University of Missouri Extension

GH6651, Revised April 2016

Stress Management and the Challenge of Balance

Lisa Wallace
Regional Specialist, Human Development and Family Science

If you think you don't have satisfactory balance in your life, you're not alone. One of the most stressful parts of life is balancing work and family. Stress is often the unhealthy result of those efforts.

Stress is your body's signal that an area of your life needs attention. Don't ignore the stress signal when you receive it. Often, this alert means it's time to rest, acknowledge a limitation, make a decision or meet a need.

Ignored consistently, stress can escalate to distress. Permanent distress leads to burnout and exhaustion, as well as increased vulnerability to physical and emotional issues such as anxiety, heart attacks and ulcers.

Developing a balanced lifestyle and being more attentive to personal needs is a far more positive approach to managing stress than ignoring it. Yet many women neglect their needs trying to meet those of others, both at home and at work. The key to successfully managing stress is balance.

A balanced life can include work, friends, family, play, love, and time for self and spiritual enrichment. The likely result of such balance is not exhaustion but rather a greater sense of well-being.

Managing stress and balancing multiple responsibilities can be quite an undertaking. Understanding the nature, causes and symptoms of stress can help you recognize a problem before taking steps to remedy the situation. There are a number of preventive and coping strategies to help to that end, some of which address the pile-up effect of daily hassle and can help manage long-term distress.

Identifying a stressor

Stress signals

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Lack of appetite
  • Overeating
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Indigestion
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression
  • Decreased sexual interest
  • Burnout

A stressor is any demand on your mind or body. It can have external causes, such as the irritability of your boss, or internal causes, such as a distorted belief that tells you caring for your needs is selfish.

Stressors can also be pleasant or unpleasant. Although losing a job is stressful, so is moving on to a better one. Getting a divorce or getting married to the person you love both place additional demands on your mind and body. Everyone is different. What one person considers stressful may barely affect another.

To better manage your stressors, first learn to recognize your body's signals and identify the causes of your distress.

Use the daily stress record to make note of stressful events and your body's response to them. If your first attempt to manage the stressor does not work, don't give up. Finding a permanent solution to a highly stressful situation may take some time and effort:

Admit that there are some situations you can't change. Stop wasting emotional energy on them, and dedicate your time and effort to finding solutions to situations you can control.

Daily stress record

Event When it occurred Stress signal(s)
Sometimes a short-term response is enough. Try doing something you enjoy, such as taking a short walk, reading a favorite book or listening to music. However, it's time to find a long-term solution when the stressor is recurring. Consider a stressful situation you are currently facing, think it through and write down your ideas. Writing what you think and feel can clarify the situation and give you a new point of view.
Thinking through a stressor
What I can change about it:
What I cannot change about it:
People who can help:
First step I can take:
My action plan includes the following steps:

Points to remember about stress

Pay attention to how you currently react to life's events. Stress can have a cumulative effect without you realizing it. The pile-up effects of everyday hassles can become very harmful to your mental and physical health if you aren't managing them effectively.

Women's employment outside the home might cause distress depending on the circumstances. If a working mother receives adequate support with household chores and childcare, then outside employment can contribute positively to a woman's well-being.

Setting priorities

Thoughtful planning can help you gain a greater sense of control over your life. Set short- and long-term goals and develop realistic strategies to achieve them. Consider the various aspects of your life:

Stress reduction

There are a number of ways to reduce stress and set more reasonable standards for yourself and others. Some will apply more directly to your circumstances than others. Work on making one or two changes at a time.

A parting word

It is rewarding to find someone whom you like, but it is essential to like yourself.
It is quickening to recognize that someone is good, but it is indispensable to view yourself as acceptable.
It is a delight to discover people who are worthy of respect, admiration and love, but it is vital to believe in yourself deserving of these things.
You are the only one who you will never leave or lose, and therefore you must learn to take care of yourself.
— Jo Coudert

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GH6651 Stress Management and the Challenge of Balance | University of Missouri Extension

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