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Stress Matters

We feel stressed when the demands of life and our skills and resources for coping are out of balance. We have short-term and long-term stress. Missing the bus or arguing with a spouse can cause short-term stress. Single parenting or financial hardship can lead to long-term stress. Even some of our happiest times can be stressful, like during the holidays or having a baby.

Some of the most common stressful life events include:

  • death of a spouse
  • death of a close family member
  • divorce
  • losing your job
  • major personal illness or injury
  • marital separation
  • marriage
  • pregnancy
  • retirement
  • spending time in jail

Social conditions such as living in poverty and dealing with racism can expose people to ongoing stress. So can discrimination or harassment at work. Stress caused by trauma, intimate partner violence, or an abusive or troubled home life during childhood can have potent and long-lasting effects on a woman's mental health. In fact, childhood sexual abuse,which is more frequent among girls, may have effects that last into adulthood - ranging from depression and anxiety to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

More familiar to many women is day-today stress. Stress that builds up can take a toll on your physical and mental health.Did you know that you are more likely to catch a cold during times of high stress? Long-term stress can put you at risk of more serious health problems, like depression or hypertension. Or make health problems you already have worse.


Juggling multiple roles is a fact of life for most women today. Sometimes, our roles as wives, partners, mothers, workers, and caregivers can feel like they are competing for our time and en-ergy. Role strain and stress can happen easily if you take on too much, set stan-dards that are too high, and/or don't get the support you need. But life roles can enhance and support each other, too. Research suggests that multiple roles are better for you than having just one. Look out for these signs that you are spreading yourself too thin:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • feeling you don't have control, or a need for too much control
  • forgetfulness
  • headaches
  • lack of energy
  • lack of focus
  • low morale
  • not being able to get things done
  • poor self-esteem
  • short temper
  • trouble sleeping
  • upset stomach
  • withdrawal

At the same time, not all stress is bad.Just enough stress keeps you focused and helps you to perform your best, such as the stress you might feel before speaking in front of a group of people. It also can prompt you to change a situation for the better, such as leaving a dead-end job. But any stress can affect your health.Pay attention to your body for signs that stress is building up. And try these tips to keep stress in check:

  • Take time each day to relax and unwind, even if only for a few minutes.
  • Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
  • Eat healthy foods, which give you energy.
  • Make time for physical activity, which relieves tension and boosts mood.
  • Talk to friends and loved ones. They are good listeners and might offer a different way of seeing things.
  • Make time to do things you enjoy and that fulfill you.
  • Set limits. Be realistic about what you can handle at work and in your personal life. Talk to your boss if work demands are too big to handle alone.If you feel overburdened, ask family and friends for help and say "no"to requests for your time and energy.Women often put the needs of others before their own.

Source: Adapted from The Healthy Woman: A Complete Guide for All Ages
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health

Reviewed by athealth on February 8, 2014.