stress and the working mom

Stress and the working mom

We all deal with it on a daily basis.  We have to have some of it in our life in order to produce the hormones needed to get through the day.  On the other hand, too much of it can wreak havoc on a body and mind.  What is this mysterious thing that we all struggle with?  One word- STRESS.  Stress and the working mom are like oil and water- they don’t mix well.

Interesting how such a simple word can cause such major problems.  Or maybe just the perception of too much stress and the inability to cope with it.  That is what happened to me.  I have mentioned before that my previous lifestyle as a full time veterinarian and mother eventually led to complete burnout.  Of course the burnout didn’t happen directly because of those things.  Many working moms deal with the same stressors that I had and much more.  However, in my case I basically ignored how my body was responding to stress and the signs I was seeing.  Like a tea kettle, the pressure inside of me built and built until I was ready to explode.

Some of my symptoms (but certainly not all) included:

  • never feeling rested even after a full night sleep
  • inability to see the positive in a situation- I’m normally very optimistic
  • poor hair growth and thinning hair, dry skin, brittle nails
  • intense sugar cravings- sorry, but this is not normal!
  • easily overwhelmed by simple things, such as scheduling an appointment or making a phone call- I would procrastinate as long as possible
  • irritability
  • brain fog- “Where did I put those keys?” “Why did I come in this room?” “What was your name again?”
  • exhaustion- the act of getting out of bed some days was completely overwhelming

Do any of these signs sound familiar?  In a nutshell, I had a stressful lifestyle due to working long hours in a difficult job, then coming home and caring for my children and home without giving myself self-care or rest.  I didn’t have any methods to deal with my stress as a working mom, which led to my eventual burnout, aka adrenal fatigue.

stress working mom
It’s hard to feel stressed when watching this.

Our bodies are not made to be under the constant stress of modern day life.  We are supposed to have quick bursts of stress (being chased by a bear) followed by prolonged times of rest (bear is gone and I can hang with my family and friends).  However, the majority of us are under continuous low grade stress that our bodies aren’t created for.  As an example, giving a speech in front of a group is not life-threatening, but our stress response will be the same as if we’re being chased by the aforementioned bear.  To understand this a little better, I will give a quick anatomy and physiology lesson (What! Are we back in biology class?).

The three main organs involved in the stress response (aka fight-or-flight) are the brain (hypothalamus), pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) and adrenal glands (on top of the kidneys).  These organs work together as the HPA axis as follows (or in this enlightening article):

  1. Stressor occurs (wild boar trying to eat us or an important job interview).
  2. The hypothalamus releases CRH which signals the pituitary gland.
  3. The pituitary gland releases ACTH which signals the adrenal glands.
  4. The adrenal glands release cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline → increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose (sugar).
  5. Stressor gone → body returns to normal state.

In the case of adrenal fatigue, the brain and pituitary glands might do their job, but the adrenal glands may release too much or too little of their hormones.  In my case, my cortisol response has been too low and too high at various times.  For example, when a dog would snap at me at work, I normally would have a quick adrenaline rush, which was an appropriate response.  However, eventually I lost that adrenaline response from the same startling event.  It’s like the boy who cried wolf.  My body was under such constant low grade stress that if finally said enough.  Consequently, when true danger occurred, my body no longer had the appropriate response.

By sharing my story, I’m hoping to open the eyes of other working mothers to pay attention to the warning signs.  While it might be common, it is not normal to feel this way on a daily basis.   Pay attention to how you feel and get help if you’re noticing problems.  Make your doctor understand that this is not normal for you.  If your doctor won’t listen, find another doctor who will help.  Most of all, don’t discount the effects of stress on working moms.

Joyful thought for the day, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”- Lou Holtz

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