Cover image for The female stress syndrome survival guide
Title:
The female stress syndrome survival guide
Author:
Witkin, Georgia.
Personal Author:
Edition:
Third edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Newmarket Press, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
xvi, 303 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Prev. ed. published with title: The female stress syndrome.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781557044150
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library HQ1206 .W772 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

In this new Third Edition updated to address 21st-century concerns, the noted stress expert, psychologist, author, and TV commentator has thoroughly revised and expanded her classic bestseller, which has sold over 200,000 copies and been translated into 9 languages. "New stresses, such as mastering the computer or kids returning home, have not replaced the old stresses--just multiplied them," Dr. Witkin writes. She shows us how we can learn to cope and conquer, helps us identify "the female stress syndrome," teaches us to use stress to our advantage, and, most important, she describes clearly many proven physical and mental techniques for successful stress management.

Comprehensive and thoughtful, refreshingly honest, spiced with real-life anecdotes, quizzes, checklists, and a "female stress questionnaire," Dr. Georgia Witkin covers a wide range of concerns for women of all ages, including chapters on family, love and sex, teens, aging, men, and much more.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One GOOD STRESS, BAD STRESS, AND FEMALE STRESS Men and women may be created equal, but they are certainly not identical--particularly when it comes to stress. Research continues to uncover fascinating differences between most males and females, some of which are good news for women and their relationship to stress.     For example, females seem to survive birth stress better than males. Although 102 males are born for every 100 females, by the end of one year there is already a reversal in the male-female ratio. Not only is the early female mortality rate lower than the male rate, but females usually live longer as well.     Women also seem to grow older more gracefully. They tend to retain the use of their legs and hands longer, show less gray hair, fewer sight and hearing deficits, less memory loss, and maintain greater circulation of blood to the brain.     Since women typically have a greater fat-to-muscle ratio than men, women have better protection from the cold, better buoyancy in water, and a slower release of energy supply. This is a boon to women who are long-distance runners or long-distance swimmers. It also helps women cope with long-term stress, since stress tends to constrict the surface blood vessels that keep our hands and feet warm; stress tends to increase sweating, which chills us; and stress tends to suppress appetite, which makes it necessary to have an alternate source of energy.     From Eleanor Maccoby, Ph.D., director of human development in psychology, at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, comes the information that females probably react to touch more easily than males. Might this mean that females get more pleasure from being stroked and caressed than do males? Perhaps. Might this mean that females' stress can be soothed more easily by holding, hugging, and touching? Probably!     Some studies show that females are more sensitive to pain than males, other studies show no difference--but no studies show males to be more sensitive to pain. How is this good news? Although a low pain threshold may lead to an overconcern with body ailments, it can also provide an early warning system for stress symptoms that require early intervention. This sex difference may even contribute to longer life expectancies for women than for men.     Some research also shows a male-female difference in aggression control. After eighteen months of age, girls seem to gain better control over their tempers than boys (E. Maccoby and C. Jacklin).     This is another reason that females could be expected to evolve better verbal stress-coping strategies than less-controlled males. Females would assess information more efficiently and address problems more logically. An alternate hypothesis is that females may show less of a tendency to react to situations aggressively and, therefore, need less control. This, too, would enhance their coping capacity--they would think first, act later.     One area of female superiority certainly seems underutilized: the female's fine-muscle coordination. Although this would suit women for occupations such as brain surgery and fine art, in this society it still more often results in a woman doing needlepoint to reduce tension!     Now for the bad news concerning women in relation to stress. Because of our unique physiology and conditioning, women under long-term stress are in a position of double jeopardy: We are at risk for all the usual stress symptoms, from backaches to hypertension, and we are also at risk for such additional stress-mediated disorders as premenstrual tension and panic attacks--symptoms that are either unique to women or are more frequently reported by women than men. Before detailing these specific female stress symptoms, though, let's first take a look at the general subject of stress and the ways in which the body reacts to it. STRESS AND THE GENERAL ADAPTATION SYNDROME Have you noticed how your heart seems to skip a beat or race after a near-accident on the highway? How about an unexpected encounter with a former lover? In each of these instances, your body is responding to signals from your sympathetic nervous system. It can, for example, increase your heart rate from about 70 beats per minute to 140 beats per minute when you are under stress.     