Women and Stress

Gloria G. Brame,PhD,ACS



by Gloria G. Brame

This informal survey was conducted on the Internet, and asked women a range of questions about stress factors in their lives. The overall conclusion? Women are stressed out! They are working too many hours and not finding enough time just for themselves. Common stress factors: weight and body-image issues, lack of emotional support from their partners, loneliness, coping with holiday blues, meeting new people and socializing in crowds. A quarter of all respondents said they are on anti- depressants to help control their anxiety, and virtually all reported headaches, backaches, and other physical symptoms during periods of stress.

Read on for a fascinating glimpse into WOMEN AND STRESS.

1. What's the biggest cause of stress in your life right now?

Sondra, 37 Cleveland, Ohio, Credit Counselor: My weight. I turn down invitations from friends all the time because I am ashamed of and hate how big I've become. I'm always comparing myself with the way I used to look and thinking, "If I can't look that way anymore, I can't let people see me."

Jasmine, 26, Chicago, IL, Computer Network Adminstrator : Trying to cope with the office and to resolve customers' problems. Then trying to keep up with the computer industry and maintain my sanity through it all within an 8 hour day leaves me with a headache and a fried brain. In this field, work does not stop when you go home.

Lisa, 39, Seattle, WA, Executive Secretary: For me, the stress is simply about being a single woman out there in the world! I get incredibly stressed at the many responsibilities of day-to- day living and the fact that I have to do it alone with no partner to help me.

Arta, 32, Atlanta, GA, Unemployed: I do not have a full-time, permanent job now, and that is worrying me. It seems as though if you do not have a permanent position, somehow you do not really exist!

Carolyn, 28, Santa Clara, California, Unemployed: My boyfriend and I are both unemployed right now and have been for 3 months. I'd have to say that career is the most stressful, but those stresses are causing stress in our relationship as well.

Carol, 40, Bellingham, WA, Community Volunteer: The biggest stress right now is finding enough time to take care of all my responsibilities and enough time for my family so that they don't feel neglected. There's never enough time for myself.

Maria, 45, Glendale, CA, Computer Consultant: My husband's salary isn't enough to support the family and my income as a freelancer is too sporadic to rely on. I've been searching for steady work for a year now and although I have interviewed many times I have yet to be hired. Financial insecurity is guaranteed to stress me the most!

2. Do you often feel overwhelmed because of role juggling, overwork, or demands on your time?

Zoe, 44, Yountville, CA, Personal Assistant: Demands on time? What gave you that idea? My ex-boyfriend wanted me all to himself. When my son visits, he likes things one-on-one. When I'm at work, my boss doesn't want to share me with anybody. He just called me from his car and kept talking and talking. I was dancing from one foot to the other. He asked what else we needed to cover, and I said that he'd have to call back since I had to go to the bathroom (don't I get to go at least once a day at work?). He laughed and wished me the best of luck.

Barbara, 26, Bloomington, IN, University Faculty Member: I have so much work to do on a daily basis. It is hard to manage all that and have time to get simple things done like washing my clothes or preparing meals.

Arta: My biggest stresses have to do with juggling time. Today is a perfect example: I am supposed to give a dinner party for family visiting from out of town. A friend wants me to come over, have a beer and help him figure out how to rent his home. I rented a movie that I want to watch. I have paperwork to do, laundry, grocery shopping, housecleaning and probably a few other details I've conveniently forgotten. I also need to answer e- mail, write a letter or two, return books to the library, and bring clothes to the cleaners. There is no way all of these things are going to happen today!

Landra, 43, Greenville, SC, Literary Agent: I do, but I believe it's the state of any woman today if she has a career. The most overwhelming part for me is not getting private time daily.

Gwen, 32, Baltimore, MD....?: I just can't seem to fit in all the things that need doing, and all the people who require my attention. One of my pets has been very sick lately, and that's just adding another stone to the pile.

Charlie, 45, Litchfield County, CT, Writer: Most of my stress comes from overwork and taking on too much. I like to challenge myself and take on more and more exacting work, rather than coast on what I've done before. So I sometimes end up over-reaching my grasp.

Carolyn: It seems as though it is my responsibility to worry about my own job search and finances while supporting my boyfriend in his problems and not adding to his stress. I often feel like there is nobody for me to unload my stress on. I am expected to be "strong" and "together" by everyone around me. I feel like I'm not allowed to scream when I need to.

