Stress is affecting our bodies and minds in more ways than one, and in the long-term, these problems can lead to something severe.
Stress is the reaction we have to a change or challenge. It is our fight or flight reaction. In the short-term, it is good for us since it makes us more alert and gives us energy due to the production of a hormone called cortisol. However, in the long-term, the effects are anything but good. The repercussions could be more pronounced for women than men.
Hormonal differences are one of the reasons that women could be more affected by stress. Women experience greater fluctuation in their hormone levels, which is associated with symptoms of stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. During periods of stress, the body focuses more on the essential functions and compromises on the other ones, like digestion and immunity. So, the body's immunity could be compromised if it's under stress. Another factor affecting stress is increased estrogen levels, as per a study Modification of female and male social behaviors in estrogen receptor beta knockout mice by neonatal maternal separation.
When women experience chronic or long-term stress, their hormonal balance is altered and they may have more severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms or irregular periods. It has been found that past abuse or trauma can also cause severe PMS, according to Early Life Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Abuse and the Development of Premenstrual Syndrome: A Longitudinal Study.
When women go through major life changes, stress levels are likely to increase to high levels. So, if you're planning to move homes, jobs or a city entirely, you might find yourself with lower libido, Dr. Irwin Goldstein told Huffpost. The elevated levels of cortisol can suppress the body’s natural sex hormones. However, sex can be good for decreasing stress levels since it releases endorphins, which is a feel-good hormone. It's also a great exercise, which too can relieve stress, according to Psychology Today.
Stress significantly reduces the probability of conception each day during the fertile window. So, when you're stressed you're not just likely to feel a reduced sex drive but conceiving would be harder too. Not being able to conceive when you want to is another factor that can increase stress, according to the Office on Women's Health.
Men are only half as likely to experience depression than women. Recent research published in Sage journals has examined differing stress responses and stress reactivity between the sexes to explain this difference. As per the Office on Women's Health, women are also more prone to anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. And the more symptoms of stress women experience the higher are the chances of experiencing depression and anxiety.
When women are under stress, they are more likely to gain weight than men. Stress causes an increased release of cortisol in the body and that can cause overeating as well as storing of fat in the body. Stress reduces the rate of metabolism, which can make it harder to shed those pounds, as per Huffpost. When women experience high-stress levels, they are also likely to have more sugar cravings, which adds to the weight gain.
While there are many external factors that contribute to stress, most of which are not in our control, how we manage it is largely up to us. One of the first steps is to identify your stressors and your patterns and work on them. "If you know what pushes your buttons, then avoid it. But there are stresses we have to accept, so we must change our reactions to them," explains Dr. Ann Webster, a health psychologist, according to Harvard Health Publishing. She recommends relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy and goal setting as some of the ways to reduce stress. If you feel like it is getting too much for you to handle on your own, do not hesitate to visit a doctor and take professional help in helping yourself.