June 2, 2024
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High-Wire Acts and Hormones: Navigating Stress for Busy Jewish Women

Busy Jewish women often juggle a circus of stressors, balancing family, work and now the ever-looming concern of rising antisemitism. Life sometimes feels like a constant walk along a tightrope over a pit of emotional and physical challenges. Each day brings new hurdles, from tending to children of all ages and meeting work deadlines to staying informed about the chaotic state of American politics and the heart-wrenching news from Israel. It’s a lot — like trying to do a handstand while maneuvering a cholent pot!

The tension generated by these multifaceted roles can be immense; chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body, affecting both physical and mental health. The situation is like having a grumpy roommate who never leaves and insists on regularly redecorating with anxiety and exhaustion. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones like cortisol can lead to various health issues, including cardiovascular disease, a weakened immune system and digestive problems. It can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions like depression, making them even worse and sometimes leading to sleep disturbances, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Over time, chronic stress can significantly diminish one’s overall well-being and quality of life, making effective stress management crucial.

Adding another layer of complexity is the fact that women’s hormone levels fluctuate throughout their life cycle, a factor which can significantly impact stress and coping mechanisms. From puberty through menopause, hormonal changes can influence mood, energy levels and overall stress resilience. For example, during the menstrual cycle, many women experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which can bring about heightened irritability, anxiety and emotional sensitivity. Pregnancy and postpartum periods also bring dramatic hormonal shifts that can affect mood and stress levels, sometimes even leading to conditions like postpartum depression. Menopause brings its own set of challenges, with fluctuating estrogen levels contributing to mood swings, anxiety and decreased stress tolerance. Understanding these hormonal influences is crucial for developing effective coping strategies and seeking appropriate support when needed.

We obviously can’t magically wave away our personal stresses, whether mentally or physically generated, or the stresses of the world around us. Family responsibilities, work pressures and broader societal issues are inevitable parts of life. But while we may not have control over these stressors, we can develop strategies to manage and mitigate their impact on our body and spirit.

One of the most effective ways to combat stress is by nurturing positive relationships with others. Studies show that those who enjoy close friendships in their teenage years have lower rates of depression and anxiety later in life. Friendship is like a vintage wine — it gets better with age. No matter how old you are or what you’re going through, healthy and close friendships, at any age, encourage positive mental health and well-being.

Another significant way to reduce stress is through exercise. Regular physical activity helps improve cardiovascular health, increase strength and flexibility and manage weight. Beyond the physical perks, exercise plays a crucial role in mental well-being as well. For instance, Sarah (not her real name), a busy professional and mother of four, found herself drowning in stress and anxiety. She started walking twice a week and working out with a trainer once a week. Within a month, she noticed a remarkable improvement in her mood and her energy. Her anxiety lessened and she felt more equipped to handle her daily responsibilities. Her experience aligns with statistics showing that exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by up to 30%, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Additionally, exercise promotes better sleep, increases energy levels and improves cognitive function, including memory and concentration.

Intellectually, most of us understand that making time for friends and exercise is essential for a woman’s well-being, yet actually carving out the necessary time often feels like trying to find a unicorn in the backyard. Despite recognizing and appreciating the benefits, the demands of daily life can make the goal seem almost impossible to achieve.

With that reality in mind, we might suggest that combining exercise with social interaction can be a great way to save time and accomplish our objectives. Going for a walk with a friend on Shabbos or during the week is an excellent opportunity to catch up, share feelings and move the body. Many of my clients enjoy their workouts with me because we have established a warm personal relationship and we can express our thoughts and concerns at the same time as lifting weights and working on the mat. Having someone to chat with while working out makes the time fly by and leaves one feeling better both mentally and physically at the end. This approach not only promotes physical health but also provides emotional support, enhancing one’s overall well-being.

So, next time life feels like a high-wire act, remember you’re not alone. Grab a friend, lace up those sneakers and take a step towards a healthier, happier you. And if all else fails, there’s always chocolate — just don’t fall back on it too often.


Beth S. (Bassie) Taubes, RN, CHC, CYT, is the owner of Wellness Motivations LLC. She motivates clients of all backgrounds, ages and health conditions to engage in improved self-care through nutritional counseling, personal fitness training, yoga practice, breath training tai chi, and stress reduction techniques. She is the director of community outreach for Ematai as well as the rebbetzin of Congregation Zichron Mordechai in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected], www.wellnessmotivationsbt.com.

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