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Women: is your stress slowly killing you?

By Stephanie Grimes  |  Posted Mar 9th, 2012 @ 9:50am


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SALT LAKE CITY — A new study has confirmed what many women already know: their stress may be getting to them in a big way.

The research, by the Families and Work Institute and published in the April 2012 issue of Real Simple magazine, found that of 3,000 women studied, at least 50 percent did not feel like they have enough free time, and 60 percent felt guilty spending time on themselves.

If they don't find a way to relax, the pressures of work, family and other responsibilities could lead to an increase in cortisol — aptly nicknamed "the stress hormone — which is responsible for the body's fight-or- flight reaction to stress.

A spike in cortisol is a good thing in certain instances, of course: it provides a necessary boost of energy in survival situations. More often than not, though, women's stress has little to do with their physical survival, and a long-term elevation of cortisol levels does more harm than good.

High levels of cortisol have been shown to have a plethora of negative impacts on health, including increased rates of high blood pressure, cognitive impairment, diabetes and bone-thinning. It can also lead to obesity and fatigue, both of which come with their own set of negative consequences on health.

The institute recommends scheduling free time and being comfortable delegating, something the survey found many women are loath to do.

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Nearly 50 percent of women would not hire household help even if they could afford it, according to the study. And 75 percent would not hire additional childcare, leaving an increasing amount of women to juggle spending time with their families and dedicating time to work.

But 68 percent of respondents claimed they do not allow work to interfere with their personal lives, leading analysts to believe that while many women may perceive themselves as pros at juggling, in reality they are unaware of how stressed they really are, and of the negative side effects that could be the consequence.

Women experiencing symptoms of high cortisol levels, including fatigue and abdominal weight gain, are urged to visit a doctor for a routine hormone level test to determine cortisol levels.

For women interested on reducing their stress levels, doctors recommend focusing on stress relieving activities such as yoga and meditation. And good habits such as exercise and healthy eating will also fight stress and high cortisol levels.

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