Men and women respond to stress in different ways. The effects of the anti-stress hormone oxytocin are increased by estrogen whereas it is decreased by testosterone. This gives an added advantage to women in dealing with stress. But women need more oxytocin than men to maintain their emotional health. Constant stress thus takes a greater toll on women’s physical and mental health.
Effects of stress
Stress can affect the body in a number of ways. Some of them are as follows:
- Eating disorders: Stress can cause extreme health conditions in women like anorexia and bulimia. Relieving stress can help to effectively treat such eating disorders.
- Stomach problems: Long term stress increases stomach acid thereby causing discomfort, cramps, indigestion, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome and even ulcers.
- Skin reactions: Cortisol levels in the body increase as a result of stress. This in turn contributes to excess oil production leading to acne. Stress can even cause itchy rashes in some people.
- Depression: Women are more likely to be affected by irritable moods and depression than men. Stressful events in life like divorce or the death of a loved one can act as a trigger for depression.
- Insomnia: Insomnia or sleeping trouble is a common problem for women who suffer from constant stress. This can lead to irritability, lack of concentration and dullness.
- Decreased concentration: Stress and poor sleep can make it difficult to focus on one’s job. This can affect productivity at home and work.
- Heart disease and stroke: Women working in highly stressful environments are more prone to have a heart attack or stroke when compared to women working in low-stress jobs.
- Decreased immune response: The immune system of the body helps to prevent minor to major or serious health problems. Stress lowers the body’s capacity to fight these diseases.
- Cancer: Stress may be a contributing factor in the development of breast and ovarian cancer. The risk of breast cancer increases considerably for a woman who has experienced more than one extremely stressful event in life.
Tips to manage stress
In addition to increasing physical and emotional problems, too much stress can lead to unhappiness and diminished productivity. Here are a few tips for managing stress:
- Reduce stress with diet: Eating a balanced diet is essential to maintain physical and emotional well-being. Our food choices play a vital role in increasing or decreasing stress levels. Certain foods have the power to increase levels of hormones that are natural stress fighters. Other types of foods can lower the levels of stress-producing hormones.
- Exercise for stress-relief: Exercise acts as a great stress buster. Physical activity has the potential to enhance mood by increasing the production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins.
- Focus on activities that alleviate stress: Instead of focussing on stressful activities try to spend time with friends and family. Find time for some favourite hobbies like sewing, painting, knitting, gardening, etc. Practise meditation, yoga or tai chi regularly as they have the ability to calm the mind.
- Consult a doctor: If nothing seems to help, it might be best to talk to a mental health professional. The techniques and therapies suggested by the doctor will surely help to put stress under control.