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De-Stressing Your New Year

We all know that the winter holiday season can be stressful. There are added expenses related to gift-buying, entertaining, and travel; an added layer of expectation, (some might say dread), that the festivities will live up to the ideal we have in our heads; and the very good chance that we’ll come down with a case of the sniffles or worse just to complicate the whole picture. As we carry on through the joys and challenges of the season, we need to take stock of how stress is impacting our lives and strategize for better ways to manage stress in 2014.

De-Stressing Your New Year

A recent survey cited on the American Psychological Association website points out evidence that stress levels among women are on the rise. 28% of women surveyed reported having high levels of stress (8,9, or 10 on a 10-point scale), and 49% of the women said that their stress has increased over the past five years.

In addition to the reported rise in stress among women, women overall are more likely to report feeling the symptoms of stress than men, including feeling tense and irritable, being highly distractible, having difficulty making decisions, experiencing frequent mood swings, and generally feeling overwhelmed.

Perhaps it’s no wonder. Women are programmed to be caretakers, which can lead to fulfilling others needs before your own. Women are more vulnerable to feeling selfish, or feeling guilty about saying no to others requests. More women than men have both a career outside the home and are struggling to juggle traditional responsibilities like childrearing and homemaking after hours. Striving to compete in a professional environment and simultaneously trying to embody a more traditional female ideal can take a heavy toll. Add to all of this the fact that as women progress through life’s stages, hormonal changes that result from premenstrual, postpartum, and menopause can affect a woman’s chemical vulnerability to stress and depression. It’s a lot to think about and manage.

Stress is inevitable, but planning for how you will manage stress is key to staying healthy and not letting the ups and downs of life negatively impact your health.

Looking ahead to 2014, here are some key ways to relieve stress.

  • Learn to say “no” without feeling guilty. Recognize that you have a right to say no without a lengthy justification. “I am sorry, but my plate is full” is often explanation enough.
  • Take time to “care” for yourself. Dance, take a bath, or a walk; write in a journal or listen to relaxation tables; meet with a friend; read or listen to music; nap; do breathing exercises and learn to meditate. Simply stretch. Stop and reflect. When you start to feel harried and overwhelmed, do your best to slow down, breathe and give yourself some added attention.
  • Don’t try to be all things to all people. Delegate when necessary. Ask for help.

The hardest part for many women is the feeling that they should “do it all.” The pressure to succeed in a professional life, to be a great mother and wife, to be a loving friend, daughter, and sibling, combined with the fear of being considered selfish can create a perfect storm of stress that can lead to high blood pressure, depression, heart attack and stroke.

So for 2014, talk with your AOA physician about ways that you can protect yourself with stress-relieving strategies that will soothe your state of mind, and improve your overall health.

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