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From stress over bills to work-induced anxiety, no one will skate through life without stress. While everyone’s been given a pep talk about how a certain amount of stress is good and can even be motivating, too much stress is never good—and can have a negative impact on health and well-being.
How Mental Stress Affects The Body
Stress can be debilitating for individuals, regardless of biological sex or gender identity, and in severe cases can prevent you from living a fulfilled, happy life. Those who identify as women will also experience new types of stressors and stress that are quite different from what men experience.
Understanding The Stress Response
Read on to learn more about how to manage your stress as a woman to prevent it from consuming you, and don’t forget to check out the infographic on how stress affects women.
In general, there are two different types of stress that everyone experiences. There is short-term stress, which is usually only experienced for a short period of time (from a few minutes to a day or two). Short-term stress can be caused by scenarios such as:
Then there is long-term (or chronic) stress, which can affect the person suffering from it for longer periods of time – like a month or even a year. Long-term stress scenarios may include, but are not limited to:
Although anyone can experience these types of stress, in both of these forms stress affects women at a much higher rate. In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, individuals who self-identified as women were, on average, more likely than individuals who self-identified as men (28 percent of women vs. 20 percent of men) to report having good stress – rank it as an eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale.
How Stress Harm Your Health: Effects On Body And Behavior
In addition to all the daily stress that comes from work, navigating personal and romantic relationships, and making daily decisions, women can face a variety of stressors and reactions to stress.
Due to differences in hormone levels (including sex hormones, such as estrogen, which can also affect stress hormone, cortisol, response), individuals assigned female at birth are often at higher risk of developing mood disorders as a result of stress during hormonal shifts during different phases of their lives. This can include puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum and postmenopause. Read more about how hormones can affect anxiety and stress here.
Not only do women experience stress differently, but the effects of chronic stress on women are also different (and can be drastic). Learn more about the long-term effects stress can have on women so you can keep your health under control.
Although it has been observed that fertility problems can cause stress, the link between stress and fertility problems is still being studied. However, one modeling study found that high daily stress was associated with hormonal changes and increased likelihood of sporadic anovulation (the lack or absence of ovulation) among women without prior known reproductive disorders.
How To Handle Stress At Work
Stress has also been observed to cause an increased severity of perimenstrual syndrome, which affects an estimated 40–60 percent of women of reproductive age. Women surveyed who experienced symptoms of perimenstrual syndrome (such as cramping, pain, discomfort or crying) showed a positive correlation between increased symptom severity and stress levels.
These studies suggest that without stress management, chronic stress can affect aspects of your menstrual health and fertility journey.
Stress can also affect a woman’s sexual desire, as their many responsibilities and other stressors can limit how often they want to have sex.
While women’s weight can often fluctuate due to hormonal changes and during menstrual cycles, a link between weight fluctuations and high levels of stress has been suggested. The reasons behind this are still being studied, but researchers have pointed to a variety of reasons why stress can cause changes in weight and body composition in women:
How Stress Affects The Body
To avoid stress from changing your healthy habits, try to incorporate exercise into your schedule two to three times a week; and make sure you eat nutritious, healthy foods to keep you full and alert.
The gastrointestinal system and the brain are in almost constant communication thanks to the hundreds of millions of nerve cells in the gut. But stress can affect the communication between the brain and the gastrointestinal system, which can trigger bloating, pain and general discomfort to feel more easily.
Stress has been associated with changes in the composition of bacteria found in the gut, which in turn can affect one’s mood. Stress particularly affects people with irritable bowel disease – such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis – and those with irritable bowel syndrome, possibly due to their increased sensitivity to changes in the gut microbiota.
Stress can affect many parts of the gastrointestinal system including the esophagus, stomach and intestines. Some of the difficulties caused by stress can be:
Nine Ways Stress Is More Dangerous Than You Think
If you notice any changes in your gastrointestinal behavior during times of high stress, contact your healthcare provider or a gastroenterologist. Persistent changes in your bowel routine such as constipation and diarrhea can also be associated with colon cancer in some cases. If you suspect you may have colon cancer, consider an at-home colon cancer screening test and talk to your doctor right away.
Excessive stress can cause many different physical reactions, and cardiovascular problems are no different. Although more research is needed to support how stress can contribute to heart disease, high levels of stress over time can cause hypertension (high blood pressure) or an increased heart rate, both of which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Stress can also affect women’s cardiovascular health in insidious ways. Periods of chronic stress can cause individuals to engage in activities or behaviors that are known risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as smoking, unhealthy diet, overeating, or delaying exercise.
Stress may pose different threats to women’s cardiovascular health depending on whether they are premenopausal or postmenopausal. Before women reach menopause, levels of estrogen appear to help blood vessels respond better during times of perceived stress and protect against heart disease. But lower levels of protective estrogen in postmenopausal women put them at greater risk of the effects of stress on their hearts.
The Effects Of Unrelieved Stress On The Body
To keep your heart healthy and save yourself from the more intense physical side effects of chronic stress, find a stress management technique that works best for you.
It is important to remember that you are not alone when you experience high levels of stress that affect your mental well-being in everyday life. If necessary, you may want to explore seeking professional help for stress management or a clinical diagnosis and treatment of a stress disorder.
When you’re experiencing chronic stress, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and you don’t have to navigate your stress alone. If your stress feels too much for you to manage on your own or is starting to affect your daily functions, you should seek help from a licensed mental health professional or doctor.
While there are many signs that it’s time to find some help for your stress, there are just a few that may indicate that you may need some help.
Anxiety And Brain
If you’re looking for at-home solutions before or while you seek professional help, check out these tips on how to manage your stress from home — and learn more about postin-test options for women to measure and track their levels of key hormones that contribute to general health and wellness from the comfort of home.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed by everything going on in your life, see if it’s possible to attribute it back to one or two main stressors. Has work required you to put in long hours lately, causing you to push back on housework and let it pile up? Have you and your partner argued more than usual, causing friction in your home and interactions?
Identifying what is causing your stress can then help you adjust your response accordingly, as well as get to the root of your stress and (hopefully) relieve it.
If your job is throwing off your work-life balance, see if you can talk to your boss about adjusting your schedule. If you and your partner are arguing, schedule a time to sit down together and talk.
How Anxiety Can Create Circulation Problems
While some stress is normal, sometimes your body’s stress response doesn’t match the scenario. For example, if you feel stressed when you want to call a restaurant for pickup, it could be an overreaction from your body.
If you find yourself getting stressed out about something that probably doesn’t require an overly stressful response, see if you can adjust your thinking and response.
If your heart is still racing hours after opening a stressful email, process with yourself that the stressful period is over and you don’t need to be in fight-or-flight mode anymore.
Doing things we enjoy and that make us happy doesn’t have to be
Biological Consciousness: Stress Management Through Mindfulness And Body Awareness
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