3. How does your stress manifest itself?

Madeleine, 32, London, Writer: I get bitchy. I'm no fun to be with. If it gets too bad, or if things are overwhelming and then come to an abrupt halt--when I go on holiday, for example--I get panic attacks.

Mimi, 28 Tulsa, OK, Administrative assistant: Severe irritablity followed by intense but brief depression. Also back aches, especially neck and shoulder aches. Occasionally dizzy spells and, at worst, panic attacks.

Victoria, 35, Edmonton, Canada, Accounting Clerk: Irritability, stomach upsets, constant fatigue, short bouts of self-pity or depression.

Lisa: Irritability, headaches, tiredness and feelings of being overwhelmed where I almost "zone out" and feel like I'm drugged or something!

Darlene, 41, Gainesville, FL, Radio Station owner: I grind my teeth at night, and I can easily lose my temper when really stressed out.

Gwen: It becomes nearly impossible for me to motivate myself to face things that need doing. I get a strong urge to run away and hide, or escape in some way.

Zoe: I'm a total hermit on the weekends to reenergize myself. Also, I crave sweets. Bite my fingernails. I have vented a lot of steam over Mel Gibson winning two Oscars....puh-leeze! I don't believe in supporting this man and his homophobe views!

Sallie, 44, New Orleans, LA, Reporter. I'm not a high-stress sort. I just sort of mooch along, occasionally snarling if someone does something exceptionally irritating or stupid.

4. What effect does stress have on your sex life?

Landra: What sex life???? All kidding aside, I lose all interest in sex when I am highly stressed.

Regina, 42, Rochester, New York, Marketing Comunications Manager: It enhances my desire. Sex is the great escape and soother.

Lucy, 35, Dallas, TX, Journalist: I have a hard time turning my whirring mind off long enough to relax and have sex. It becomes one more thing I feel I need to "perform" at. Even though my head wants to meet the challenge, my body isn't cooperative.

Sondra: Sometimes if I am working very hard to meet a deadline, my husband and I will postpone sex until some of the work is out of the way. Unfortunately, this postponement of sex more often than not makes the stress worse. I guess there's just something about intense screaming orgasms that tends to mellow a woman out!

Emma, 46, Atlanta, GA, Professor: I am not currently involved in a relationship, but when I was, stress reduced my sex drive, causing my partner to feel rejected and therefore hostile to me just when I most needed his support.

Jasmine: I have a hard time focusing, and it's hard to have an intense orgasm, if I can manage one at all. My mind is always on work or I am too tired or stressed to enjoy myself.

Olivia, 46, Bath, NY, Social Worker: My husband works at night and I work during the day. On the rare occasions when we both have free time there are so many other things we like or need to do, so sex often gets shoved to the bottom of the priority list. We do make some time every day for cuddling and other simple expressions of affection.

Zoe: Various effects, ranging from turning off for weeks at a time to voraciously cravings. I have some great orgasms in my dreams!

Gwen: My libido takes a dive when I'm stressed. It's very hard to get out of the crazed feeling that my world is too heavy and will fall on me.

Mimi: For me, it's one of two extremes: either a complete lack of interest in sex or an almost manic drive. In the first case, it's usually because of physical and emotional exhaustion. In the second, it's when I'm really psyched about a project or opportunity.

5. How do you deal with stress on a day-to-day basis?

Lyn, 47, San Jose, California, Attorney: I eat Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt and anything else that moves slower than me. I keep my sense of humor, live with a very happy dog, talk to friends, remember that I've pulled myself out of deeper holes, and think about what I have accomplished.

Jasmine: I take a walk outside, I take a ride in the car, I read, I play online, I talk it out, and then I finally lose it and scream at the nearest person.

Charlie: I haunt the humor section of bookstores. For a while, I was visiting the Comedy Central Forum on-line each day to pick up a daily joke, then I'd call a friend and relay it.

Landra: I run two to five miles per day and lift weights.

Lucy: I like to get out in the garden after I'm done working. I like to exercise to blow off steam, but if I sometimes feel like sitting around like a big lump and not doing or thinking anything, I allow myself the privilege.

Ann, 39, Reno, NV, high school teacher: I try to set aside an hour or so each evening for things I like to do, such as read magazines and get on the Internet.

