According to an study by the American Psychological Association, women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men, such as having had a headache (41 percent versus 30 percent), having felt as though they could cry (44 percent versus 15 percent), or having had an upset stomach or indigestion (32 percent versus 21 percent) in the past month. The same survey also reported that women are more likely than men to report that they eat as a way of managing stress (31 percent versus 21 percent).
The third component of Self Care I want you to pay attention to this month is Energy. This year has been a whirlwind so far. Whether we’ve directly been effected by covid or not, we’ve definitely been under stress. Our jobs have changed, our kids’ school schedules have changed, our routines have changed. It is a normal stress response for our energy to feel absolutely depleted lately because of all this change.
Most of my clients at Sage Tree are women and many of them are mom. Moms are the caregivers, the house managers, the entertainment directors, the chefs, the cleaning crew, and a laundry list (pun intended) of other roles and responsibilities…even more so during quarantine. So how do women typically handle all this stress?
It's a good time for moms and their families to recognize the importance of addressing stress and managing it in healthy ways. "How a mother manages stress is often a model for the rest of the family," says APA psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD. "Other family members will imitate her unhealthy behavior."
Strategies to help mothers manage stress:
· Understand how you experience stress — Everyone experiences stress differently. I often ask my clients if they’re aware of how their stress manifests in their life? How do people close to you know when you are stressed? What to you tend to think about? What are you prone to do under times of high stress?
· Identify stressors — What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else? We can’t – and shouldn’t – eliminate all triggers, but we can learn better ways to cope with them.
· Recognize how you deal with stress — Determine what kind of behaviors you’re using to cope with stress. I’d bet some are healthy and some are unhealthy. It’s a common stress response to over or under eat or over or under sleep while under stress. (Recognize our former two categories of self-care…eating and sleeping! See! They’re all related.)
As it relates to energy, we may notice feeling very low energy – or depressed, or conversely feeling high energy which can sometimes translate as anxiety.
Over the first couple of weeks of the stay at home order I noticed most of my clients feeling the latter, more anxiety. Difficulty sleeping, watching a lot of news, racing thoughts, a sense of hypervigilance – a sense of being on alert. Eventually our brain can’t tolerate maintaining that state for too long and we might notice ourselves shifting to lower energy. This might look like oversleeping, not performing daily hygiene activities like cooking, showering or changing our clothes. We’re depressed.
Ask yourself where you are on this continuum. This will help us determine how to best address our stress level and thus balance our energy level.
· Find healthy ways to manage stress — Instead of relying on the unhealthier ways to deal with stress like overeating or undersleeping, consider healthy, stress-reducing activities — take a very short walk, it can be to the mailbox and back, instead of texting actually call a friend or loved one and have a conversation, read a book with pages.Try changing one behavior at a time and notice how it affects your energy level over time. You should notice a difference within a week.
· Ask for professional support — That’s where I come in. You’re already a client at Sage Tree so that means you’ve taken the courageous step of asking for the support you deserve in therapy. It’s also important to remember that accepting help from healthy friends and family is crucial during stressful times. Even though it looks different these days, connection to others is what will help us endure.
"Mothers often put their family needs first and neglect their own," says Bufka. "It's okay to relax your standards — don't put a lot of pressure on yourself to have the 'perfect' house or be the 'perfect' mother. No one expects you to be Superwoman."