getting physical activity not
only helps relieve your tense muscles, but helps your mood too! Your
body makes certain chemicals, called endorphins, before and after you
work out. They relieve stress and improve your mood.
- Talk to friends. Talk to your friends to help you work through
your stress. Friends are good listeners. Finding someone who will let
you talk freely about your problems and feelings without judging you
does a world of good. It also helps to hear a different point of view.
Friends will remind you that youâ€™re not alone.
- Get help from a professional if you need it. Talk to a
therapist.A therapist can help you work through stress and find better
ways to deal with problems. For more serious stress related disorders,
like PTSD, therapy can be helpful. There also are medications that can
help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety and help promote sleep.
- Compromise. Sometimes, itâ€™s not always worth the stress to
argue. Give in once in awhile. Write down your thoughts. Have you ever
typed an email to a friend about your lousy day and felt better
afterward? Why not grab a pen and paper and write down whatâ€™s going on
in your life! Keeping a journal can be a great way to get things off
your chest and work through issues. Later, you can go back and read
through your journal and see how youâ€™ve made progress!
- Help others. Helping someone else can help you. Help your neighbor, or volunteer in your community.
- Get a hobby. Find something you enjoy. Make sure to give yourself time to explore your interests.
- Set limits. When it comes to things like work and family,
figure out what you can really do. There are only so many hours in the
day. Set limits with yourself and others. Donâ€™t be afraid to say NO to
requests for your time and energy.
- Plan your time. Think ahead about how youâ€™re going to spend
your time. Write a to-do list. Figure out whatâ€™s most important to do.
- Donâ€™t deal with stress in unhealthy ways. This includes drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or overeating.
I heard deep breathing could help my stress. How do I do it?
Deep breathing is a good way to relax. Try it a couple of times every day. Hereâ€™s how to do it.
- Lie down or sit in a chair.
- Rest your hands on your stomach.
- Slowly count to four and inhale through your nose. Feel your stomach rise. Hold it for a second.
- Slowly count to four while you exhale through your mouth. To
control how fast you exhale, purse your lips like youâ€™re going to
whistle. Your stomach will slowly fall.
- Repeat five to 10 times.
Does stress cause ulcers?
Doctors used to think that ulcers were caused by stress and
spicy foods. Now, we know that stress doesnâ€™t cause ulcers?it just
irritates them. Ulcers are actually caused by a bacterium (germ) called
H. pylori. Researchers donâ€™t yet know for sure how people get it. They
think people might get it through food or water. Itâ€™s treated with a
combination of antibiotics and other drugs.
For More Information . . .
You can find out more about stress by contacting the National
Womenâ€™s Health Information Center (NWHIC) at 1-800-994-9662 or the
National Institute of Mental Health
Phone: (301) 443-4513
Internet Address: http://www.nimh.nih.gov
National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse
Phone: (800) 553-4539
Internet Address: http://www.mhselfhelp.org
National Mental Health Information Center
Phone: (800) 789-2647
Internet Address: http://www.mentalhealth.org
American Institute of Stress
Phone: (914) 963-1200
Internet Address: http://www.stress.org
American Psychiatric Association
Phone: (703) 907-7300
Internet Address: http://www.psych.org
American Psychological Association
Phone: (800) 374-2721
Internet Address: http://www.apa.org
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Phone: (240) 485-1001
Internet Address: http://www.adaa.org
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Phone: (800) 950-6264
Internet Address: http://www.nami.org
National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Phone: (802) 296-5132
Internet Address: http://www.ncptsd.org
National Mental Health Association
Phone: (800) 969-6642
Internet Address: http://www.nmha.org
The Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services