Mimi: Sometimes I can do a sort of meditation and reach a point of incredible peace and self knowledge. Other times I simply drink too much. Oh, and I have a Prozac perscription.

Emma: After consulting a therapist last year, I started taking Prozac, which has been very helpful, though not a cure-all. The other anti-stress device is swimming, which I love. It is without a doubt the best thing I do for myself and (dare I admit it?) the part of my life that gives me the most pleasure.

Sabrina, 45, Akron, Ohio, Editor: I try to do four things each day, not always with success: 1. not take my office problems home with me, 2. not worry about things today that I can worry about tomorrow, 3. complete at least one task each day, however small, and 4. plan one pleasant thing that I do just for me, such as going to the library or taking a long bath in the evening.

Sondra: Play with my cat. He'll often notice when I'm stressed and do his little cat things to reassure me (sniffing my face, walking on me). Sometimes he climbs on my chest and starts suckling on my shirt collar, right under my chin. I become instantly mellow

6. What changes do you feel you could make in your life that would lessen stress?

Sallie: Win the lottery, quit my job, and move to Tahiti!

Mimi: Regain my spirituality. That would be the big thing.

Jocelyn, 44, Knoxville, TN, Accountant: Stop procrastinating so much! I put off the things I don't like until the absolutely last possible minute. Then I'm frequently running to get things done with no hope of actually finishing on time.

Olivia: To have my house not look like a whirlwind hit it, to not lose unpaid bills on the kitchen table, to have my garden not resemble a small jungle! That would all be a big help in alleviating stress.

Victoria: One of the things I'm trying is setting daily goals. If I set goals and meet them, there is a feeling of having accomplished something. I think that, internally, it would help if I didn't have my self-worth tied up in my work. I'm working on that.

Lyn: I like stress. I even go out of my way to increase stress. It's more fun to do things under the gun, and more efficient, too. I am an intensity junkie. If I don't feel like I'm in a pressure cooker every once in a while, I get bored.

Lisa: I actively try and live simply and in as uncomplicated a manner as I can. I try to stay away from situations that I know will be stressful. Sometimes I have to be a little self-serving and say "no" to people who are trying to get a piece of my time or energy.

Madeleine: I need to be kinder on myself, not be a perfectionist, not think some of my peers have accomplished SO much more than I have (they haven't, for the most part). Also, I need to exercise more and to make myself do more things that are fun.

7. Do you have any "quick fix" stress relievers?

Janice, 36, Chicago, Illinois, Journalist: A shiatsu massage does the trick every time. Those Japanese sure know how to unknot muscles.

Maria: Lying back in a reclining chair with New Age music on headphones and making a conscious effort to relax and clear my mind usually works best.

Mimi: Controlled breathing. When I remember to do it, it's a no- fail solution.

Regina: BenWa balls, stimulating my energy in my hands. Shutting off the lights in my office, closing, the door, closing my eyes and deep breathing. Sometimes a dab of perfume, or sniffing in my perfume oil bottle, helps. I also "wash off" my stress and negative energy by washing my hands in cold water.

Carolyn: Getting out of town to the Sierras for a walk in the woods. Also, my boyfriend's apartment complex is built around a water feature. Right in front of the patio is a waterfall that makes a wonderfully relaxing sound. I sit there and watch the squirrels in the trees or read a book listening to the water sounds.

Polly: Food. Lots of food. Overeating has a tranqualizing effect on me. Unfortunately, when I overeat, I gain weight and I feel stress over how bad I look as a result.

Lisa: I hate to admit it, but sometimes I unwind with marijuana.

Lucy: Taking a walk always helps me. The repetitive motion, the breeze on my face, the trees, the birds, getting the blood pumping.

Charlie: I am a fan of hot bubble baths. Picking up some fresh flowers at the local florist helps, too. So does picking up the phone to chat quickly with a favorite friend during the day.

8. Is there something the man in your life could do (or already does) to help you manage your stress?

Jocelyn: Yeah! Show up and tell me who he is! I'm between relationships and that's adding to the stress in some ways. On the other hand, I don't have the stress that goes with handling relationship problems, so maybe they balance out!

Barbara: Be a bit more understanding about the things going on in my life, and be around a little more.

Carol: Stop trying to "fix" my problems and just listen to me vent my frustrations. He could realize that my time is important too, even though I don't have a high stress career like he does.

