Ask Us Anything About… Women and Stress

Stress is a key complaint of women of all ages and occupations. Left unchecked, stress can cause not only mental distress but physical effects as well, making it difficult to live the way you want.

May 24, 2019Penn State Health News

In this special edition of Ask Us Anything About…, Lanae Ampersand, program manager for Behavioral Health at Penn State Health, addresses questions regarding stress, live from the Business Women’s Forum at Messiah College.

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Description – The video begins outside a building at Messiah College during the annual Business Women’s Forum. Two people are standing next to each other. Standing from left to right is Barbara Schindo and Lanae Ampersand.

Barbara Schindo – Good afternoon, I am Barbara Schindo with Penn State Health, and we are coming to you live from the campus of Messiah College at the Women in Business forum for Ask Us Anything About Women and Stress. I am joined today by Lenah Ampersand who is the program manager for behavioral health in the department of psychiatry at Penn State Health. We welcome your questions and comments for Lenah. Just post them in the comment field of this post. Lenah, thanks so much for joining us today.

Lanae Ampersand – You’re welcome.

Barbara Schindo – So, let’s start with the basics. Tell us what is stress and is it always bad?

Lanae Ampersand – Stress is our body’s natural reaction to things that cause us discomfort or distress. And it can be an adjustment to just change. Things that we’re going through. So, it’s not always bad. When you think of childbirth, that’s distress and discomfort. So that can definitely cause us stress. Marriage. Job promotion. If you’re really hoping for a different thing. So, there’s a lot of different reasons that will cause the anxiety to come in us, but it’s not always bad.

Barbara Schindo – Okay, so it’s not always something to worry about. So, tell us, what are some of the symptoms of stress? Both mental, emotion, physical. So, what — how can — how do I know I’m stressed out?

Lanae Ampersand – Well, one of the things is a lot of people feel like their heart beating really fast or they could start sweating. Muscle tension is another thing that could cause, you know, just things to look out for. Frequent urination. You know, running to the bathroom every time you’re feeling stressed. Also, our eating habits and our patterns. And so, there’s a lot of different reasons that we just really — the most important thing I can say is to pay attention to your body.

Barbara Schindo – And when — when you are feeling these symptoms of stress, when does it become a problem?

Lanae Ampersand – It becomes a problem when it’s going on for a prolonged period of time. A lot of times we might have heard the fight or flight symptoms, that response that the body has. And our body is meant to have that frequent prolonged fight or flight response, and being in that high stress situation. Usually that’s when we’re facing a life endangering situation, when we — it helps us to react. But sometimes we can react over, oh my goodness I missed the bus, and it puts us in that stage and it’s definitely not healthy to stay in that stage for a long time.

Barbara Schindo – Okay. So, what are some of the ill effect’s health wise of stress? Does it cause any type of, you know, cardiac problems or inflammation, digestive issues? Does stress — I know a lot of people say, you know, oh I’m so stressed out, my stomach is hurting. Is that — is that normal?

Lanae Ampersand – Well, a lot of times stress enhances some of the things that are already there. So, for those of us for example who may have arthritis, stress decreases our pain tolerance. So therefore, it would make you feel some of the pain more. Some of our GI issues that we have. We have acids in our body so our stress level can increase those and cause — whether it’s bloatiest or different things like that. So, there’s an underlying effect that are there that stress can just enhance.

Barbara Schindo – Okay. So again, we are coming to you live from the campus of Messiah College at the Women in Business forum for Ask Us Anything About Women and Stress. We welcome your questions for Lanae Ampersand. You can post them in the comment field on this post and we will get an answer for you. And we also — we have a live question here. So, Elizabeth is going to join us. She has a question about stress. Hi, how are you?

Elizabeth – Great. How are you?

Lanae Ampersand – Good.

Elizabeth – So, I was just wondering. I’ve been really stressed, kind of personal obligations and work life, and that tends to spiral. Do you have any tips on how I can kind of mitigate that stress when it starts so it doesn’t add and build and build?