Think about your most recent experience with stress. Since this can involve almost any demand or pressure that induced mental or physical tension, an incident will probably come to mind easily. You may remember being upset, frightened, excited, confused, insulted, elated, aroused, disappointed, annoyed, competitive, saddened, sickened, fatigued, exhausted, or surprised.     Stress can result from something happening around us, or from something happening within. It can result from a work problem, a family crisis, or a bout of self-doubt. It can be caused by factors as diverse as the aging of our bodies and the birth of a long-awaited child. It can be intermittent, rapid-fire, or chronic.     The primary effect of stress is to mobilize the body's "fight, flight, or fright" system. This means that stress stimulates the chemical, physical, and psychological changes that prepare us to cope with a threatening situation in these ways. This is all very well, of course, when the stressful situation calls for this type of action; we can easily speculate, for example, that the system evolved back when the "fight" impulse was directed toward defending one's territory or competing for a mate; when "flight" generally meant running for one's life from a wild animal; and when "fright" referred to confrontation with a natural disaster.     Suppose, though as happens all too often in these perimillennial years--that the stress you are confronted with does not require action. Suppose, for example, that you are late for an important appointment and are held up in bumper-to-bumper traffic. No movement, no escape, and no action. In this situation, relaxation would be of more use than the biochemical and psychological changes created by the fight, flight, or fright system.     As Hans Selye first pointed out back in the 1950s, our stress mobilization system is relatively nonspecific. That is, it mobilizes in a way similar to any strong demand, whether short-term or long-term; whether it requires action or restricts action; whether it brings good news or bad news. Winning a lottery, for example, stresses the body in much the same way as losing a lottery does! Both produce what Selye called the General Adaptation Syndrome--a bodily reaction to stressful situations that involves emergency activation of both the nervous system and the endocrine (hormonal) system.     Within the nervous system, stress messages travel along three pathways. They travel from the brain through motor nerves to arm, leg, and other skeletal muscles, preparing them for motion. They travel from the brain to the autonomic nervous system, which raises blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar level; releases reserve red blood cells needed for carrying oxygen to muscles; and slows intestinal movement (since digestion is not a priority in an emergency). And finally, they travel from the brain to the interior of the adrenal gland, which releases adrenaline into the bloodstream as a general stimulant.     The hypothalamus also receives stress messages transmitted from the brain along nervous system pathways, but from there a second system, the hormonal, or endocrine, system, is activated. This system works more slowly than the nervous system in reaction to stress, but it can maintain its effects on the body for longer periods of time.     Think of the hypothalamus as the emotion control center of the brain. From the hypothalamus, stress messages can be dispatched to many different glands. When signaled by the hypothalamus, the pituitary releases into the bloodstream hormones that activate the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex releases similar hormones, and together they raise the white blood cell count (affecting some immune reactions), alter the salt and water balance (gradually increasing blood pressure by changing excretion patterns), and stimulate the thyroid gland (increasing metabolism). THE EFFECTS OF SHORT- AND LONG-TERM STRESS Both the immediate action of the nervous system and the time-release action of the endocrine system function to prepare and maintain the body for life-saving action. If stress is short-term, there is usually no problem, since your body will have time to rest afterward. This occurs naturally when stress is part of a game, a sport, or even romance. The exhilarating feeling you get is "good stress," stemming from activities that are stimulating and can be terminated at will.     If, however, the stress is long-term and beyond your control , your body will not have a chance to rest, and the effects of this "bad stress" may begin to show. Your heart, after all, is a muscle, not a perpetual-motion machine. Soon you may feel missed beats, rapid beats (tachycardia), a sense of pounding, or even chest pains.     Breathing patterns also change under stress. Breathing becomes more rapid, often doubling in its rate, and it also becomes more shallow, like panting. Under "good" stress these changes are adaptive. Under long-term or "bad" stress, they create problems. The nose and mouth begin to feel dry from rapid, shallow breathing, and, again, chest pains may develop from working the diaphragm muscles so hard.     Since signals to breathe come from a buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, rapid, shallow breathing can create another problem: Carbon dioxide is expelled too well and breathing messages seem to slow down. We feel out of breath and dizzy. This is called hyperventilation, a common symptom of prolonged stress. For quick relief of hyperventilation, you can breathe into and out of a paper bag. In this way, carbon dioxide that has been expelled is breathed into the lungs again, and the carbon dioxide level in the bloodstream is soon high enough to trigger the breathing reflex.     