Stress on Women: The Effects and Exploring Ways to Reduce It
Annoyingly, stress is an inevitable part of life and affects everyone differently. However, as if we weren’t persecuted enough, women tend to experience stress more intensely than men.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), women are more likely than men to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress, such as headaches, anxiety, and depression. Granted, women may be more likely than men to report these problems and open up about their struggles. Either way, the impact of chronic stress can be severely detrimental and not to be ignored.
So, what causes this stress? And what exactly leads to these symptoms? And is it possible to reduce and manage stress?
Stress is the trash of modern life – we all generate it, but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” – Danzae Pace
Stress is an inescapable part of life that can quickly become a dominating force if not appropriately managed. It can creep into every aspect of a person’s life, growing increasingly difficult to control.
Women, in particular, are at risk of the physical tolls of stress, which can manifest in various ways. To tackle the problem head-on, it is important to understand the common causes of stress and how to manage and reduce it.
Common Causes of Stress in Women
Long work hours, job insecurity, conflict with coworkers, job dissatisfaction, gender pay gaps, and harassment in the workplace can all contribute to work-related stress.
2. Family responsibilities
Caring for children, elderly parents, or other family members can be challenging to balance alongside work and other responsibilities.
3. Financial pressures
Financial worries, such as debt, low income, or job loss, can cause significant stress for women.
4. Relationship issues
Relationship issues can be incredibly upsetting, including conflicts with partners, family members, or friends.
5. Trauma or abuse
Women who have experienced trauma or abuse, including sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, may experience ongoing stress related to these experiences.
6. Health problems
Women may experience stress related to their own health problems or those of family members.
7. Societal pressures
Societal pressures related to beauty standards, gender roles, and cultural expectations can also contribute to stress in women. What woman hasn’t been asked why she doesn’t have a man when she is getting married, when she has kids, etc.?
This list is not exhaustive because stress always finds creative new ways to find you!
During episode 46 of Women Who Rebrand, the podcast, Sareta talked to Candice Denise– an expert in stress management and self-care practices, to explore what authentic self-care is and why it’s essential. Tune in to gain insight into how self-care practices can help you avoid unnecessary stress.
The Physical Impact of Stress on Women
When a woman experiences stress, her body goes into “fight or flight” mode, triggering a cascade of physiological responses designed to protect her from harm. While this response is useful in a dangerous situation (which, let’s be honest, rarely occur), it can be harmful if activated frequently or chronically, which regularly means over weeks, months, or longer.
When a woman experiences stress, her heart rate and blood pressure increase, constricting her blood vessels. This response strains the heart and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions. Heart disease and stroke are two leading causes of death in women worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular diseases account for approximately 35% of deaths among women globally.
Stress can weaken the immune system, making women more susceptible to infections and illnesses. When a woman is under pressure, her body releases cortisol, a hormone that suppresses the immune system. This makes it harder for the body to fight off infections and diseases. Pay attention to this if you notice you fall ill often.
When a woman experiences chronic stress, it can disrupt her menstrual cycle, making it irregular or even stopping it altogether.
Stress can also affect fertility by reducing the production of oestrogen and progesterone. These two hormones are essential for reproductive health and can make it difficult for a woman to conceive.
A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women who experienced higher stress levels had a longer time to pregnancy, defined as the length of time it takes to conceive after stopping birth control. The study found that women with the highest stress levels were 29% less likely to become pregnant in any given menstrual cycle than women with the lowest stress levels.
Stress can have a more significant impact on fertility in women who are already experiencing fertility problems. A study published in Fertility and Sterility found that women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) who reported higher stress levels had lower rates of successful pregnancy and live birth than women who reported lower stress levels.
When a woman is under stress, her body diverts blood from the digestive system to other parts of the body, such as the muscles and brain. This can lead to digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhoea (or what I like to call ‘the stress shits’), and stomach ulcers.
When a woman faces stress, her body instinctively readies itself for action. Unfortunately, if this response is triggered too often, it can cause more than a momentary inconvenience. The effects of stress can be far-reaching, from muscle aches and tension headaches to more severe conditions such as fibromyalgia, a condition characterised by chronic and widespread pain in muscles, joints and soft tissues. Fibromyalgia is a growing and concerning issue affecting an estimated 2.75 million people in the UK, primarily women.
When a woman experiences stress, her body releases cortisol, produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress. It is commonly known as the “stress hormone” because it is released during times of stress to help the body cope with the stressor.
While cortisol is essential for maintaining normal bodily functions, including metabolism, immune response, and stress response, high cortisol levels over a prolonged period can negatively affect the skin.
High levels of cortisol can cause an increase in sebum production, which can lead to acne breakouts. This is because cortisol stimulates the sebaceous glands in the skin, which produce oil. Excess oil can clog pores, leading to inflammation and acne.
Cortisol can also accelerate the skin’s ageing process by breaking down collagen. This protein gives skin elasticity and firmness. As collagen breaks down, wrinkles and fine lines may appear on the skin.
High cortisol levels can make the skin more sensitive to external stimuli such as sunlight, pollution, and allergens. This can lead to skin irritation, redness, and itching.
It can also impair the skin’s ability to heal from wounds. This is because cortisol suppresses the immune system, which is responsible for fighting off infections and healing damaged tissues.
Cortisol can also contribute to skin dehydration by reducing the skin’s ability to retain moisture. This can lead to dry, flaky, and itchy skin.
Managing and Reducing Stress in Women
While it’s impossible to eliminate stress completely, there are several ways that women can manage and reduce stress in their lives. Here are some effective strategies that women can use to manage their stress levels:
1. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. Exercise also helps to reduce muscle tension and improve sleep, both of which are beneficial for reducing stress.
2. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgement. This practice can help women reduce anxiety, improve their mood, and enhance their overall well-being.
Getting enough sleep is essential for managing stress. When a woman is sleep-deprived, her body produces more stress hormones, which can exacerbate stress and anxiety. Women should get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night to manage their stress levels effectively.
4. Social Support
Having a strong social support network can help women manage their stress levels. Women should surround themselves with supportive uplifting, and inspiring people.
5. Professional Support
Finally, and most importantly, if you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above or are worried about your stress levels, please see your doctor. Professional medical support can provide significant benefits for individuals experiencing stress. Your doctor can accurately diagnose the type of stress, provide personalised treatment, offer ongoing support and guidance, improve health outcomes, and prevent future health problems. If you are experiencing stress, seeking medical support may be a valuable step in managing your symptoms and improving your overall well-being.
Whatever you do, do not underestimate the stress you are under and the impact this may be having on your emotional and physical well-being!
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