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The Female Stress Syndrome, 2d ed.

Do women experience stress differently from men? They do if one considers the stressors of pregnancy and menopause. The past few decades in which women relinquished their traditional passive role and struck out for assertiveness and independence have increased frustrations leading to rising numbers of cases of heart problem and other stress-related disorders.

Women are faced with an updated Pandora's box of frustrations. Prior to the latest sexual revolution, the traditional female was beset by stresses involving economic status, marriage, spinsterhood, widowhood, and the litany of demands coming from the needs of her family, children, and spouse. She also bore the trial of dealing with her biological demands, in many ways vastly different from those of the male's.

The "new" female has achieved some freedoms in the form of opportunities available in the outside society; her position on the pedestal, no longer a hypocritical male-bestowed privilege, realistically shattered and in focus, she faces the world burdened by responsibilities and dictates from the past plus obligations and demands in keeping with her new emancipation. The sweet scent of freedom has acquired a compounded role of mother, wife, companion, homemaker plus breadwinner, indentured service, and the obligation of keeping the cloak of Superwoman fresh and dazzling.

Dr. Witkin has performed a masterful service in writing a book that brings into proper perspective the burdens and challenges that face women in their struggle for true equality in both the marketplace and in the home. Her emphasis on the new vulnerability facing women of all ages who attempt to take on the new role is precise and perceptive. The author does not demand affirmative action in hiring and the infinite array of exclusions based on so-called female fraility.

Women survive and thrive despite the singular stresses they suffer, Witkin writes: "Men do not menstruate, become pregnant or go through menopause. Men do not typically have to justify their marital status to an employer or their sexual behavior to their family. Women must deal continually with society's mixed messages. We are most often expected to be sexy but not sexual; to have a child, but remain childlike; to be assertive but not aggressive; to hold a job but not neglect the home.

These special all-female stresses, Dr. Witkin says, both psychological and physiological, "result in many symptoms of tensions that are unique to women and many others that are found more frequently in women than in men, symptoms ranging from loss of menstruation to crippling panic attacks; from transient headaches to lifethreatening anorexia. And yet, when women complain of these symptoms of tension and stress, we tend not to be taken as seriously as men are ... men are given serious tests and treatments for their ailments, many physicians still prescribe tranquilizers for women, or tell them, 'Go home and try to relax. Your problem is just stress.'"

The author acknowledges that her awareness of the female Stress Syndrome did not come from a recognition of her own stresses. "I was as much a victim of female stress unawareness as were my female psychotherapy patients. I was a full-time college professor, full time mother, full-time author of textbooks, part-time clinical supervisor, part-time consultant, semi-efficient homemaker, and inefficient bookkeeper." She was, she acknowledges, full-time stressed and part-time guilt-ridden.

Dr. Witkin freely confesses that her ambition and disregard for the symptoms of her overachievements blithely ignored headaches, backaches, erratic premenstrual tension, unusual allergies, a touch of colitis, and a bit of cardiac arrhythmia. "Just stress," the doctor said.

The book is replete with personal reflections and a clear outline of what women should recognize as warning signals as they race down the highways of achievement. She raises unmistakable signs to women as they approach the crises of love, sex, and communication; managing motherhood; the changing constellation of stepfamilies, blended families, wives-in-law, and single parentages; surviving teenagers' stress; the male stress syndrome; and the dilemma of turning 40 with its problems; job expectations and age discrimination.

To define the problem is to start on the road to overcoming it; Dr. Witkin is successful on both counts.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Vegetus Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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