Is the stress in a woman’s life a disease?

Is the stress in a woman’s life a disease? Doctor identifies ‘Hurried Woman Syndrome’: Juggling kids, career

By Julie Smyth
Newspaper: National Post
Date: Saturday, November 29, 2003
Page: A1 / FRONT
© 2003 National Post. Reprinted with permission.

Rosalie Moscoe, Juno nominated children’s entertainer
It is 11 a.m. on Monday morning and Rosalie Moscoe is standing in front of an audience of a half-dozen Procter & Gamble employees, trying to help them cope with the stresses in their lives.

The audience gathered in the small cafeteria in Cambridge is all female. They are in mid-level jobs, have children, husbands, bills to pay and hectic lives. They are seeking ways to find that elusive balance.

Ms. Moscoe, an energetic brunette who looks considerably younger than her 58 years, is a consultant and professional speaker who has been hired to spend two hours “empowering” these women as they begin another week of working, rushing children to school, preparing dinner, and trying to find time for such things as Christmas shopping and a social life.

She runs through her slide presentation, showing cartoon sketches of women juggling hats and running in a frenzied pace and tells them of a medical condition identified recently by an American doctor: The Hurried Woman Syndrome.

She lists the symptoms of the syndrome – fatigue, weight gain, low sex drive and moodiness. Many of the women nod their heads in recognition of the signs.

The women are shown breathing techniques and yoga moves to help them relax.

They go through an exercise in which they hold up one bent arm, their elbow pointing out. They all repeat, “I am weak and I am powerless,” 10 times. Some of the women let their arms droop before the end. Then they do the same exercise, calling out 10 times, “I am strong and I am powerful.”

Ms. Moscoe tells them how to become unhurried: scale back, get organized, eat better (snack on The Zone diet protein bars and nuts instead of chocolate and chips) and pamper themselves. She suggests they pass on some evening outings and enroll their children in fewer activities. She warns them about Type E Women who want to be everything to everyone.

In his book, The Hurried Woman Syndrome, Texas-based obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Brent Bost says he has discovered a new illness affecting women in “epidemic proportions.” He claims 50 million women in the United States suffer from this condition, based on surveys he has done with doctors.

He treats more than 200 women a year with the syndrome, which he says is essentially minor depression. If not treated, one in three Hurried Women are headed for severe depression, he believes. He has put about 60% of his patients on a short-term cycle of anti-depressants.

He gives patients a 20-question quiz to determine if they have the syndrome, which he also refers to as a disorder. If they test positive, he recommends a series of life changes, including prioritizing their time and simplifying, and gives tips on how to rekindle their sex lives. He steers women away from popular eating regimens like the Atkins diet, suggesting instead they get a reasonable balance of exercise and healthy foods.

He believes this is a “forgotten condition” affecting women, usually between the ages of 25 and 55 who have children. Women with at least one child between four and 17 have the worst symptoms, he believes,but women without children can also suffer from The Hurried Woman Syndrome. Most of the women are conflicted, with their husbands, careers and children pulling them in different directions.

“Men get hobbies. Women have children. That’s not a hobby – that’s another job,” he said in an interview.

He said some Hurried Women could be headed for divorce. One of the problems is that men and women cope differently with pressure. “When a hurried couple is under stress, his sex drive goes up and her sex drive goes down,” he said.

This is a relatively new phenomenon because more women are working outside the home, he said. An increasing number are moving into executive jobs and raising families at the same time. As well, many women are getting pregnant later in life and trying to cope as older mothers. People are living longer, with many women now caring for their own parents, as well as their children and themselves.

“We’re seeing an increase in anxiety and depression,” he said.

Many companies have begun focusing more on gender-based health and looking at women in particular. Procter & Gamble, for example, runs “women supporting women,” workshops to help female employees balance their work and home lives. In the last four years, Medisys Health Group, which has been in business for 16 years, has begun running private clinics specifically for female executives in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. Companies spend thousands of dollars sending their senior employees to be screened for a range of diseases and to undergo annual fitness evaluations and stress-reducing counselling. Staff at Medisys say they see many women coming in with Hurried Woman symptoms.

A major study released in September by the Canadian Institute for Health Information raised a number of concerns about the state of women’s health in this country. It found that although women live longer than men, they are at higher risk for many serious medical problems. Women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, with single mothers being the worst affected. Only 17% of women are considered active (men fared slightly better at 20%), and cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in both sexes, accounts for 21% of all hospital admissions for Canadian women older than 50.

Ms. Moscoe tells her audience how she was once a Hurried Woman. Before she set up her company, Health In Harmony, she was a Juno-nominated singer with the Canadian children’s music duo Jim and Rosalie and was often on the road, worrying about leaving her two adolescent children. She started suffering from back pain, insomnia, colds, infections and stress. Around the same time, her mother died and she was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition – a mammogram showed something worrisome on her breast. She decided to change her life and now spends her time speaking to women at companies such as Motorola and IBM.

“Some people think it’s natural that you are overworked and feeling hurried and have 100 commitments,” said Ms. Moscoe. “It is troubling. People think this is life.”

“I see all my friends, and they are all going nuts. I am not saying you have to give up your career, but there is a way of realizing you can’t do it all. Something has to give – you have to drop a ball somewhere. I see a lot of sick women who are really badly stressed. Women get lower back problems, depression, bowel problems, chronic fatigue, heart attacks are more prevalent now. A lot of women are just haggard.”

Barbara Killinger, a Toronto-based clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling book Workaholics: The Respectable Addicts, said she suspects some of the women identified as having Hurried Woman Syndrome may, in fact, be workaholics who are unable to pull themselves away from work, adding stress to their lives and harming their relationships.

Other experts are skeptical of Dr. Bost’s theories and suggest he is trying to medicate life.

Janet Stoppard, a professor of psychiatry at th e University of New Brunswick who has written a new book, Situating Sadness: Women and Depression in Social Context, said using a “vague term” like syndrome does a disservice to women.

“It sounds like he is accurately describing what women go through, but to turn this into an illness is quite appalling. We should not turn women’s attempts to reasonably deal with things in their lives by pinning a medical label on them.” She believes the focus should instead be on improving working conditions, pay and child-care services for women.

Dr. Bost acknowledges Hurried Woman Syndrome is not a uniformly accepted notion. “I have been accused of picking on women – that women are weak and have this problem,” he said.

“But if you look at it, these symptoms are one step short of major depression. If you are going to assume being unhappy is just life, there is something wrong.”