Insightful Discussions
May 21, 2018

Women's Health: Managing Stress

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How does stress impact women’s health?

Women are the caregivers in our society. When women have to deal with not only family and personal issues but also work-related issues, that puts additional stressors on them. Not that men don’t take care of families and kids, but the overwhelming burden is on women.

Women also deal with stress differently than men. They take stress more personally. In a study by the American Psychological Association, women reported higher levels of stress than men, more physical and emotional symptoms, and increased eating to manage stress.

So, women need some special consideration when it comes to accumulated stressors and how to manage them, especially when the demands exceed the resources. Everyone has stressors in their lives that make them feel burdened. If you can’t manage the demands, that’s when you may need help from others in our community.


What are three common physical impacts of long-term stress?

Some common physical effects are headaches, gastrointestinal issues and sleep disruptions. Health authorities have also linked stress to cardiac disorders, high blood pressure, weight gain or obesity and maternal health outcomes (e.g. low-birth weight).

I should add that, of course, there are different manifestations of stress in women, depending on the individual. Researchers have shown that repeated exposures and adaptations to stress over time, known as the weathering effect, lead to health deterioration, like heart disease.


How does stress affect women’s mental health?

Women without sufficient resources to manage or cope with stress often experience anxiety and depression. Some women withdraw, and others may exhibit more aggressive behaviors.

A verbal outburst, for example, could be related to some pressure or tension a woman is feeling, but has not been able to express. People tend to look at the behavior instead of asking “what’s happening?”.

It’s important not to judge the behaviors but instead seek to understand what’s going on. The most common way women deal with stress is through communication and social interactions, where they have opportunity to connect and express themselves This helps with managing stressors.

Some women hold things in and become withdrawn or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Disturbed relationships with family, friends and co-workers are also evidence of increased stress that is not managed well.

All women have stressors. There is good stress – having a baby or getting a promotion, for example – and then there is bad stress. Too many stressors increase the odds of having disruptions in wellbeing and physical and emotional health.


What can women do to manage stress?

Do a self-analysis. I think that is so important for women. Name the things that are causing you stress. Write it down. Then, look at the resources you have to deal with them and what you are doing for your own health.

I get massages every month and go for manicures and pedicures. It’s a small investment in myself, but I’m doing that for me. Doing those life-affirming things that help you feel great about yourself are important.

You also need to make time for entertainment and pleasure, whether through music, dance, exercise, humor, reading, meditation, watching TV or practicing mindfulness. It is important to note that women must find what works best for them.

And if you need help, ask for it. Go to short-term therapy if you need to. Decide what demands you can take off your plate. Delegate responsibilities to your children. And if you can’t manage it on your own, seek help from your primary care doctor or a mental health provider.


How can business owners and leaders help reduce stress?

According to a National Institute of Occupational and Safety Health report, “one-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.”

It’s normal to have stress at work. As an organization, you can do things to promote employee wellness, with stress management as one spoke of a big umbrella, which is a benefit to businesses.

The Wellness Council of America (WELCO) identifies seven wellness goals that can help meet employees’ vital needs, which all have benefits in reducing stress.

These include:
  • Health – feeling of strength and energy in body and mind
  • Meaning – feeling part of something bigger than yourself
  • Safety – knowing you are safe from physical or mental harm at work
  • Connection – feeling a sense of belonging, acceptance and support
  • Achievement – succeeding at meeting work goals and aspirations
  • Growth – feeling as if you are progressing in your career
  • Resiliency – feeling optimistic, validated, grateful and encouraged
It’s up to the leader of the organization to make people feel that way. Because if you help women, everybody gains.


How has leadership within the health care and wellness industries influenced the conversation?

WELCO is one of the leading resources for helping business and health professionals improve employee well-being and create healthier business cultures. Business leaders can access many of the evidenced-based wellness resources through corporate membership in WELCO.

The National Occupational and Safety Administration (NIOSH), as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has linked work and job-related stress to workplace safety and employee productivity. NIOSH also provides guidelines and strategies for reducing work-place stress.

From a public health standpoint, because that is my area of expertise, I focus on how we can do things as a community or society to help promote health or, in this case, women’s health.

I look at, as a society, what can we do? What systems and resources can we put in place to help women? Those are questions left open, but I think we can at least start the conversation.

Dr. Janie Canty-Mitchell is a registered nurse with 45 years of health-related experiences, including in: psychiatric nursing, public health, research and higher education. She is founder and CEO of LeadersCare, LLC. One of the company’s goals is to promote employee health and wellness in partnership with health and business leaders.

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