Women's Stress

Hormonal fluctuations can be a source of stress in girls and women. This varies in intensity from one person to the next, but it is quite common. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can include feeling sad, hopeless, suicidal; tense, anxious, tearful, irritable, anger affecting others, disinterest in daily activities and relationships, trouble concentrating, fatigue, low energy; food cravings, bingeing, sleep disturbances, and feeling out of control. Physical symptoms include appetite changes, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain. In approximately 5 percent of women, the mood problems are so severe that the medical diagnosis is premenstrual dysthymic disorder (PMDD). This disorder is now treatable with antidepressants and mood-altering medications, either daily or just for the week before your period. PMDD has been discovered to be a cause of marriage, family, and social problems. Some athletes feel so disturbed by mood and physical changes around their period that they try not to compete during this time. While emotional changes may affect performance, there is no research suggesting impaired athletic performance at certain times of the cycle.

The more complicated life becomes, the more stressful it can be. As you try to juggle multiple activities, responsibilities, and roles, you might feel less in control of your life. Also, the more people involved in a situation, the less control you have (think of a big team versus a smaller one). It is important to know how to manage, control, and relieve negative stress so it does not cause negative effects in your life. It is important to know if you are under too much stress, because this can take a toll on many of your body systems as well as your sports performance.

Controlling Stress
The best way to manage any problem is to take control. First, you must evaluate the situation and determine how it can be changed. Often, being able to change your attitude toward the stressful situation is all you need to make it less stressful. Start by identifying your stress. If there is more than one type or cause of stress, make a chart for each one. Then identify your goals and desired positive results, both in the short term (one week) and long term (one year). Now make a list of positive and negative consequences and feelings associated with the stress, both short term (one week) and long term (one year). If the negatives total more than the positives, seriously think about changing whatever has caused the stress. If you have equal numbers of positives and negatives, just having the stress written down along with a goal and the positive end results will help you gain understanding and control. This worksheet can be used to help clarify all types of stressors, from an upcoming athletic event, to a school exam, to pregnancy!

If you prefer, keep a journal to chronicle your stress. This helps to assess your levels of anxiety surrounding the stress. You should note the level of anxiousness related to stress by rating it either high, medium, or low or on a scale of 1 to 10. You should also note any triggers of stress such as other people, situations, or time of day. Most important, note what relieved the anxious feeling you had. Try to note this every day, or even each time you have stress. Use the journal as a sounding board for you to discuss and understand your stress and how you respond to it.

In addition to using various techniques to understand and manage stress, controlling the amount is also important, as too much can be detrimental. Even too much positive stress can become negative (think of a nationally ranked high school athlete who has trouble with school). You can maintain healthy balance by scheduling time off from stressful competition, practice, work, or other pressures. Because stress can be so overwhelming that it is hard to identify, pay attention to emotional and physical symptoms that interfere with your other activities.

Signs You Are Under Too Much Stress

  • You are more irritable.
  • You are anxious.
  • You have nightmares about realistic life situations turning out poorly.
  • You feel exhausted.
  • You are very emotional.
  • You feel nervous.
  • You are having trouble sleeping.
  • Your friends and family irritate you.
  • You have lost friends.
  • You cannot possibly think about doing an enjoyable activity.
  • Your complexion is a problem.
  • You have either too much or too little appetite.
  • You stop getting your period, or get it less regularly.
To evaluate if your stress is worth the time and energy spent on the stressful activity, answer the following questions. If answers to the following questions are "no," ""none," or "I don't know," you must consider changing your activity schedule to eliminate or decrease the stress to you.
  • What is my reward from all this?
  • Do I have significant personal satisfaction when the stress is resolved?
  • Do the stress factors go away when the stress is over?
  • Do I enjoy the stress?
  • Do I feel this stressful event as an exciting challenge?

From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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