Females ranked higher than males regarding times they feel stressed, according to a recent Gallup World Poll.
The results aren’t surprising considering the numerous effects of the pandemic that unduly burden women such as changes in their children’s education, supply chain problems, health concerns, all areas in which women typically perform more work than men.
Too much stress is not good for anyone.
In addition to the negative emotional aspects of too much stress, it also contributes to numerous disease processes.
“Women’s lives are so busy, and in addition to career and family, we often find ourselves in multiple nurturing and caregiver situations, which can add additional burdens,” said Renee Hagar-Smith, mindfulness-based wellness coach, speaker, workshop facilitator in Manlius.
Getting rid of stress would not be possible—or desirable, as even positive circumstances produce a certain amount of stress, such as going on vacation, receiving a promotion or adding a new baby to the family. But whether positive or negative sourced stress, mitigating its effects is important.
“Because we often put ourselves last on the list of priorities, adding consistent self-care practices is essential to cultivating more balance and joy into our lives,” Hagar-Smith said.
She encourages women to add small bits of self-care, which is easier to do—and stick with—than to add larger practices like a day at a spa. Morning and evening routines can offer a good time to include self-care and Hagar-Smith said that it can be grounding.
“Some ways to add self-care into your morning or evening routine is to take a short mindful walk, spend five minutes free-write journaling, or incorporate some time focusing on your breath,” she said. “A few minutes of breathing with a simple four-count inhale and four-count exhale can have an immediate calming effect on your mind and body. If you are feeling extra stressed, try lengthening the exhale to a count of seven. Longer exhales allow you to release more tension and relax your nervous system.”
The body-mind connection is also behind why exercise can help lower stress.
Paula Pacini group exercise coordinator of the JCC of Syracuse, encourages women to de-stress through yoga and tai chi.
“We have both of these classes, and they are very calming,” she said.
One of the reasons exercise works so well is that it releases endorphins, hormones that induce a positive mood. Exercise can include meeting up with a friend for mall walking and catching up, joining a group class brimming with camaraderie or enjoying the outdoors while snowshoeing at a park. Companionship, fresh air and sunshine: all of these aspects of the activity help manage stress.
“One of the ways I always tell my clients on how to de-stress is by completing exercise,” said Jill Murphy, personal trainer and co-owner of Mission Fitness in Syracuse. “It’s a win-win.”
Eating a healthful, balanced diet comprised of whole foods and laying off the alcohol and processed foods can help reduce stress on the body and support good health. Sometimes stress can manifest in an unhealthful diet, such as emotional eating.
Exercise is part of self-care, as are physical treats such as those listed by April L. Cacciatori, licensed massage therapist, wellness coach and owner of Zensations Therapeutic Massage in Rome.
“Get a massage,” she said. “Try a long, warm bath. Light a candle and listen to music.”
Stress can include chaos in the environment such as a perpetually messy closet or room or even the entire house. Cacciatori said that getting rid of unnecessary things and organizing can create a lower-stress home.
In a similar sense, reducing “clutter” activities—things they do not have to do but that take up time—can help women reduce stress.
“What can I take off my plate?” Cacciatori said. “Can I delegate? This is where I found life coaching so helpful. Let go of the ‘proving syndrome’ where asking for help is a sign of weakness.”
Oftentimes, stress results from taking on too many responsibilities. Instead of insisting on doing it all, delegating can help change a to-do list to an “all done” list. Asking for help can also relate to asking for mental health help, whether the listening ear of a wise, caring friend or a professional, who can help navigate through the reasons behind why some circumstances seem inordinately stressful.
Cacciatori said that in acute moments of stress, taking a few moments to breathe deeply can help manage stress.
“Allow yourself the ability to let go, even if it’s short-term,” Cacciatori added. “Fear creates stress of what’s coming and not coming. We think we’re in control and we’re not. The only thing we can control is how we react and respond.”