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Why Women Over 50 Should Make Stress Management Their Number One Health Goal

We all experience stress over the course of our lifetime. But women over 50, in particular, tend to suffer more stress than most age groups. Why? Think of it like a perfect storm, with several factors all converging at one time. Here are some of those factors and what you can do to manage your stress.

Having Children Later in Life

Over the past decade, more women in the U.S. are choosing to delay motherhood until later in life. A recent New York Times article states that:

“Since 2007, the birth rate for women in their 20s has fallen by 28 percent…the only age groups in which birthrates rose over that period were women in their 30s and 40s.” [1] Which means that by the time these women reach their fifties, their children will be well into their school years when life gets more hectic. The stressors of shuffling kids to extracurricular activities, keeping up with school work, parenting hormonal tweens and teenagers kicks into high gear. At the same time, many women begin to experience symptoms of perimenopause. As one woman put it in an article on the Grown and Flown website, “there’s enough hormones in this house to crack concrete.” [2]

And as any woman going through perimenopause will tell you, simply surviving this phase of life is a stressor in and of itself.

Entering Perimenopause and Menopause

Because western medicine hasn’t fully understood the process of perimenopause and menopause, most women are left to deal with the symptoms on a trial-and-error basis. For hot flashes, try black cohosh tea, dress in light clothing, sip cool water, or carry a personal fan with you everywhere you go. For night sweats, buy expensive bamboo sheets, keep hundreds of extra pajamas at the ready, or sleep in the bathtub. For any of the other annoying and inconvenient symptoms, just take hormones and cross your fingers in hopes that you don’t get cancer.

Many women suffer in silence praying that this phase will only last a year at the most when in fact, it can go on for a decade or more. A recent article on the Cedars-Sinai website states that:

“Worldwide, more than 328 million working women are in or entering menopause, coping with symptoms that can cause professional setbacks and job loss and create financial instability. At the same time, women of all ages are more likely than men to suffer from cultural, political, and socioeconomic disparities that increase their risk for cardiovascular disease, which kills 8 million women every year.” [3]

The stress of this inequity weighs heavy on women over 50 as we stand in the shadows fanning ourselves furiously.

Attempting to Balance it All

Women over 50 face a kind of crescendo of stress when it comes to managing work, responsibilities at home, and in many cases, caring for aging parents. Unfortunately, the effects of chronic stress are also compounded—our bodies aren’t as resilient as they used to be so it becomes imperative that we get much better at managing stress. A 2019 study on more than 900 adults by John Hopkins Medicine found that stressful life experiences among middle-aged women—but not men—to greater memory decline in later life. [4]

So, what can we do about all this stress?

Tips for Stress Reduction

Here are three tips that directly address stress rather than suggesting you meditate for 5 minutes a day:

1. Identify the Cause

If you’re feeling chronically stressed, anxious, or depressed and are not sure why, dig deeper. You might be experiencing stress due to financial problems, personal relationships, health issues, or simply the busyness of daily life. You might need to find a therapist you can work with but keep in mind that you will have to give yourself time to find a good fit. Finding a good therapist is a little like dating, it takes time and patience but once you find a good one you’ll know it.

2. Reframe the Situation

Using reframing techniques can actually change your physical responses to stress because your body’s stress response is triggered by perceived stress, more often than actual events. Being aware of your thoughts is an important part of challenging and ultimately changing them. As you notice negative thoughts, really question whether they are true or exaggerated. Instead of seeing things the way you always have, challenge every negative thought, and see if you can adopt thoughts that fit your situation but reflect a more positive outlook.

3. Actively Relax

Actively relaxing doesn’t mean binge-watching TV and munching on chips. It means to take a break and give your mind and body time to recover from the everyday stresses that life throws at you. Luckily, no matter how busy you are, it’s simple to learn how to create time for chilling and also how to best relax. Spend time actively relaxing daily, even if you only have 20 minutes. You can journal, color, garden, follow a new recipe, take a casual walk in nature, or just daydream. When was the last time you allowed yourself to daydream?

No matter what you do, make managing your stress a priority. Your health and longevity depend on it.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/16/us/declining-birthrate-motherhood.html
[2] https://grownandflown.com/mom-sets-boundaries-with-teens/
[3] https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/smidt-heart-institute-experts-address-wome ns-health-inequities/
[4] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/news-releases/stressors-in-middl e-age-linked-to-cognitive-decline-in-older-women

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