Just Breathe: Managing Stress With A Busy Schedule

By: ROXANNA COLDIRON

Edited by: KELSEY CRUZ

Those lazy summer days – where you have time to adopt a new sport or intensify your workout routine while still finding time for the beach – are sadly coming to an end. In their place, jobs, internships, family responsibilities, and increased stress fill our fall schedules. Because of the added stress, how do we maintain our health and work/life balance when the days get shorter and our schedules get longer?

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department official (first female director of policy planning, in fact) and current Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, recently wrote an article in The Atlantic entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. Slaughter takes a cue from the queen of feminism – Betty Friedan – and dares to ask women of this generation: Why can’t we “have it all”? More importantly, if we can’t, what’s preventing our success?

According to Slaughter, the current “work culture” and social system isn’t compatible with the belief that women can have it all, do it all, and be it all. She believes the tension between belief and reality has created an atmosphere conducive to failure – one that restricts our freedom and equality as much as the old beliefs about women, forcing us to either sacrifice our careers or sacrifice our families. Slaughter, of course, is not advocating a 1950s time warp, where women return to full-time motherhood with no outside career ambitions. Instead, she seems to believe our society needs a makeover that will benefit both men and women.

This pressure to “have it all” and the lifestyle of “keeping up with the Joneses” lends itself to increased levels of stress.

“Long term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems,” says Christine Martin, Ph.D., a Physiology and Anatomy professor at Stark State College in Canton, Ohio. “It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process.”

As women, we prefer to do it all. We want to take that accelerated mathematics course and be in the front row in spin class and be the last person to leave grandma’s house. So what if we can’t (or don’t want to) change our schedules or lessen our responsibilities?

“One of the most difficult things for women is to be able to put themselves first,” Dr. Martin adds. “You may feel that the stress in your life is out of your control, but you can always control how you respond to it.”

Mikki Anderson is a twenty-something, political science/criminal justice student at the University of Akron. She takes a full load of classes every semester and summer, works part-time, and maintains relationships with her family, friends, and boyfriend. How does she do it?

“Zumba helps me to relieve much of my stress,” she says. “I think laughing is also good for relieving stress. I love to laugh.”

Along with Zumba and laughing, Anderson regularly goes on nature walks to calm her nerves.

Shelley Gordon juggles a full-time job as an Administrative Assistant at Hiram College, a part-time course load, marriage, motherhood, household maintenance, and Village Piecemakers Quilt Club meetings and activities.

“To manage my stress, I walk the dog,” Gordon says. “Our walks are usually thirty minutes to an hour long. Walking gives you time to think and relax, even while it stimulates your muscles and works your body.”

“From a physiological standpoint,” Dr. Martin explains, “the automatic nervous system has two divisions: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system causes the circulation of norepinephrine and glucocorticoids. Circulation of these neurotransmitters is necessary for the fight or flight response to stress; however, it’s exercise that uses them up and prevents long-term damage to the body.”

The next time your schedule overwhelms you, stop what you’re doing. Take a deep, cleansing breath and regroup mentally. If you can, walk away from your stressor and expend some of your energy by jogging in place, walking around the block, or performing the relaxation techniques listed here on WebMD.

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