Why Doctors Need to Talk to Women About Stress

As women take on more responsibility in the workplace while continuing as the primary caregiver for their children and in many cases, their aging parents as well, stress levels in women are on the rise. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), almost half of all women (49 percent) surveyed said their stress has increased over the past five years, compared to four in 10 (39 percent) men.

And even though stress is linked with chronic disease, most Americans feel that healthcare providers are not taking enough time to address stress issues during office visits. According to the 2012 APA survey “Stress in America: Missing the Healthcare Connection,” 32 percent of the 2020 Americans surveyed felt that it was extremely important to talk with their health care providers about stress management. Yet 53 percent said that these conversations never happened.

There are exceptions, of course. Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., who is the author of Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Wisdom After Forty and has a private practice in women’s integrative and holistic medicine in Fairfield, IA, routinely discusses stress management with her patients. “When women go home from work at the end of the day, they face another set of responsibilities and stressors at home,” she says. “At times the stress can be overwhelming, and that can result in fatigue, chronic health problems, and burnout. And many of these stressors are not going away tomorrow. They’re not within your control, and the best that you can do is learn how to deal with them more effectively.”

Dr. Lonsdorf recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique to alleviate stress, because the research is solid and she has seen it work with her patients. “The TM technique offers something unique in stress management programs. It actually changes the way your nervous system processes stress. As shown in scientific research, with just four months of practice of the Transcendental Meditation program, baseline cortisol levels, meaning the amount of cortisol in the blood day-by-day, drops significantly, by one-third when compared to a control group that simply was instructed about health education or how to manage stress better.”

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and NIH researcher who discovered Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), saw striking results in several patients in his psychiatry practice and in family members who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique, as well as in his own personal experience. As someone who has witnessed “the mental and spiritual anguish of many hundreds of people,” he couldn’t keep quiet about a technique with so much promise to ease suffering and wrote the book Transcendence to tell people about this natural way to lessen stress without drugs or harmful side-effects.

Rosenthal and his son Josh, also a psychiatric researcher, were so impressed with the effect that the TM technique had on themselves, and the 350 research studies on TM’s health benefits—conducted at the National Institutes of Health and other major research institutes and published in major peer-reviewed journals—that they collaborated on a research study of the effect of TM on veterans with PTSD.

The study showed that veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars showed a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), after just eight weeks of practicing the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique, according to a pilot study published this month in Military Medicine.

In his book Dr. Rosenthal writes, “The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 40 million adults have some form of anxiety disorder. These people feel an internal sense of their alarm bells ringing even though there is no genuine stress. They’re constantly feeling they are under some emergency. This drains their emotional and physical resources.”

Fortunately for women who suffer from extreme stress and anxiety, a 2013 meta-analysis (a type of rigorous review of multiple randomized controlled research studies, considered the gold standard of research) showed that TM had a significant effect in reducing anxiety. In fact, the greater the starting level of anxiety in the test subjects, the greater the reduction with meditation. This 2013 meta-analysis by David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D., and Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., analyzed 16 randomized controlled studies among 1295 participants and was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

“Transcendental Meditation is completely the opposite of trauma,” says veteran Tara Wise, director of the National Women Veterans Association of America (NWVAA). “As soon as I started, something shifted. I didn’t have to rehash traumatic experiences.”

The TM technique has been so successful in helping women veterans recover from PTSD that the Fatigues to Fabulous organization, which helps women vets get back on their feet, has partnered with Transcendental Meditation for Women to make it available to women vets.

With the TM technique, women can amplify their natural reserves and prevent stress from taking over. “A year ago this month I was suicidal,” Tara Weiss said. “I felt so low I wanted to just not be here.”

Now Weiss is functioning like a whole woman again. “Transcendental Meditation saved my life,” she says.

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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