Lanae Ampersand – Well, and the thing is, for us as women we are juggling so many different things. And so, we do have a lot of things that — plates that we’re doing. So, make sure — I would say some mindfulness things that just make sure when you’re driving down the street and you’re at a red light, pay attention to how tightly you may be gripping on the steering wheel or pay attention to your breathing. That will give you an indication that, okay there might be something I need to do to relax and breathe in and breathe out. Different things like that. But I think that if you — if you know the symptoms of your body and know things that are different, and you can have little breaks that you can take, whether — it’s a beautiful day today. I don’t know wherever you work, if you’re just able to go out for a couple of minutes. But just include some daily activities that you can do and daily tricks to make sure you’re giving yourself a break so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

Elizabeth – Great, thank you.

Barbara Schindo – Thanks, so much Elizabeth. WE appreciate it. So again, we are watching Ask Us Anything About Women and Stress. We welcome your questions for Lanae Ampersand. And if you find this information useful, please feel free to share it on your timeline. So, let me ask you — what — is stress different for men and women? Does — what makes stress different for women?

Lanae Ampersand – Well the stress hormone, cortisol, that — in women it can increase our ability to — well not ability, but it can increase our desire to — overeating, some of the times undereating. Just our different as women — different hormonal things. Whether it’s with menopause or just with our menstrual cycles and different things like that. And so, because it increases the hormone level it can affect the way men and women feel. The outcome of that. We retain a lot of — it signals and triggers weight gain. Well, to store fat. Not weight gain. So, then that can also effect body image and different things like that.

Barbara Schindo – Okay, so other than hormones having the effect as you mentioned, you know, if a women’s going through menopause, if she is going through her menstrual cycle, that can add a little bit more. What about life cycles? You know, if you are going through a big life change. Say that you are about to become an empty nester. Is that going to — is that going to cause some difference in your stress level?

Lanae Ampersand – It could. Becoming an empty nester is one of those things that could cause distress. And it’s change and it’s causing you to adjust to your new lifestyle. So, there could be an anxiety of what do I do now without a schedule? Or you know, a lot of times just worrying about what the next stage will hold. So, for different — it’s different for different life — you know, life stages. You know.

Barbara Schindo – Okay, and you had mentioned in response to Elizabeth’s question, some tips about how to keep your stress under control. You know, so are these the kinds of things you recommend doing on the — on a daily basis? You know, if I’m sitting at my office desk and I’m very, very busy and feeling a little stressed out, what — what else might you recommend to deal with that?

Lanae Ampersand – Right. Well I do recommend taking a break. There’s a lot of things on YouTube and online. You can search — there’s stretching. So, you could do yoga at your desk. And there’s some YouTube videos for that. Also making sure you’re being mindful of what’s going on in your body. So even eating a piece of candy. If you eat some of the candy and focus on the flavor, focus on the texture of the candy as you’re maybe looking out the window or something like that. If you distract at least two or three of your senses, that will help distract you from whatever stressful situation is, and the goal is to bring your blood pressure, your heart rate, your breathing down. Just anything to calm you down.

Barbara Schindo – Okay, so when you’re eating that candy, instead of just unwrapping it and you know, quickly eating it. You want to take a minute, enjoy the taste, enjoy the texture.

Lanae Ampersand – Yes.

Barbara Schindo – Very helpful.

Lanae Ampersand – Mindful things that you can do.

Barbara Schindo – So, what about alcohol. A lot of people say, oh I’ve had a busy day, I’ve been stressed out, oh I’m ready for a glass of wine. Is that helpful or could it be hurtful for dealing with stress?

Lanae Ampersand – It’s funny you should say that, because alcohol seems like it’s the number one cure all for stress. Everybody’s like, oh I need a drink. Or hey, let’s go out to drink. And just focusing on what you’re getting from that. A lot of times it’s the social aspect. Just hanging together, talking, getting together with friends, venting. That’s all the helpful part of the, hey let’s go get a drink. Now if you’re using alcohol to self-medicate or, you know, if you’re finding that you’re going to it as your number one go to, then that’s where it can become harmful. Especially if the alcohol starts disrupting your activities of your daily every day.

