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  • 5 Things ALL Women Can Do To Better Manage Stress AND Thrive in 2024

    New year, new you? Thriving in 2024, however, likely hasn’t been as simple as just setting new year’s resolutions and getting results. Let’s be honest, being a woman brings a unique set of challenges, challenges that can impact our mental health, making it harder to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves. A 2023 survey1 by the American Psychological Association found that women continue to report higher stress levels than men and could use more support. Women state that they feel stressed, misunderstood, and alone. The unhealthy and, often, unrealistic demands placed on women combined with a “hustle culture,” are detrimentally impacting the mental health of women.

    Here are five things you can start doing today to better manage stress AND thrive in 2024.

    Start saying no and setting boundaries.

    Over the past two decades of working with a caseload consisting predominately of women, I have witnessed a clear pattern of women who are experiencing depression and anxiety, burnout and resentment, interpersonal problems and physical exhaustion in great part due to their difficulties saying no and setting healthy boundaries. Patients have said to me, “I feel so guilty saying no” and “I don’t want to seem like a bitch.” I rarely (very, very rarely) hear men having these concerns when it comes to setting boundaries. Changing one’s perspective about setting boundaries is a necessary start to becoming a more assertive person.

    A lightbulb moment for me, personally, was when I realized that by saying “yes” to one thing, I was saying “no” to something else. By saying yes to that extra, optional project at work, you are saying no to time with family or to much needed sleep or to finishing that book you’ve been wanting to complete for weeks. There are only 24 hours in a day, how do you want to spend them? How do you need to spend them?

    Learning to become more assertive is like learning a new language, it takes time and lots of practice. But with practice, you’ll become more comfortable with the language of assertiveness. It will become more natural and less guilt-producing. You’ll start to realize that you feel less resentful towards people, less exhausted physically and emotionally. Many of my patients have reported that as they became more comfortable and proficient with setting limits, they felt less anxious and depressed. Their loved ones commented that they were more pleasant to be around.

    Start and stick with some type of movement routine.

    According to a study2 by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, sedentary women have increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, colon cancer, and depression. Movement is the opposite of being sedentary. Movement is therapeutic.

    Too often, when we are not in a healthy mental state, we are sedentary. It is easy for “one morning in bed” to turn into a weekend of staying in your pajamas and binge watching your favorite reality TV-series. While this can be absolutely fine (and, in some cases, a form of self-care), too much sedentariness, can be detrimental to mental health.

    Movement doesn’t have to be running a 5K or deadlifting a new PR. Movement can be a leisurely stroll on your lunch break, walking (instead of driving) to the mailbox daily, a morning stretching routine, or meditative movement such as tai chi or yoga. Movement is linked to the production of serotonin and endorphins, the neurochemicals that help us feel good, and it’s also linked to the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. The key to experiencing the benefits of movement is consistency. Don’t wait for the motivation. Create a habit and stick to it.

    Develop a hobby.

    Hobbies are scientifically proven to reduce stress, boost mood, improve brain functioning, and create more social connections. During the pandemic, some of the people who fared best in the way of their mental health were people who had hobbies. In addition to providing mental health benefits, hobbies can provide for social opportunities (a book club, a cycling group, a volunteer program, etc.) and a sense of community. Women’s mental health, in particular, benefits from a sense of community.

    Don’t know what you’d like? That’s ok. Just remain open to trying new things. No time? A hobby doesn’t have to be overly demanding of your time. Wake up just 5 minutes earlier each day to try meditation or listen to audiobooks during your commute or finish up that series you’re binge-watching and instead of starting another, spend those hours with a walking group. Replace a less healthy behavior with a new, healthy habit.

    Prioritize self-care.

    As women, we’ve often been put in the role or accept the role of taking care of others. It’s imperative for women to care for themselves also. Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We live in a culture that pressures us to “keep pushing.” We believe that to be successful we must be accumulating (dollars, things, likes and followers). We set aside activities of self-care (sleep, exercise, walking away from toxic work environments) in pursuit of “success” or to prioritize the well-being of others. The problem is that without sufficient prioritization of self-care, you will crash. You can not function well is you aren’t well.

    So, what exactly is self-care? It seems like something that takes a lot of time and/or cost a lot of money…neither of which you’re ready to part with, correct? Well, I have good news for you! Self-care isn’t about time or money. Self-care is simply anything that you do (or don’t do) to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Self-care fosters resilience and helps you to become better equipped to manage stress.

    Take a moment to reflect upon the last time you felt rested or even invigorated. What preceded that feeling? Was it some good sleep, time with a friend, watching the sunrise, a really interesting or motivating podcast? Identify those things and do more of it! Check-in with yourself. How are you feeling? What is causing you distress? Are you upset about a relationship and want to speak up for yourself but are apprehensive to do so? Assertive communication is a form of self-care. Are you burned out at work yet still agreed to take on another project? Learning to set healthy boundaries is an incredible form of self-care. Do you dread going home at the end of the day because your home is disorganized or cluttered? Creating a peaceful home environment is yet another form of self-care. Tired because you stayed up too late on social media or Netflix? Disconnecting and turning off your electronic devices is self-care.

    You become the best version of yourself because of your active efforts to prioritize self-care. A concrete example that I use are people with athletic goals, for example a person who wants to run a 6-minute mile. This individual will not achieve this goal by running their hardest every day. In fact, they will likely end up with an injury. In order to achieve that goal, they must also take rest and recovery days, they must stretch, they must accept guidance from experts. These versions of self-care are necessary to reach their 6-minute mile goal.

    Participate in therapy.

    Strong women need therapy too! When it comes to seeking help, no problem is too big or too small. Therapy is different from just talking to a friend; therapists are educated to utilize and teach scientifically validated techniques to help you live a healthier and more content life. Psychologists are trained to be careful, unbiased listeners. Through the process of therapy, you will gain an improved understanding of yourself and learn skills to cope with your difficulties. For many people, just having a place to share their feelings openly, without fear of judgment, is helpful.

    All of us face struggles at some point in our lives. Psychotherapy isn’t just for those who are experiencing a mental illness. It can be helpful for anyone who is experiencing conflict with a loved one, difficulties making an important life decision, or problems setting boundaries. Many of my patients have difficulties managing stress or struggle with low self-esteem. Some people want a better understanding of why they do the things they do. Therapy can help with all of these problems and more.

    The key to thriving is in taking action, doing something differently, and doing so consistently. Start with these five actions and you will thrive in 2024 and beyond.

    Author: Dr. Beverly J. Pedroche


    2U.S. Department of Health and Human Services . Physical activity and health: a report of the Surgeon General. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Atlanta, GA: 1996.