Help for Handling Stress

How to chill out more. And why it’s important that you do.

By The North American Menopause Society

Q. I’m going through menopause and feel so stressed! Is this common?
A. Many women find the time around menopause stressful. This may be partially due to hormonal changes and resulting bothersome symptoms, including hot flashes and disrupted sleep. In addition, complex family and personal issues such as the demands of teenage children, aging parents, midlife spouses, and career changes often converge on women during these years. In some studies, more perimenopausal women reported anxiety than did postmenopausal women.

Q. Is stress dangerous?
A. Chronic stress is not good for anyone’s health. It may cause increased blood pressure and heart rate, headaches, gastric reflux, anxiety, and, over the long term, an increased risk for heart disease. Some believe that chronic stress may affect our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness, infections, and even cancer.

Q. Does stress have other effects?
A. Stress affects not only our health but also our relationships, work performance, general sense of well-being, and quality of life.

Q. What can I do to reduce stress?
A. There are many effective ways to reduce stress:
•    Exercise. Walk with a friend, join a yoga class, bike, hike — whatever you enjoy, exercise is a great way to reduce stress and stay healthy.
•    Talk. Share your concerns with a family member, good friend, healthcare professional, or counselor. It is possible to learn better techniques for dealing with stress.
•    Eat well. Although eating chocolate may soothe stress in the short run, overindulgence leads to its own set of problems! A healthier strategy is to eat three nutritious meals daily, with healthy snacks, including fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and yogurt.
•    Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Herbal tea (iced, if hot flashes are bothersome) provides a soothing alternative to caffeinated drinks. Although alcohol may make you feel drowsy and relaxed, it has been shown to interfere with sleep quality. And, the potential for alcohol abuse and other health risks makes it a poor option for stress reduction. 
•    Sleep. Adequate sleep is crucial for alert functioning during the waking hours. Most adults require between 6 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Try to determine your sleep needs and then get as much as you need!
•    Relax. Participate in a “mind-body” program (if available in your community), or learn the techniques of deep breathing, positive thinking, and meditation through books and CDs.
•    Pamper. Treat yourself to a massage, manicure, or soothing bath. Enjoy a good book, music, or a favorite hobby. Find a creative outlet by enrolling in an art or music program.
•    Enjoy. And don’t forget to laugh and smile at every opportunity!

Q. How do I use deep-breathing exercises to reduce stress?
A. Try this simple exercise and practice often:
•    Sit in a hard-backed chair with both feet on the floor.
•    Rest hands on the abdomen.
•    Slowly count to four while inhaling through the nose and feel the abdomen rise.
•    Hold that breath for a second.
•    Then, slowly count to four while exhaling through the mouth — let the abdomen slowly fall.
•    Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times.

Q. Vacations reduce stress, but what can I do if currently there’s no extra time or money?
A. Take a “mini mind vacation”! Guided imagery can help achieve a state of deep relaxation and reduce stress. Close your eyes and visualize a scene from your memory that brings joy. Try to get lost in that “happy place,” event, or image for several minutes, allowing your mind to return to that pleasurable experience.

Q. Are there any Web resources I can refer to?
A. Learn more from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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