Barbara Schindo – Okay. You are watching Ask Us Anything About Women and Stress. Again, we are live on the campus of Messiah College. We welcome your questions for Lanae Ampersand who is the program manager for behavioral health at Penn State Health. So, let me ask you. We are all — you had mentioned, you know, women are spinning a lot of plates. We have a lot of things going on. And a lot of people feel a lot of pressure to perform so well at their job, that sometimes people feel guilty about taking days off.

Lanae Ampersand – Yes.

Barbara Schindo – So, what are the benefits of taking that time off, taking a vacation?

Lanae Ampersand – I am a huge advocate of vacation days. They’re personal time off. Whether — I call them mental health days or rediscover me days. It’s so huge and important. Especially if you can even just take a day off and not have a schedule. You know, unless your schedule is the itinerary of a spa, you know, it’s really helpful just to — just to stay in your pj’s and just, you know, and just be. And so, every time people think vacation means you have to spend money or you have to different things. And you don’t. It’s just that unplugging. Thinking about your likes and dislikes and so I’m a huge proponent of self-care.

Barbara Schindo – So, a staycation is just as useful as a vacation.

Lanae Ampersand – Yes.

Barbara Schindo – So, what about if I am — we work with a lot of coworkers and a lot of teamwork happening. What can I do — is there anything I can do if I notice a coworker is very stressed out? What kind of help can we offer our friends, coworkers, family if we see they look overwhelmed?

Lanae Ampersand – Yeah, one of the things is just buddy up and say, hey do you want to go for a walk? Or hey, come with me while I go down the hall. You know, I don’t — everybody’s work setting is different. But make sure we’re taking true lunch breaks. If you notice that your coworker is eating through a project or something. Just like, hey, step away and take a moment. But if we can — you know, just help each other out. Even if — notes of encouragement. So, a lot of times if you can like slip a note or say something funny or just make them laugh. Just anything to give them that break in their — in their thinking that will help.

Barbara Schindo – Very good. So, if you are feeling really overwhelmed, really stressed out, and you think that you might need to be to the point where you might need professional help. What do you recommend? Should somebody call their PCP or should they call a mental health counselor? What’s the best way to help with stress?

Lanae Ampersand – The best way is — you know, one of the things is we don’t know the intensity. Whereas one person can think it’s not as dangerous for them, it can be affecting their lives in dangerous ways. So definitely — there is nothing wrong with calling a counselor. A lot of times there’s just a little unsettledness, uneasiness, and just a stigma against seeking out counseling. Professional help. It — there is nothing wrong with that. I know that for any college students, a lot of the campuses have student health services. I know at the Community of Medicine, at our college at Penn State Health, we have our student mental health services and counseling. So definitely utilize those supports. A lot of professional businesses have an employee assistance program. So that’s one of the things that you can find out. If your business has that. And a lot of times they offer two to three free sessions.

Barbara Schindo – Okay. Thank you. And we do have a question here from Jewell.  Jewell is wondering what is the difference between anxiety and stress?

Lanae Ampersand – So, one of the things is stress is — as I said in the beginning, that normal reaction to change and different situations in our life. The anxiety comes when it’s increasing. So, when the stress levels are increasing, that it’s causing extra physical things, emotional things going on that could interfere with your daily life.

Barbara Schindo – Thank you. And thank you Jewell. And we have another question from the crowd. Come on in. You can join us. And what is your name?

Tracy – Tracy

Barbara Schindo – Hi Tracy

Tracy – Hi there. My question is, how does one turn their mind off during meditation? It’s supposed to be great to relieve stress, but I can never turn my mind off.

Barbara Schindo – That is a great question. I second that.