Some psychosomatic effects of "bad" stress, however, are more difficult to manage than hyperventilation. For example, decreased rhythmic contractions of the digestive system and vasoconstriction of the gastric glands under stress can produce an upset stomach and constipation. (On a trip, we usually blame these symptoms on the water.) Or the output of certain hormones (glucocorticoids) under stress can gradually increase stomach acidity and, therefore, the risk of a peptic ulcer.     According to research compiled by the Upjohn pharmaceutical company and others, hormones produced under stress can suppress the number of certain blood cells that protect us against infections and cancers. This may help to explain why widows and widowers are at higher risk of illness for the first two months after the death of a spouse, why stress precedes sore throats and colds four times more frequently than it follows them, and why women under the chronic stress of caring for parents with Alzheimer's disease show reduced immune functioning. The evidence is piling up--we can't fight chronic stress and still fight illness efficiently.     Long-term stress can also produce a progression of side effects. The General Adaptation Syndrome, for example, shifts blood flow to large skeletal muscles and decreases flow to the gastrointestinal tract and to the skin. The first signs of such shifts might be cold hands and feet, then gradually a pale or sallow complexion, and finally migraine headaches or high blood pressure.     As another example, the endocrine glands under long-term stress cause the release of extra sugars for energy into the bloodstream, and extra insulin to break down these sugars for use. If too much insulin is produced, blood sugar levels will become too low (a condition called hypoglycemia). We feel tired and reach for a cigarette, coffee, cola, or sweets to give us a lift. Then even more insulin production is stimulated, and the low-blood-sugar cycle continues. WEAR AND TEAR In both males and females, long-term stress can often aggravate a preexisting condition or tendency. Think of this type of stress side effect as wear and tear on the body's weak spots.     Look at the list of stress-related problems below. How many have you noticed in yourself? Your family? Your friends? Your mate? ulcerative colitis  peptic ulcer  irritable bowel syndrome myocardial infarction  (heart attack)  high blood pressure  frequent colds              cardiac arrhythmia  hyperventilation  asthma  rheumatoid arthritis allergies  skin disorders       Sometimes the symptoms of stress are less serious but mimic serious diseases. This, of course, adds further worry to any stressful situation. I often hear patients in the midst of emotional traumas conclude that they have a brain tumor, coronary disease, or cancer, based on some of the following stress symptoms: headaches  swallowing difficulties  (esophageal spasms)  heartburn (hyperacidity)  nausea  stomach "knots" "butterflies" cold sweats  neck aches  chronic fatigue            dizziness  chest pains  backaches  muscle spasms  urinary frequency  memory impairment panic attacks  constipation  diarrhea  insomnia     We know that the brain plays a crucial role in determining how the body reacts to stress. Here are the three important mind-body connections: 1. Remember those stress messages that travel from the brain through motor nerves to arm, leg, and other skeletal muscles? Their short-term effect is to prepare us for emergencies. Their long-term effect is to make those muscles fatigued. 2. Other stress messages travel from the brain through autonomic nerves to the heart, lungs, intestines, sweat glands, blood vessels, liver, kidneys, endocrine glands, and other organs. Their short-term effect is to gear up the fight, flight, or fright system. Their long-term effect is to exhaust these organs. 3. Finally, some stress messages travel from the hypothalamus in the brain to the pituitary and then to other glands that will release hormones. The short-term effect of these hormones is to raise energy production. The long-term effect is often to create endocrine imbalances. FEMALE STRESS Now here's more bad news. The stress symptoms I've been talking about can and do affect men and women equally; but, as I noted earlier, women are at risk not only for these ailments, but also for additional, less well-understood symptoms stemming from our particular physiology, life changes, or the social and psychological demands placed on us. Most important, the majority of these stresses are long-term and beyond our control--the most dangerous type of stress one can experience. Stress-mediated symptoms that are unique to women include: amenorrhea  (loss of menstruation) premenstrual syndrome/  headache complex  postpartum depression  menopausal melancholia            vaginismus  (painful intercourse) low sexual desire  inhibited sexual arousal anorgasm  infertility     Disorders that are not unique to women but that are reported more frequently by them include: anorexia bulimia            anxiety attacks  depression     These are the symptoms of the Female Stress Syndrome, and the sooner we make the connection between their appearance and the incidence of stress in our daily lives, the sooner we can help ourselves become healthier. Some women may already have recognized the importance of the mind-body connection by observing their own physical reactions when they are under chronic stress. Many have probably not recognized it, however, and will be relieved to be able to identify both female stresses and female stress symptoms. Remember, the stresses and symptoms of the Female Stress Syndrome don't replace, but rather coexist with, the general stresses and stress symptoms of everyday life. Sorry about that. But help is on the way. In the next two chapters, we'll examine the effects of this double dose of stress and see that by stopping, looking, and listening, we can feel okay in Y2K and beyond. Excerpted from THE FEMALE STRESS SYNDROME SURVIVAL GUIDE by Georgia Witkin, Ph.D.. Copyright (c) 2000 by Georgia Witkin, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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