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2 moms, too stressed, looking for relief

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  • Stress a key factor in hypertension, high blood sugar, weight gain, insomnia
  • Expert: Take regular breaks to let stress system cool down
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By Judy Fortin
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Jennifer Lynch and Jennifer Gonzalez live nearly 900 miles apart. But they have much more in common than their first names: Each has three young children, each works outside the home and each admits she's stressed out.

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Jennifer Gonzalez, with Jacob, 3, balances raising three children with teaching five mornings a week.

Lynch, 42, lives in New York and works three days a week as an attorney for a large pharmaceutical company. "I worry about stress," she says. "I worry that it creates this frenetic atmosphere in my house.

"I'm worried about the impact on my kids. I should worry about the impact on my health, but taking care of myself is at the bottom of my to-do list."

Gonzalez, 36, lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and teaches history at a local high school five mornings a week. She has to be prepared. "You have to be 'on,'" she says. One blink, she says, and "they'll eat me alive."

Her afternoons are packed with lesson planning and grading papers, caring for 3-year old twins and picking up her 6-year old daughter at school.

Like Lynch, Gonzalez worries about her kids being affected by the stress in her life. "There's not a clear line between working and home space," she says. "If I'm worn out, I'm more irritable."

Both women are married, but concede that with their husbands' busy schedules, the majority of child care and home duties fall on their shoulders. Video Stressed? Make a point to take a break. »

Lynch and Gonzalez are reluctant to give up their careers and have found ways to cut back on their work schedules. Still, they're looking for relief.

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Psychiatrist Charles Raison of Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta would argue they need it. Too much stress is bad for anyone's health, he says, and stress is a major factor behind high blood pressure, high blood sugar, weight gain, insomnia and depression.

He helps his stressed-out patients get into what he calls a state of flow. "What we want to do in our lives is find a balance between boredom, which is itself a stresser, and feeling overwhelmed with stress," says Raison. "There is a zone of challenge where you feel excited about life and where your energies are being used."

He understands that working mothers such as Gonzalez and Lynch are unable to give up certain things that create stress in their lives. Instead he recommends they work within their limitations by taking regular relaxation breaks to let their stress system cool down.

"Focus on things that you can do that are relaxing, like brief naps in the afternoon," suggests Raison. "Taking brief but targeted breaks from all the activity to clear your mind."

He also tells his patients to get into a regular exercise routine, because, he says, it toughens their stress system. "It's very clear that people who exercise don't get as stressed out by other things," says Raison. "Their blood pressure goes down, their heart rate goes down and they also have less production of their inflammatory chemicals that we are realizing are so central to modern illnesses."

Lynch is making a better effort to squeeze in a workout on her days off. She's also simplified her to-do list. "It helps me to prioritize," she says. "There is this omnipresent feeling that I have to go here or there," she says. But she reminds herself that "if I really didn't do any of these it won't be terrible."

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Gonzalez has taken a different approach to stress reduction. She's established a parenting network in her neighborhood. Now, when she's feeling overwhelmed with work and child-care needs, she calls a friend for help and says, "I need a rescue. I need a lifeboat.

"We all need lifelines and I couldn't do this without them." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Stress

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