By Tearsanee Carlisle Davis, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, FAANP
“Stressed” — over the past two years, this is the response I have received from patients, friends, family and coworkers when I asked the simple question, How are you feeling? The pandemic brought with it many challenges that have disrupted all our lives in one way or another. Personal illness, family illness, job losses, childcare issues and a fear of the unknown have caused many to experience the uncomfortable feeling and negative health impacts stress brings.
Sadly, stress and its effects are not new. Women tend to report more stress than men, and there are many theories as to why this may happen. For example, some researchers believe women do not necessarily have more stress, but rather, women respond differently to stress and it weighs heavier on them. Others recognize that women more often carry the burden of their own stressors while managing others’ affairs, as well. Women are often the taxis, CEOs, tutors, homemakers, caregivers, confidants, counselors and event planners for our families.
This additional responsibility is expected of women and, for the most part, we do a great job — but at what expense? It’s a loaded question, I know. Men and women — especially those who are caretakers — need to remember that we must take care of ourselves while we care for those we love.
Even during the most difficult and stressful times, there are those who may not realize they are experiencing stress. Recognizing stress is very important because the effects of stress can be very dangerous. Some signs of stress include headaches, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, pain (most commonly in the back and neck), overeating or undereating, skin problems, drug and alcohol misuse, lack of energy, upset stomach or less interest in sex and other things you used to enjoy.
Just as you would seek care for these physical problems, you should also seek ways to reduce your stress levels. There are things we can do proactively to reduce stress, for example:
1. Disconnect. Although we all have to be available for our work, family and friends, we also have to be available for ourselves. We all need time— time to think and time to regroup. Take the time you need to prioritize self-care.
2. Set boundaries. It is perfectly okay to set a cut-off time for work. It is okay to decide what you do with your time — and with whom.
3. Enjoy yourself, and do not feel guilty about it. You do not have to be productive all the time. We do not have to work ourselves to death. Find things you like to do — and do them often!
4. Make time for self-care. Just as you keep a calendar for work, keep a calendar for self-care. Plug in your gym time, meditation time, fun time and sleep time.
5. Seek help if you need it. This applies to any kind of help — health care, housekeeper, babysitter, trainer or therapist.
6. Rest. We all need it!
Stress is a normal part of life, yet if you find you are feeling overwhelmed, contact a nurse practitioner or other health care provider and discuss proactive ways to help you feel better. Let’s reduce the negative effects of stress and live our best lives!