Do women handle stress differently than men? If you were to guess, who would you think feels more stressed out on a day to day basis–men or women? According to a study done by the American Psychological Association, women rated their stress worse than men. What happens to your body when you are stressed? The heart rate goes up, you feel more tense and cortisol is released to make your body ready to either fight or flee. After the stress passes, you feel more relaxed and your heart rate returns to normal. On the short term, the stress response has its purpose to get the body ready to deal with the situation; however, in the long term, chronic stress actually can be very harmful. In our current society there are threats ALL of the time–getting the kids ready for school, dealing with illness, driving to work (or using public transportation to get to work, or the store), and now dealing with the constant worry about either getting Covid or about side effects from the vaccine. The American Institute of Stress has indicated that this constant stress is the primary reason for about 60 % of visits to the family doctor. So why do women react to stress differently? In general the hormones released are the same in a stress response, except in women, there is more oxytocin released. And because women tend to be in more of the caregiver roles–either for children or aging parents, this can contribute to feeling the effects of stress differently–especially in middle-age.
So what are the symptoms that people experience that are related to stress? The most common symptoms are headache, insomnia, irritability, depression/poor mood, and drug usage. However, women may experience depression and low mood more frequently than men. Women experience tension headaches more frequently in a study done by the U. S. Office on Women’s Health. When more cortisol is released in the body, this leads to weight gain, especially around the upper abdomen and this weight is very hard to lose. Higher stress levels can also contribute to infertility (partly through irregular periods), and PMS symptoms can be worse as well. Not only that, chronic high levels of stress can impact interest in sex, and also it may take longer to become aroused. To top it off if someone has more stress chronically, it can lead to an increased risk for cardiovascular issues, brain loss and memory problems. Plus one’s immunity also seems to fail, when one is chronically stressed, putting a person at greater risk for contracting some form of viral illness, particularly Covid.
Obviously, it is important to be able to manage and handle stress appropriately to mitigate these health issues. There are are variety of steps one can take to do this. The first is to try to improve one’s sleep habits and getting adequate sleep is vital to manage stress. Secondly, regular exercise –even as simple as going for a walk or spending 10-15 min of the day doing yoga, tai chi, slow deep breathing, and getting a massage are effective ways to release some of the stress from day to day activities. Even when you get super busy, it is still important to include these simple steps. Of course, it goes without saying that having a healthy nutritious diet is paramount to making sure that your body has the capacity to handle the stress. Reduce your sugar intake as high sugar levels contribute to higher cortisol levels. There are some herbal supplements that are known to help deal with stress–these include ashwaganda, rhodiola, ginseng, holy basil, and cordyceps. Vitamins and minerals that are known to help with sleep and stress include magnesium, L-theanine, and taurine. Immune support is also helpful, and there are various mushroom extracts that have been shown to support the immune system. Essential oils have also been helpful to reducing stress, particularly lavender which promotes sleep. Finding things to be grateful for and laughing are great stress management techniques as well.