Think You've Got Stress?
Women Under Stress
Trying to balance career and family can take its toll: Women's stress hormones and blood pressure, unlike those of men, tend to stay elevated when the workday is over. These stress levels not only make you feel tense, but they also may put your heart at risk. How can you stay healthy and sane? We asked six women in high-stress jobs to share their tricks for managing it all.
Trust yourself. Robin Walukonis, 39, an air traffic controller in the Jacksonville, Florida, Air Route Traffic Control Center, handles arrivals and departures for the busy Orlando area. Last fall, she received a distress call from a plane with a cracked windshield. The plane needed to descend immediately or the cabin would lose pressure, threatening everyone onboard. Walukonis had to redirect more than a dozen flights out of the way. Her quick maneuvering ensured a safe landing. "In the heat of the moment, you rely on your training," she says. "You have to be confident in what you do. Later on you can freak out." Walukonis also relies on faith. "On the way to work, I'll say something like, 'God, I need your wisdom. Make sure I see everything I need to see today,'" she says. "It's reassuring to realize that there's someone else helping to watch out for that big sky."
Take a time-out. Last spring, Audrey Friedman, a 39-year-old oncology nurse, waited for a doctor to explain biopsy results to a patient. Friedman finally went into the exam room and asked, "Do you have questions about your cancer diagnosis?" The patient was terrified and exclaimed, "Oh, my God! I have cancer?" Friedman was shocked: The doctor had used such difficult medical terminology that the woman hadn't understood her diagnosis.
Friedman's job is filled with emotional moments like this. At the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center at the Rose Medical Center, in Denver, where she works, Friedman handles the stress by scheduling occasional "mental health days" away from the job. (Her employer allows her to bank vacation and sick days and use them as she sees fit.) She doesn't follow a strict schedule; she might go hiking or spend time in her garden. One of her favorite activities: antiques shopping. "Imagining how these beautiful items were used by another family is comforting to me," she says.
Even short getaways help Friedman keep a positive attitude. "This job has helped me to realize that life and our bodies are amazing," she says. "They should never be taken for granted."