Chronic Stress Can Cause Health Issues for Menopausal Women

Patient Expert

So here's an interesting factoid for today: only one in seven women were employed in jobs outside the home 100 years ago. Fast forward to 2013 and women make up 47 percent of the labor force.

While that's a good result in many ways, there also are downsides, such as job stress. Dr. Naomi Swanson, chief of organizational science and human factors branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, points out that almost 50 percent of employees routinely say they have high levels of job stress. Certain job situations cause stress - heavy workload, little control over work, unclear job roles, conflicting job roles, poor relationships with colleagues and work that is unchallenging, repetitive or monotonous.

That stress (along with stress brought about by living with teenage children, having aging parents, seeing spouses have a midlife crisis, career changes and empty-nest syndrome) can wreak havoc on a woman's body. And that's not good, especially when you're a woman who is going through menopause.

The stress can cause short term issues, such as gastric reflux or headaches.

And there can be long-term issues as well. For instance, research published in 2007 found that stress can cause somatic symptoms of menopause (such as pressure or tightness in the head or body, pain in muscles and/or joints, numbness, tingling, headaches, dizziness, faintness, difficulty breathing, and loss of feeling in the extremities) in women, thus increasing the risk of continued mood disorders, both during the menopausal transition as well as throughout a woman's life.

Dr. Swanson also notes that high levels of stress can also lead to insomnia, fatigue, job dissatisfaction and burnout. She pointed to increasing evidence that stress can lead to chronic disease and can be detrimental for diabetics by directly affecting blood glucose levels.

So what can you do to deal effectively with stress? The North American Menopause Society recommends the following:

  • Exercising.
  • Talking about your concerns to family members, friends, a counselor, a minister or a health care provider.
  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
  • Getting the proper amount of sleep (between 6-9 hours).
  • Practicing relaxing techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery and meditation.
  • Pampering yourself.
  • Laughing and smiling.

And are there things that employers can do to ease the burden of stress on women?  Dr. Swanson states that many workplaces have implemented wellness programs, training in stress management techniques, and counseling programs offered through employee assistance programs. While effective in helping employees cope, she notes that these programs do not remove the sources of workplace stress. She also recommends that employers explore policy considerations for lowering stress and improving overall health. These considerations include:

  • Teleworking and flex-schedule policies.
  • Job-sharing, phased retirement options.
  • Healthy commuting supports and incentives.
  • Smoke-free building and campuses.
  • Healthy foods.
  • Healthy meetings.
  • Green/sustainable environments.
  • Peer support and mentoring programs.
  • Policies promoting volunteering and community service.
  • Time off work for health promotion, physical activity, screenings and healthcare visits.
  • Robust non-discrimination, diversity and cultural awareness/sensitivity programs.
  • Continuing education, distance learning and other training supports.
  • Incentives for health program participation and engagement.

So if you work in a stressful work environment, you may want to visit with your human resource office or your supervisor about whether some of these initiatives can be implemented. And even if no changes are made in your organization's policies, you still can be proactive by implementing the lifestyle suggestions that the North American Menopause Society made. By doing so, both your short-term and long-term health (both physical and mental) can be protected.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Alexander, J.L., et al. (2007). Role of stressful life events and menopausal stage in wellbeing and health.

Swanson. N. (2013). Women and stress at work. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The North American Menopause Society. (nd). Stress: Getting serious about solutions.