Beasts of Burden

Woman, mother, wife, co-worker, household manager: Each role has its own set of stressors, the effects of which can be more serious than you may realize

“I’m just so stressed out right now!” How many times have you heard those words or said them? Probably more than you’d like to admit. The term ‘stress’ is often thrown casually about, but the truth is stress kills. “Stress raises people’s blood pressure and blood sugar, it makes them distracted and more likely to have accidents and it can interrupt sleep patterns. There is an actual morbidity associated with stress so it needs to be taken very seriously,” says Dr. Margaret Howard, director of the division of women’s behavioral health at Women and Infants Hospital and a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.

Women in particular are more prone to chronic stress, a type of stress that is experienced over a prolonged period of time and is characterized by the feeling that one has no control over a situation. Howard theorizes that this could be due to societal pressures placed on women from a very young age. “Women are socialized to be more helpful, to take care of others and to be sensitive to other’s feelings,” she says. “Women are essentially taught to make other people happy and to always put themselves second. We’ll agree to be on the school committee, to take on that extra project at work, to watch our neighbor’s kids or walk their dog…even when we don’t necessarily have the time, energy or interest.”

So, if the tendency to put yourself in stressful situations is a learned behavior, how can you change it?

There are the usual stress relievers that you’ve already heard a million times over — engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, practicing meditation — but certain situations may call for additional measures. Sometimes, it can take something as simple as realizing when it is time to just say no. As for prescription treatments, Howard advises, “Unless your stress is beginning to interrupt your everyday life, like considerably interfering with your personal relationships, your job performance, your ability to parent and so on, I wouldn’t automatically rush to see a medical doctor. There are plenty of non-pharmacological means of dealing with stress that are very effective.” Here are some suggestions on how to abate some of the more common stressors in your life.

New Mother Anxieties
♥ Accept help from others: You’re only human.
♥ Seek support systems. Surround yourself with loved ones.
♥ Take ‘you’ time and do something special for yourself.
♥ Establish a routine for yourself and your family, but allow flexibility. You can’t control everything.
♥ Sleep when the kids sleep.
♥ Remember that it’s okay to be freaked out. You won’t have all the answers all the time.
♥ Get off social media and unsubscribe from those judgmental newsletters — stop comparing yourself to other moms! There’s no such thing as a perfect parent.

Marital Issues
♥ Communicate with one another and identify the issue: Can it be traced back to you, your partner or does it stem from an outside force?
♥ Think of yourselves as a team — financially and as parents.
♥ Respect that your partner may have a different means to an end.
♥ Give positive attention to your significant other. Be intimate.
♥ Take time to yourselves and allow each other some privacy.
♥ Seek professional help. Howard says, “Even just a few sessions of counseling can put things back on track. Many healthy marriages seek counseling. Don’t wait until things are at a boiling point.”

Work Pressures
♥ Don’t over-commit. Delegate your extra responsibilities to co-workers if possible.
♥ Schedule regular breaks and plan a vacation. Give yourself a light at the end of the tunnel.
♥ Perfect doesn’t exist: Abandon any unrealistic goals you may have set for yourself.
♥ Communicate and socialize with your co-workers. Build relationships so that you have someone on whom you can rely (or vent).
♥ Leave your work at the office. Make your home a place for relaxation.
♥ Evaluate your situation: Are you at the right company? In the right field? On the right path? It’s never too late to try something new.

Financial Woes
♥ Start tracking how and where you spend your money.
♥ Budget! Prioritize your payments.
♥ Build an emergency fund. Turn a payday into a savings day every few months.
♥ Get direct deposit and split incoming paychecks between checking and savings (out of sight, out of mind).
♥ Speak openly with your loved ones. If you need help, tell them.
♥ Do you have a commissionable talent? Research ways you could earn a bit of extra income.

Aging Parents / Caregiver Strain
♥ Accept that things have changed and they are not going to go back to the way they were.
♥ Put your own physical needs (eat and sleep) first. You can’t adequately take care of someone else if you don’t take care of yourself.
♥ Take breaks. Still have fun!
♥ Know your limitations, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
♥ Understand that you are not a bad person if you seek professional assistance, such as a nursing home.
♥ Join a caregiver support group and talk to others in similar situations.