Looking Stress in the Eye
Stress is a fact of life for everyone, and women approaching the age of menopause certainly aren't immune to its effects. In fact, women in perimenopause may be more susceptible to the health-damaging side effects of stress than they had been previously.
Women in midlife can be faced with career and financial issues, body-image changes, emerging health problems, divorce, widowhood, struggles with teenage children, and increasing responsibilities for aging parents. The added stress of adjusting to hormonal fluctuations, hot flashes, weight gain, or other potential side effects of perimenopause can make the burden of stress even harder to bear.
Your stress may be connected to a medical condition or to the medication or treatment program you're using to combat one. Your doctor or health care provider may be able to adjust your medication or offer additional treatment options that can help you reduce and manage any health-related stressors you're encountering.
Some of the most common symptoms of stress include headaches, sleeplessness, indigestion, forgetfulness, an inability to concentrate, and ongoing feelings of anger and unhappiness. Stress can leave you feeling drained of all good feeling, and it can lead to overeating, drinking too much alcohol, or intensifying other unhealthy stress habits such as cigarette smoking. If you experience any of these symptoms of stress, you may have a real, health-threatening problem and can take action to determine its sources and potential solutions. Unless you find ways to eliminate or manage stress, you won't be successful in combating the mood-related problems you may experience during perimenopause.
You can't avoid all sources of stress, but you may be able to find workarounds for many of them. If a hectic work and family schedule is depleting your energy and stressing you out, what can you trim from your list of daily activities? Can you ask a partner for help in managing household tasks or running errands? Can you afford to hire a service to do laundry, pick up and deliver dry cleaning, or take over major cleaning jobs around the house? If you have children, can you ask them to step up and take more responsibility for their own needs, or to help out more around the house? If aging parents are presenting increasing demands on your time, can you get any type of community support assistance, such as meal deliveries or the services of a visiting nurse?
Stress can trigger the biological changes that accompany depression, and it appears that hormonal shifts can trigger those changes, too. That's why women with a family or personal history of depression must be particularly careful to monitor and manage stress as they approach the age of menopause.
Gettinga Handle on Work Stressors
Evaluate your job and work habits to try to spot stress fixes there, as well. Can you ask your boss for flexible work times, so you can schedule your commute when traffic is less hectic, or even arrange to work at home one day a week? Can you find someone to carpool with? If you commute by train, can you do some of your work on a laptop computer and save time at the office? If you have problems with a coworker, can you schedule a meeting to try to resolve the issues, or at least to lessen the tension? Can a personal organizer, meeting scheduler program, or other software help you save time and cut down on unnecessary panic and last-minute emergencies?
Once you've pinpointed and reduced the stressors that you can, find ways to cope with the stress you can't avoid. Exercise regularly, spend time engaged in leisure activities you enjoy, eat a healthy diet, and go easy on your mind and body — don't expect to perform every task perfectly and on time.
The first key to addressing stress is to admit that stress is a real health risk — one you simply cannot overlook. Stress will wear you out, age your body and mind, drain your spirit, and cause lasting health problems. Though you may feel that you're stuck with the stressful situations you currently endure, you do have options available to you. Talk to your doctor, a therapist, a counselor, a friend, a minister, or a trusted family member, and ask for help in finding ways to manage stress.