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Women and Stress

February 3, 2011

It’s no secret that multitasking women experience extremely high levels of stress, and women with disabilities are no exception. But it’s time to take those stress management strategies seriously. Why? Excessive stress can take a very high toll on your overall health, an especially important issue when a disability may already present health and wellness challenges for your body.

How Stress Damages Your Health

Long-term stress can increase your risk for major health problems, like depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. It can damage your immune system, up your chance for becoming obese, and makes existing conditions worse. In addition, stress can lead to a higher risk of asthma as well as arthritis flare-ups.

And its toll on your stomach can be equally severe, resulting in such symptoms as cramping or bloating, constipation or diarrhea, and even irritable bowel syndrome.

In addition, according to the National Women’s Health Center (an agency of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services), ongoing, long-term stress can also play a part in:

  • sleep difficulties
  • headaches
  • eating disorders
  • emotion and mood issues, such as irritability, anger, sadness, and anxiety
  • a lack of energy
  • decreased ability to concentrate
  • lowered interest in sex
  • difficulty in getting pregnant

Recognizing and Responding to Stress in Your Life

People with disabilities have so many additional stressors in their lives, that it’s the rare woman who doesn’t experience at least occasional levels of severe stress. The key is to avoid chronic, or unremitting stress (which, we’ll all admit, is easier said than done).

To start getting your stress levels under control, however, you’ll first need to recognize that stress is the factor driving your symptoms. The psychology profession, through the Holmes and Rahe Scale of Life Events (1967), identifies some of life’s most stressful events as:

  • the death of a spouse or a close family member
  • divorce
  • marital separation
  • marriage
  • pregnancy
  • retirement

The Holmes and Rahe Scale also includes “personal illness or injury” among its life stressors, which, for most people with disabilities, isn’t an event so much as a lifelong circumstance. This, of course, makes managing stress not an event-driven, time-delimited challenge, but rather a critically-important, day-in-and-day-out one.

Where to Start: Learning How to Manage Stress

Fortunately, there are a number of tactics you can use to manage your stress. Some of these include the basics: get enough sleep for your body to have a chance to recover from the day’s traumas; eat healthy foods that not only sustain your body but can also influence your moods; talk to friends, whether face-to-face, by phone, or online.

We’ve got additional articles that go into more specifics to help you deal with stress, but the important takeaway here is this: women are “stress magnets” because of the multiple roles we play in life, and women with disabilities simply have even more stressors that can damage your health. So choose your stress solutions, and start working on them today!

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