May is Women's Health Care Month. Licensed Professional Counselor offers tips to lower stress
The Someday Isle of Women’s Health Care
I thought that if I was:
1. Patient with others
2. Kind, understanding and compassionate
3. Sacrificed so my children can have a better life than I did
4. Put my husband’s needs ahead of my own; even have sex when I really need sleep
5. Make sure that I participate at church, school, social and community organizations
6. Volunteer for good causes
7. Made sure to be effective, efficient and productive at work
8. Stay organized at home and work
9. Stay up-to-date on technology, the news, and world events to be informed
10. Become financially successful
Then I would be satisfied, content and happy. Why am I not? I’m too tired.
May is Women’s Health Care Month. A 21st century woman’s daily new norm is overload, overwhelm, multitasking and staying “on.” Women are paying a high price to “be all, do all and have it all.” For most, they are wondering if there is going to be anything left of them after they finish their to-do lists. This ever-increasing stress keeps the body in a state of ramped-ness. It is no wonder that heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States. Most know the ramped-ness as stress. But do you really know what stress is and what it does to you?
Stress puts the body in a state of constriction which I call the survival ego self. When you are in the survival ego self you become so disconnected from your body that you don’t even feel the tension in your muscles until it has escalated into a painful cramp or spasm or you yell or scream or make a nasty negative comment to your loved ones. While stress is necessary for life, it can spiral out of control becoming detrimental to health. Stress helps you when it causes your body to fight an infection or heal a broken bone. It can make you push yourself to work overtime to complete an important project. Once it is completed, a little bit of rest and you bounce back no worse for wear.
But when you stay in an ongoing stressful state like working overtime, caring for aging or ill parents, or taking care of your own children with no down time for you, the stress begins to whittle away at your health: emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Stress research shows that over 1,400 known physical and chemical responses take place in the body. Stress activates more than 30 different hormones and neurotransmitters!  When this happens, your thinking becomes confused and distorted, your short term memory is suppressed and you become more reactive to things you wouldn’t normally react to. This distorted perceptual stress soup is a mix of facts, confusion, and if we have unexpressed unprocessed trauma, it gets triggered as well.
Now everything is wrong and you pull out your list going back to the beginning of time looking for someone to blame for your present problem. Or, you just start beating up on yourself rehashing old negative self-talk tapes that lead you to Nowheresville. Your decisions from this reactive place don’t consider consequences; you just react.
Another interesting thing about stress is that men and women deal with it differently. (Imagine that!) Studies have shown that when a husband and wife have an argument, his stress hormones decrease within the hour but hers are still high for another 12 hours. Other studies show that pregnant women who experience extreme stress have high levels of cortisol in their blood stream, possibly shutting up to 60% of the oxygen and nutrients away from the fetus. It is also believed that cortisol can cause the dendrites (the branches that contain memories) to shrink temporarily, causing memory blocks and that “going blank” experience. As cortisol levels decrease, the dendrites plump back up and your memory and thinking become clearer.
Research done at UCLA in 1998 showed that while most men and some women react to stress with the fight or flight response, women have another way to respond to stress. It is called “tend and befriend.” Women appear to be physiologically wired to reach out and communicate with each other, connecting in ways that help decrease stress and help one become calmer and less afraid. This instinctual “woman’s way” is compromised in today’s society because for almost everyone there is no time left in our 24/7 jam-packed lifestyle to have much tending and befriending.
Technology that looks like connection (cell phones, computers, computer games, tablets, etc.) is increasing our disconnection. No one can deny that we are living in challenging times, but mostly outside of our windows of stress tolerance. As a therapist, I see every day the devastation stress is causing to the human spirit and soul. Individuals and families struggle with stress escalation and become stuck in survival ego, disconnecting from the ones they love.
We can’t stay in this place and survive. Women are the nurturers. Who nurtures the nurturers? What happens when they are not?
According to some studies, women who allow themselves to connect with each other release an essential calming brain chemical called oxytocin. A great book that explains our inner calming chemistry is The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy and Love by Susan Kuchinskas . Oxytocin builds on our attachment/caregiving system. Oxytocin seems to counteract the metabolic activity associated with physiological reactivity from the stress reactions fight-or-flight like increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and increased cortisol levels (which for women seem to go to their middle?) Our present day lifestyle is not promoting us to connect at a physical or emotional level. So, what do we do?
1. Hit the pause button for at least 5 minutes a day even if it is in one minute increments.
2. Just take that pausing moment to close your eyes and breathe.
3. Remember mistakes are for learning, not for beating yourself up. Learn the lesson, apply it and move on.
4. You know these: healthy food, moderate exercise, good night’s sleep. Put your knowing into action and DO these.
5. De-cluttering your home and work space can reduce stress.
6. Create and maintain a support system.
7. Pray and meditate. Ask and Listen.
8. Connect with nature.
9. Ask for a hug.
10. Decrease multitasking. (I know this one is hard but try doing one thing before starting something else. It has really helped for me to do this. It feels like I’m barely moving but I’m actually getting more done!)
You are neurophysiologically and spiritually made to be in relationships. In order to thrive in life you need healthy, loving and safe relationships.
However, stress will take you out of relationships and put you in your survival ego. You will then become disconnected from yourself and then others. You cannot be in survival ego and connected at the same time. This is what drives the loneliness, isolation and violence in our world: disconnection. It is not your natural state. You need to be calm and connected to your heart to emotionally connect to yourself and then others. That is why self-care is so important. Without it we shrivel. Your family, friends, work and community do not need you shriveled.
We all need you blossoming into the creative wonderful soulful woman that lies underneath the survival ego. We need you healthy, joyful, and loving. We take care of what we value. Take care of yourself; you are valuable.
Soulfull Woman Deborah Chelette-Wilson is a Licensed Professional Counselor, speaker and life coach who has helped many women find that elusive “something missing” in their lives. We are often pulled in so many directions, that it’s difficult to know how to put ourselves on our own To Do list. Deborah offers a 15-minute free life coaching session exclusive to YourTango readers to help you identify what steps you can take to finding a more stress-free and soulfull You.
 Who Switched Off My Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf
 Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: Tend-and-Befriend, Not Fight-or-Flight
Shelley E. Taylor, Laura Cousino Klein, Brian P. Lewis, Tara L. Gruenewald,
Regan A. R. Gurung, and John A. Updegraff
University of California, Los Angeles