The Physical Side of Stress
How Does Stress Affect a Woman’s Mind and Body?
While men and women can react similarly in many situations, stressful or otherwise, there does seem to be some difference in how men and women react to stress. While the exact mechanisms aren’t clear, and findings are conflicting, someР’В research suggestsР’В that differences in the brain and body may make women moreР’В physically and emotionallyР’В sensitive to certain types of stress.
РІР‚СљWomen tend to react to stress differently than men,” says Dr. Rosch. “They donРІР‚в„ўt respond with the fight or flight response РІР‚вЂќ theyРІР‚в„ўre more apt to negotiate.РІР‚Сњ
InР’В previous research, psychologists have called thisР’В the “tend and befriend” response. This may have come about, theorize scientists, because it would have been evolutionarily adaptive for women to protect offspring rather than attack or flee from predators.
The “tend and befriend” response, some think, may be mediated byР’В oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone produced in women during childbirth, breast-feeding, and in both sexes during orgasm and other moments of human connection.Р’В This hormone may help women more than men, according to Rosch.
Studies have shownР’В that frequent hugs from a partner can increase levels of oxytocinР’В РІР‚вЂќ and lower levels of blood pressure РІР‚вЂќ in women.Р’В Research has also foundР’В that women who have positive contact with a partner before a stressful situation show lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower heart rates.
How Does Stress Affect a Woman’s Health?
The particular challenges thatР’В women face at home, in society, and at work may increase the amount of stress you experience.
РІР‚СљYour stress may vary, but if you have stress with your work, your kids, your neighbors, and marriage all at once, thatРІР‚в„ўs a big deal,РІР‚Сњ saysР’В Lori Heim, MD, past president and chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a physician at Scotland Memorial Hospital in Laurinburg, North Carolina. РІР‚СљIn women, I see this in changes inР’В menstrual patternsР’В РІР‚вЂќ nothing else is going on except a huge increase in stress, and all of a sudden, they may beР’В losing their hairР’В or having menstrual irregularities, and everything points to stress as a factor.РІР‚Сњ
According to theР’В National WomenРІР‚в„ўs Health Information Center, the effects of stress on womenРІР‚в„ўs physical and emotional health can range from headaches to stomach trouble to back pain. Specific stress effects include:
Stomach AilmentsР’В Stress can make you reach for junk or comfort foods, or upset your stomach to the point that you feel like you canРІР‚в„ўt eat. Common stress-related stomach troubles include cramps, bloating, heartburn, and РІР‚вЂќ according to aР’В study published in November 2017 in the journalР’В Frontiers in System NeuroscienceР’В РІР‚вЂќ even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects more women than men. Depending on how you respond, these can lead to weight loss or weight gain.
Skin ReactionsР’В Stress can lead to breakouts, and even itchy rashes and hives in some people.
Emotional ConditionsР’В From being in a blue or irritable mood to more serious mental issues, like depression, your emotional health suffers when thereРІР‚в„ўs stress in your life.
Sleep ProblemsР’В Trouble falling or staying asleep is common in women affected by stress, and this is particularly counterproductive since a good nightРІР‚в„ўs sleep can help ease stress.
Difficulty ConcentratingР’В Stress makes it hard to focus and be effective in your responsibilities at home or work, and that can compound your problems if the stress comes from your job to begin with.
Heart TroubleР’В Stress can negatively affect the entire cardiovascular system, and while it doesn’t directly causeР’В high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack, it can definitely contribute to them.
Lowered Immune ResponseР’В One of the more complicated physical reactions to stress is your bodyРІР‚в„ўs lessened ability to fight off disease, whether itРІР‚в„ўs a cold or a flare-up of a chronic condition.
How Can Woman Lower Stress Levels?
In a survey of 3,000 people,Р’В Robert Epstein, PhD, a senior researchР’В psychologistР’В at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, California, found that 25 percent of happiness hinges on how well you handle stress. And what was the most important stress management strategy he noticed? Planning РІР‚вЂќ or anticipating what’s going to stress you out РІР‚вЂќ and having the tools in place to tamp down the tension. Here are some more tips for managing stress:
Improve your diet.Р’В By eating well-balanced meals and skipping junk food, you can improve your physical well-being and, in turn, your emotional health.
Make time for exercise.Р’В РІР‚СљWe do know that exercise is a phenomenal way of dealing with stress and depression,РІР‚Сњ says Dr. Heim. Research shows that getting activeР’В can lift your spiritsР’В by increasing hormones and neurochemicals that can improve your mood.
Find fun ways to relax.Р’В Connect with family and friends and people you enjoy being around. Rediscover favorite hobbies РІР‚вЂќР’В research published in 2013 in the journalР’В Frontiers in Psychiatryhas linked pursuits that require focus, like crafting, drawing, or even home repairs, with stress-reducing effects. Other popular stress-busters include yoga, meditation, and tai chi.
Finally, if you feel overwhelmed by stress and its effects, talk to your doctor about ways to deal with it. You may learn new techniques for managing stress on your own, or you may find that therapy with a mental health professional will better help you to get it all under control.
Article By: Clare Kittredge