Both men and women experience stress, though it’s the latter that tends to take the biggest hit from it, according to research. In addition, women are also two to three times more likely to experience other mental health related problems, such as major depression, anxiety disorders, and even suicide attempts. As for why stress itself affects more women than men, there are many contributing factors as outlined below.
Compared to men, women tend to have higher fluctuations and imbalances in their hormones, which can cause a rise in one’s stress level. These hormonal fluctuations and imbalances are common during puberty, menstruation, as well as pregnancy, though there are other external factors that can also play a role, including underlying medical conditions (particularly if they happen to involve the endocrine system) as well as taking certain medications. That being said, stress in and of itself can also wreak havoc on the hormones without there having to be anything medically wrong with you. If you are otherwise healthy, then the only way you can really balance your hormones is to eradicate stress from your life. The sooner you reduce your stress level, the happier your hormones will be. When you’re stressed, your cortisol levels will be higher than usual, and this could potentially lead to a decrease in the production of sex hormones, cause an imbalance with your blood sugar levels, as well as slow down your thyroid function. The more stressed you are, the more difficult it will also be for your body to produce the feel-good hormone known as serotonin. So, in order to balance your hormones, it is crucial that you minimize stress.
Women also live longer than men, thus making them predisposed to different problems with their mental health, including loneliness and bereavement, declining physical health, and more. Long-term stress can also have other long-term health effects. It can double a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, in addition to putting you at risk of developing heart problems, bowel problems (such as IBS – also known as irritable bowel syndrome), weight gain and obesity, issues with pregnancy (including having trouble getting pregnant), headaches and migraines.
To prevent the long-term health effects of stress, there are certain things that you can try to help reduce your stress level and ultimately improve your mood, emotions and cognition – and these can be effective in both women and men.
First, there are two important things the brain needs to reenergize itself: Rest and motivation. Overexerting yourself, for example, can cause fatigue. So can staring at computer and television screens for an extended period of time, which can also affect the brain even if you don’t realize it. Whatever it is that’s causing you to feel tired, take a break from it and either rest the eyes, or find something that makes you happy. It can be anything from partaking in a fun activity, to reading inspiring quotes that motivate the brain to feel happy. Some also find meditation to be a useful tool in combating stress, as it allows the mind to relax but be fully present at the same time.
You also need to pay attention to your diet. Sugar, for example, is something that should be cut from your diet. As mentioned earlier, when you’re stressed out, the body releases more cortisol – and, when you eat sugar, cortisol is also released which is what ultimately causes your blood sugar levels to spike. This can lead to you having even more unhealthy food cravings, trouble with sleep, and a decreased immune response. Rapidly fluctuation blood sugar levels can also cause you to feel more stressed and anxious. If you’re thinking of drinking a glass of wine after a long day, you might want to reconsider, as alcohol can increase the production of hormones which can also contribute to increased stress and anxiety, in addition to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Alternatively, if you’re wanting to stay awake and alert, then coffee is the most common go-to. However, too much caffeine can overstimulate the nervous system which can also cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and cause you to develop an increase in feelings of stress and anxiety. If you can, try cutting back on the amount of caffeine you drink – or switch to decaffeinated coffee.