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stress and women

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 can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat. This is commonly known as the "fight or flight" response. The threat can be any situation that is seen as a danger. Common short-term stressors include:
  • noise
  • crowding
  • being isolated from others
  • illness
  • hunger
  • danger
  • infection
Imagining a threat or remembering a dangerous event can also evoke a stress response. Modern life frequently results in ongoing stressful situations. These may include:
  • difficult work or personal situations
  • loneliness
  • financial worries
  • the recent death of a family member or loved one
  • a move to a new home or change in job
  • physical illness, especially long-term conditions
  • physical illness of a family member
  • difficulty sleeping or inability to obtain enough sleep
What is the information for this topic? 
Stress occurs all the time in most people's lives. 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. At some point in their lives, almost all people will go through stressful events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope.

A woman's role has changed a lot since the 1950s and 1960s. Very few women worked out of the home then. Many stayed home and were housewives. This has changed. Female employment has increased significantly over the last 50 years in Australia. Increasing from 0.8 million to 3.6 million over this period. 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.

The divorce rate is approximately 50% in the US. The divorce rate in Australia is a lot lower than in the US. In 1998 there were 51,400 divorces, up from 41,000 granted in 1988. There are many single parent households now. Working mothers, regardless of whether they are married or single, face higher stress levels. This is not so much in the work place but at home. She may feel guilty for leaving her children while she works, and try to make it up by being "super mum." This only increases her stress when she realizes that she can't do it all.

Many women are waiting to have children until they have become established in their careers. This can cause increased stress if infertility is a factor.

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. This is not true for men, however.

Some tips for reducing stress in women include:
  • Prioritise. A woman should decide which part of her life is really important and which parts don't need as much 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 crock pot.
  • 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 nonprescription drugs and alcohol.
Eliminating stress from life is impossible. However, stress management techniques can decrease some of the harmful effects of stress.

Author: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 28/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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