The scene is Macedonia, 6,000 B.C. Danger surrounds ancient cavewoman and her little family, as ancient caveman is away in the wilderness hunting for dinner. Cavewoman is on alert for roaming tribes of hostile inhabitants, herds of Wooly Mammoths, and traveling packs of gray wolves.
Suddenly cavewoman hears a rumbling in the distance. She grabs her children and rushes to higher ground. Mammoths thunder by in a cloud of dust. Cavewoman and her children stay where they are until the danger passes. But their hearts are racing, their breathing rapid. The chemicals in cavewoman’s brain were what enabled her to react quickly to save herself and her children.
Today, though, we no longer have to run from Wooly Mammoths or hostile tribes. But women still face a great many real-life stresses. Today’s women bring home the bacon and cook it, too. They work from dawn until dusk, raising children and cleaning house. They apply for job promotions, cook meals, wash dishes, and chair committees.
What happens when our working mother must stay home from work to care for a sick child? Her child comes first, but in choosing this priority, she puts her job in jeopardy. As she calls work to tell them that she’ll be staying home today, her heart beats faster, her blood pressure increases, and her breathing becomes more rapid. Even though today’s woman will never have to worry about being eaten by gray wolves, her body has the same stress reaction as cavewoman’s. Only today’s woman’s stress affects her all day and into the night.
We are equipped with an efficient mechanism for handling stress (identical to cavewoman’s) that causes changes in the body. The chemicals, epinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol are released in the brain and raise our heart rate and blood pressure, increase our breathing rate and the efficiency of our muscles and energy use, give us greater strength and increase our liver’s release of sugar. These chemical reactions are vital for response to immediate danger but are destructive if they are released for a longer period of time.
What Happens to the Body?
When we are under long periods of stress, our body attempts to compensate and does so in the short-term. If the stress is not relieved, the result is elevated blood pressure and heart rate, decreased immune function, and decreased glucose storage. These can lead to the formation of stress-related illnesses, such as high blood pressure, the breakdown of multiple organs and tissues, damage to hippocampus (where the memory cells are located), the destruction of white blood cells, a compromised immune system, and even changes in ovulation.
When a stressor ends, the parasympathetic division of our nervous system activates, and the body attempts to replenish its resources. However, if the stress is continuous or there are back-on-back stressors, the body’s resources are not replenished. Decreased levels of brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, can cause depression.
As a woman who suffered for years from untreated depression, I can say that it is not something to be taken lightly. Nor is it a character defect or a weakness. It is an organic illness caused by stress, an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Heredity also plays a part in your susceptibility to depression. If at least one of your parents has been diagnosed for depression, you are more likely to develop depression yourself.
* Today’s Women Have Too Much Stress *
In the old days, when a woman had to work outside of the home, Grandma watched the kids and sometimes assisted with housekeeping, laundry, and cooking of meals. Today, though, Grandma is a stockbroker or an attorney or a grocery checker. Mothers must leave their children for at least 10 hours a day with strangers. This, alone, creates a monumental amount of stress. Having to call in sick because one of your children has a fever and can’t go to daycare creates stress. Grouchy husbands and condescending bosses, overtime and the fear of layoff create stress. Working families often eat fast food several nights a week because there is no time to cook. The fat and salt content in fast food contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and a host of other ailments in the entire family. Life is like a pressure cooker. Women are wearing too many hats. No wonder they get depressed!
* The Key to Conquering Depression *
Most women give to others more than they do to themselves. We must take care of ourselves. Otherwise we are no good to anyone.
* Some Things to Consider *
- If you are tired, sleeping too little or too much, have low libido or sadness, or if things that used to bring you happiness, no longer do, you may have clinical depression. See your doctor to find out what is wrong. He may refer you to a psychiatrist or counselor or both. He also may prescribe anti-depressants to help restore higher levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain. Usually it takes two weeks to a month to adjust to an anti-depressant, but it is well worth the wait.
- You may need to undergo a short course of counseling to find the underlying cause for your depression. Most insurance plans cover the cost of counseling. If there is no insurance, consider making an appointment to talk to a minister or priest. Even talking to a good friend will help.
- If you need help around the house, hold a family meeting to discuss a more even distribution of the housework. You are not the family slave and should not be treated as one.
- Taking a walk after dinner with your husband and/or kids is a good way to unwind after a busy, frustrating day at work.
- Consider taking the kids to daycare a half hour early a couple of mornings a week and go to the gym. Many exercise facilities, such as Curves, offer a 30-minute work-out. Exercise causes the release of endorphins, which help us feel happy and peaceful.
Depression can be paralyzing, but there is no reason to suffer. Medications and minor changes in your lifestyle will improve your quality of life a great deal. You may have to force yourself to take action in the beginning, but before long, you will be back to your old self and going strong.
“The history of all times, and of today especially, teaches that women will be forgotten if they forget to think about themselves.”
– Louise Otto (feminist from late 1900’s)