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Women Who Do It All: How to Manage Chronic Stress

January 20, 2019

Women often feel pressure to “do it all”: manage a household, work 40+ hours per week, raise children, all while exercising regularly and cooking healthy meals. But trying to keep up with all of life’s demands or expectations can be stressful and tiring. How do you know if your stress is out of hand? And, if it is, what can you do?

What does stress look like?

“Stress can manifest in many different forms,” says Julie Manuel, MSEd, LPCC, NCC, psychotherapist at Kettering Behavioral Medicine Center. “One of the biggest signs of stress is irritability, like being short with family members.” Not having enough energy to complete daily tasks and somatic symptoms like nausea and tension headaches can all be signs of chronic stress. “For me,” says Julie, “I will feel very fatigued and unable to put the usual energy or motivation into normal activities, like work or exercise. That is always a sign that my body is telling me I’m too stressed out.”

Being overly stressed can be a huge factor in physical illnesses, like chronic migraine headaches, and can develop into nausea, ulcers, or constant overeating. Sometimes stress can even present as flu-like muscle aches. Julie explains, “Sometimes we mistake symptoms for a cold or flu when actually we’re overly stressed, overly worked, burned out, and just need a break.”

But how do you take a break?

One of the biggest keys to preventing chronic stress, says Julie, is practicing regular self-care. By today’s standards, some people associate self-care with bubble baths and face masks. But self-care is actually just about finding what activities help you to relax and take better care of yourself.

“Self-care could be reading a book, taking a mental health day off of work, going out to dinner with friends, exercising,” says Julie. “The number one best self-care practice for you is simply the one you are going to do.”

Stop the avalanche: preventing chronic stress

Julie notes that one of the keys to preventing burnout is learning to set healthy boundaries. “Often, we want to be our best and exceed expectations,” she says. “But we need to be able to set firm limits and boundaries so we don’t work ourselves to the point where we’re overly stressed.”

It’s important to point out that saying no now doesn’t mean saying no forever. “You can do it all, but not all at once, and maybe not right now,” says Julie. Saying no respectfully doesn’t mean you’re saying “never” to a particular task or activity. Setting healthy limits is about making your mental health a priority so that you can approach life with realistic expectations and boundaries.

When to seek help

If you feel like your symptoms of stress are unmanageable, Julie advises seeking help from a doctor or therapist. “Doctors and therapists can help you navigate and unpack the stress in your life,” says Julie. “Arm yourself with the right tools. It’s okay to ask for help.”

Take some time for yourself this month and learn more about staying healthy at Kettering Health Network’s annual A to Zumba event. Register today at ketteringhealth.org/atozumba

For more resources on managing your stress and mental health or to make an appointment with our mental health professionals, visit ketteringhealth.org/mentalhealth.