Lucy: The man in my life is a dream in that he always is there to just let me rant and rave and vent. I can say *anything* to him--I'm scared, I'm tired, I'm overwhelmed, I'm caving in--and it's okay. I am very lucky to have him.

Olivia: My husband has already accepted responsibility for some chores, both professional and household. Now, if he could just learn to spend money wisely and learned that clothing dropped on the living room floor is not "put away"!

Sabrina: He could take on more of the record keeping at home, and keep a calendar so that I don't have to remember everything that needs to be done all of the time. He could save receipts and let me have them when I ask for them instead of losing them. He could make his own appointments and return his phone calls so that I don't get repeat calls asking for him. These details are hard enough to handle for myself; it's overwhelming to have to deal with for another person as well.

Darlene: My husband is very good about sharing responsibility for the children and doesn't have high expectations of what he thinks I should be doing. If I'm too tired to cook, that's fine with him.

Ann: The man in my life is very self-reliant. He is a good cook, knows how to do the laundry and is good at cleaning!

Lucy: My husband is very supportive. For the first time in our marriage, I'm not bringing in as much money as he is. When I get down about that, he always assures me that it's not a problem, that what I'm doing is hard, that I'm going to get ahead eventually. He and I also have learned to give each other a lot of personal space. I wish he enjoyed giving backrubs but, hey, he cooks--can't have everything!

9. Are there any decisions (having a family, making a career change, etc.) that you are postponing because you are afraid of adding more stress to your life?

Jasmine: Getting seriously involved with someone. I am single, and I can't see myself in a deep commitment. The stress of working full time, going to school, and being a single parent is too much to handle at the moment.

Janice: We've put off having a child. We've been married for six years and wanted to make a sufficient sum to handle a child. Now that we're way over six figures, we still think that isn't enough, what with the cost of an Ivy League education these days.

Madeleine: I have postponed having a family and buying a house because I am worried of possible financial burdens and afraid of making a commitment--not so much a commitment to my boyfriend, but a commitment to put other things first before my career.

Victoria: I want to go back to college to upgrade my skills, but have been postponing it because my plate is so full right now.

Polly: I have no trouble making decisions, even about major life changes. My response to stress is action, not passivity or procastination. I have to guard against going too fast or acting rashly under those circumstances.

Jocelyn: There are always those projects or things I'd like to learn "someday when I get time." They kind of hover in the background, making me feel a little guilty that I haven't done them. But none of them are major life decisions.

Sabrina: A career change seems imminent but I can't face updating my resume. It's just too much to handle right now. I feel that if I take on even one more tiny thing, I will explode.

10. Aside from daily stresses, are there any periodic activities which automatically make your stress level spike?

Lyn: Visits to my mother make it spike the highest. Visits from my mother are the next worst.

Regina: Holidays are the pits, Christmas in particular.

Gwen: Paying bills can make me short of breath, because there's just not enough money.

Charlie: Any mention of having to do taxes or bookkeeping and any mention of my already-late deadline send my stress levels into the stratosphere.

Emma: Social situations where you have to make small talk send my stress soaring. Shopping is also highly stressful: when I am buying a gift, I fear it will not please; when I am buying clothes for myself, I don't like the way I look and feel I am wasting time that could be better used.

Sallie: Shopping. There's too much STUFF to choose from. And especially shopping for clothes, because then I have to look at my reflection.

Arta: First dates. I never feel as though I can be myself. After a few dates, it all becomes natural, but the first date is always a source of insecurity for me.

Madeleine: I hate to fly, which is silly because in my job I have flown with all the world's crappiest airlines. I usually pop a xanax if I am going on a long flight.

Barbara: Going to the doctor, even for routine trips.

Janice: I grew up in a small town, so driving in a major city is stressful for me. Driving has become America's number one non- contact sport. It is how people get their aggression out after a wacky day at the office, after they've been subjected to humilation by some strange little man with a sweaty forehead, and balding pate. Everyone has a sweaty little man like this at the office. Generally, his name is Fred. He's a dropout from a lower-level state college, and he is the supervisor, a fact which he constantly reminds you of. He tortures you at the office, and then, during rush hour, he is the one in the rusting Pinto who is beeping his horn, and yelling remarks which would be bleeped out if they were broadcast.


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