Lanae Ampersand – That is a great question. And a lot of times that why I say explore — meditation might be something that doesn’t work for you. And so just explore several different things that can help you. What I would say with meditation, that a lot of times it’s forcing you to just sit quiet and be. So maybe you need some other visuals. And so, I have a stress ball here. And so, a lot of times people just think if I squeeze it quickly it will help. But just really focusing on the squeezes and the textures and just focusing on things to be able to calm you down. So, I think with the meditation you might need to engage some of your other senses. Whereas if you’re listening or you might have to engage sight or sound or smell, just to help bring you — bring you back. So, if you notice you’re drifting off, then engage the other senses to — like maybe pop something in, a little candy in your mouth or something flavorful so that you can — it gives you more things to focus on so your mind’s not wandering off. And you can have your stress ball.

Tracy – Thank you.

Lanae Ampersand – You’re welcome.

Barbara Schindo – Thank you very much. So, I notice too you’re also holding something else in your hand. This is a little stress tip. A deal with stress tip.

Lanae Ampersand – It is a stress tip. So, one of the things too is I also have — I created this for myself. It’s a mousepad of when I went — I had a girl’s vacation away and that was part of my other self-care. But just — this is my — also my mindfulness technique that you can use. That you can just — just stare at and, you know, for me because this is someplace, I’ve been. I can remember then what it felt like. How hot it was. I can envision the sound of the ocean. And then it’s engaging my visuals. So, it’s — you can do that in your office. You can frame some videos — or frame some pictures and have them around your office. That — you know, I’m not telling you to not do any office work, but if you need that couple of minutes, just something that you can stare off to and focus to get your mind off of whatever project that you’re working on that’s causing anxiety or stress.

Barbara Schindo – Thank you. And we do have another question from the crowd. Please come in. Kim. Hi, thanks so much for joining us.

Kim – Hi, you’re welcome. Interesting question. At my age an awful lot of us think that if we have a glass of wine or maybe a big old bowl of ice cream [laughter], that that’s a great way to relieve stress. Is it really effective or are we just talking ourselves into what we want?

Lanae Ampersand – Right. And that is a great question. And you have to be careful, because a lot of times the — society says, oh ice cream and eating and let’s go for a drink, that’s something that can help relieve stress. But you also have to be careful of the cortisol that — that increases our desire for sweets and for carbohydrates and different things. And we could overeat. And so, it’s good to just spread out your techniques in — and ways to relax. I would say with that glass of wine, spend time more socializing. So, it’s not like two, or three, or four, the whole bottle. You know, just get — just get the benefits of what the socialization does and the conversation, as opposed to the alcohol or the eating. Because it could increase — if that’s your go to all the time, if you have diabetes then that could increase there with the ice cream. Or if, you know, alcoholism down the road if you continue to increase your intake. So, you just have to be careful.

Barbara Schindo – Thank you very much. I have one more question. So, you had mentioned before, if you’re seeking professional help, counseling, and that sometimes people are hesitant to do something like that because they feel like there’s a stigma. So, could you kind of explain, you know, how to get started? What is counseling? How does it work?

Lanae Ampersand – Okay. Counseling is you would call — you know, you could call us or one of your local agencies. But basically, it’s setting you up with somebody who is there to help you just to — it’s like a puzzle piece. Just to lay everything out so you can understand what’s going on, understand why you’re stressed, and help put some of the pieces together on how you can deal with it in a healthy way. And so, it’s not intimidating. It’s really meant to meet you where you’re at and just to have that sounding board a lot of the times. Just to understand what’s going on and a sounding board to figure out, okay what can I do next? It doesn’t have — it doesn’t mean you have to be in counseling forever. A lot of times, people think oh, all I’m going to get is medication. It doesn’t mean that. It’s just really figuring out what’s going on and what’s the best way we can help.

Barbara Schindo – Okay. And you are watching Ask Us Anything About Women and Stress. Even if you are watching this on playback, we welcome your questions or comments for Lenah. We will make sure that we get an answer for you. And thanks again for joining us. And thank you for joining us.

Lanae Ampersand – Oh, thank you.

Barbara Schindo – This has been Ask Us Anything About Women and Stress with Penn State Health.

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