Don't Let the Juggling Act Make You Sick

Health + Fitness

Nancy Snyderman200
Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Chief Medical Editor, NBC News

Dr. Nancy Snyderman talks with us about how the “double shift” of juggling work and home is taking a toll on women’s health – and what we can do to stop it.

How is the juggling act – balancing work and home – affecting women’s health?

We’re double dipping at home like never before – working outside the home during the day and working at home at night.

Because of medical advances, a lot of us are taking care of elderly parents – myself included. So the stresses and strains are all the ordinary ones women feel – trying to be everything to everybody. The one silent illness that we don’t talk about is the role that stress plays on the body. Stress results in heart disease. Because of stress, we put on weight around the center, which leads to a real insidious downward spiral.

There’s no way for the average woman to step away from her ordinary responsibilities. But if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will fill our shoes. So ask yourself, “What’s causing the stress in my life? What have I committed to that gives me no joy?” Then do your best to cut that out. Put yourself first.

How else has women’s health suffered since the 1950s, when more women were focused primarily on caring for the household?

We were skinnier in the 50s. We definitely live in a more stressed out environment now. We don’t get as much sleep as we did. We’re supposed to get seven to eight hours a night. Most women get five to six hours. Without sleep the body doesn’t have a chance to repair itself. You can’t get the rust out of your system. Your blood pressure can creep up. You become more prone to depression.

Women take it on the chin when it comes to sleep deprivation. Women are flat out stressed. They’re spent, gone, exhausted. When there’s no break in that, things slip through your fingers. You ask yourself, “Why can’t I manage this?” Then this leads to feelings of sadness, resentment and low self worth.

A new study in mice examines whether a lack of sleep in its own right is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s later in life. So sleep deprivation is a real medical concern.

What advice do you have for women who are overworked, stressed out and sleep-deprived?

Decades ago women would gather around each other’s kitchen tables. We would raise barns; we would quilt together. We had dialogue. Because of how our society is created now -- we commute to work, we “live” in our offices, we communicate by email -- we don’t talk as much. We don’t share our stories. And then we lose the ability to think through our problems out loud. Living in isolation increases the burden we already carry.

You can’t knock off your parents; you can’t sell your kids; you can’t stop cooking. So find conversations, find a trusted friend you can bounce you’re ideas off. Go for a walk, breathe deeply, have a conversation with someone you trust.

In Your Book, Dr. Nancy Snyderman’s Guide to Good Health for Women Over Forty, you write about how women and men are treated differently by the medical profession. Are women getting better at advocating for themselves in the doctor’s office?

We now know that there are huge gender differences in how we’re treated by health professionals. Women are still way too deferential, but they’re much better at asking for what they want than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago. The best doctor-patient relationships are relationships. You have to go in with questions. We spend more time preparing for a grocery shop than we do for a doctor’s appointment. 

Medicine has never been so complicated, so have an advocate, a friend who will come with you to your appointment and who will act on your behalf. And don’t be concerned about making your doctor like you.

How can we pass good health practices on to the next generation?

The best thing you can do is live a life well lived. Find peace with the shape of your body. If you have self worth, your daughter will have self worth.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman joined NBC News as the Chief Medical Editor in September 2006. Her reports appear on "Today," "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams," "Dateline NBC," MSNBC and 

Snyderman has reported on wide-ranging medical topics affecting both men and women and has traveled the world extensively, reporting from many of the world's most troubled areas. She is on staff in the Department of the Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. Visit Dr. Snyderman’s new website,, a social network on health.

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