Oh, Honey, That Stress Will Kill You

“Oh, honey, that stress will kill you.” This is what the emergency room nurse said to me while completing my intake. It is not hard to see that the past two years have increased my stress level:

  • Working for myself versus a corporation
  • Managing the ins and outs of kids’ schooling
  • Being the majordomo of the household
  • Not having routines because of the work my husband and I do
  • Participating in social justice work

I used to be Zen. Yoga was my jam. Continuing my stress-relieving practice outside of the home has become difficult because of logistics. Trying to do it at home comes with its own set of obstacles, mainly time. Avoiding news helps tremendously. Automating workflows is an entrepreneurial sanity saver. I work out at least twice at the YMCA. We eat healthy snacks and meals 90% of the time. I say this to share that I know what I can do to destress. It’s just not working.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This adventure began one Monday afternoon, when after making and feeding everyone dinner, I felt a rush of blood to my head and my hands started shaking. Like, really shaking. I walked to the bathroom to sit down for a minute without sending anyone into a panic. It subsided, and then the head rush came back a few minutes later. And then, nothing.

The next day, I had to meet a client for coffee to talk about her stress and anxieties about her pending labor. I made it to the coffee shop, pulled it together as I started feeling like I was swimming under deep water, drank some water, and headed home—only, I started feeling a heaviness on my chest. Thankfully, I was close enough to a grocery store to be able to pull into the parking lot safely. I waited a few minutes and decided to walk inside—if I was going to pass out, I didn’t want to be alone in my car.

I walked into the pharmacy area and sat at the blood pressure station. Trying to not panic, I started the machine, which also told me not to panic. My reading? 159/89.

After googling “heart attack in women” and reaching out to a nurse friend (no one was answering the phone at my Primary Care Provider’s office), I was able to feel calm enough to make it home. Talking to my husband about it, I decided to just head over to the PCP office, as it was five minutes away. Maybe it was the pre-holiday slump that had no one at the front desk when I arrived, and I was starting to feel woozy again. So I walked to the next building, where the emergency room is.

Yes, I realize now, I should have not been driving.

After an EKG and a few more blood pressure readings in the ER, I was discharged with instructions to make an appointment with my provider after the holiday, log my blood pressure, and try to not stress out.

The tabs for my EKG leads.

Girl, I am TRYING. I find time to just unplug, even if it’s just 10 minutes. I listen to soothing audio books while driving. I go to to the gym daily during the week. I already eat well. But sometimes, my anxious genes just get the better of me.

And also, to no one’s surprise, women who are the primary caregivers in their household have high amounts of stress.

They also die of heart disease. You know it’s the number-one killer for women, right? Do you know what to look for, how to care for yourself?

Per the American Heart Association:

If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Women often chalk up the symptoms to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu, or normal aging.

Why? Because we are the Doers, the Planners, the Makers of Things Happening. We have to take care of everyone else first.

Well, guess what, sister? We can’t do that if we’re DEAD. Harsh, but true.

Taking care of yourself should be a priority. Eating well isn’t a fast food salad, but it’s doable if you commit to it. Getting some type of exercise isn’t balancing all the laundry on your hip; it can be a long walk to the mailbox. Carving out quiet time can be dropping kids off at the Y and finding a shady spot to read a book while they play.

And where are my Old Uterus Club ladies? Did you know that menopause and heart disease go hand in hand? Lower amounts of estrogen could be a factor in increased heart disease, as one of the many cool things estrogen does is keep the inner layer of arterial walls flexible. BTW, perimenopause is a thing, too. How have we not evolved to put this off until we’re in our late 50s? Asking for a 40-something-year-old-friend.

The American Heart Association states that more than one in three female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease. An overall increase in heart attacks among women is seen about 10 years after menopause. Heart disease is the leading killer of women.

Like we don’t have enough ish to deal with, we have to think about stress and a lack of estrogen killing us. Again, harsh, but I’m trying to get your attention.

Check your blood pressure regularly—grocery stores and pharmacies have a place where you can do this. Know what your “normal” is so you have a reference point when you visit your doctor. Which you’ve got to stop putting off. It’s not just for pap smears, friends. There’s a whole slew of health problems that sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.

Know your blood pressure
From the Texas Heart Institute

Check your resources. The American Heart Association is a great place for information. Facebook groups? Not so much. If you feel tired, achy, and run down, it’s not always because your kids have been bananas all day and you’ve washed 567 loads of laundry. Trust your gut and see your doctor. Make the time. Take care of that amazing body of yours that made some kids and is working on living its best Netflix-binging life. 

If you need me, I’ll be on an elliptical at the Y, pouting about my aging uterus and binge-watching something delicious. 

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Amanda is a native Texan who spent a few years in the Boston area. Newish to the stay-at-home mom gig, she’s mother to an eight-year-old wilding and a five-year-old diva. When not trying to herd those cats, she runs a doula agency, Journey to Motherhood (@motherhoodsatx), and works as a birth doula and childbirth educator. She has been married to her husband for almost nine years, which also means learning the ways of being a military spouse. Upon his return from his first deployment in their relationship, she surprised him by proposing to him when she finished her first half marathon (more like she held up a ring and he said yes). Their honeymoon was a babymoon (ehh) to Italy, followed by another deployment, building a new home, and having another child. Much time at home is spent cultivating a medicinal and vegetable garden (she’s a modern hippie), reading all kinds of books (everyone is a book nerd), crafting cocktails (because yum), documenting shenanigans and social activism on Instagram (@optimisticheathen), and holding spontaneous dance parties in the living room.