Dr. Judith Orloff is a practicing psychiatrist and the author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life. In this interview she explains how stress affects women as they manage competing responsibilities.
Do you see a trend among your female patients in terms of the sources of their stress?
As a psychiatrist specializing in intuition, I work with women who want to balance their body, mind, and spirit. They're often also in high-powered jobs, juggling career, family, dating, friendships, their spiritual practices, alone time and play.
Many of my patients are desperately overcommitted, but they are afraid to say "no," and they have difficulty setting healthy boundaries with draining people. They have simultaneous demands from their spouses, friends and work, all of which can push their stress levels over the edge. But so much is coming at them so fast that they find it difficult to manage that stress.
Are the sources of stress different for women at different ages?
Yes, women under forty are prone to getting stressed out by raising children and the exhaustion that comes from that, or from balancing those very significant demands with a career.
My patients over forty tend to be dealing with elderly or sick parents and helping them achieve dignity with aging, illness, and the ultimate transition of death. Also, as a woman gets older she may be faced with more health problems of her own, or her spouse may become ill. My patients over forty who are single are dealing with the stress of loneliness or dating or surviving a divorce and moving onward in a positive direction.
Does stress affect women differently at different ages?
Yes, definitely. Chronic emotional stress can make your body degenerate. The stress hormones coursing though your system can burn your body out. Women in their twenties and thirties have a bit more resilience and may be physically healthier because they haven't yet fully experienced the chronic burnout of decades of stress.
Stress decreases your immune response and makes you more susceptible to illness. Stress also depletes your serotonin, the body's natural antidepressant, so stressed out women may become depressed, irritable and short-tempered.
How can women better handle the stress of juggling work and home life?
A secret to relieving stress is listening to your body's intuition, that small voice inside that will tell you when you're pushing too hard. Listen to your intuition and you will know when you need to stop, exhale and replenish.
Where I see my patients go wrong is when they constantly push through the day, glued to their Blackberrys, on the phone and in meetings. They don't take interludes to revive themselves, so they burn out and get anxious and depressed.
To prevent burnout and reduce stress, I recommend practicing meditation throughout the day. Meditation reprograms your mind and quiets your biology by quickly turning off the fight or flight stress response. Take three minutes (only!) to breathe, relax the body and focus on your breath to quiet your thoughts. Breathe in calm. Breathe out stress. Then focus on a beautiful, positive image such as a flower, a sunset, a child's face. This simple stress-busting meditation is an action step you can practice many times throughout the day to forge a winning relationship with your biology and enhance your happiness and success. It's also essential to take time out for play and "re-creation" so you can enjoy your life and excel in what you love.
Dr. Judith Orloff will be speaking at A Day of Transformation on October 26th, and she will be signing her book, Emotional Freedom, at Night at The Village on October 26th.