10 Sneaky Ways Stress Can Mess With A Woman’s Body
Stress can really mess up with people’s lives. It can drain out all your energy and the desire to do things that you once loved to do, including exercise. Additionally, it can drastically reduce your libido, thus affecting your sexual life as well.
While some bit of stress is an essential part of life as it makes you push your limits and set a new benchmark, everyday stress can be potentially harmful to your overall health. This is particularly true when it comes to a woman.
Women have several roles to play in a day – she is a daughter, a mother, a wife, a sister, a boss, and a role model, all at the same time. The amount of stress that a woman has to go through increases exponentially with each role that she has to play in life.
Our ancestors lead pretty simple and less stressful lives. For them, a stressful condition could have been an encounter with a tiger or a leopard. Today’s generation, on the other hand, is more stressed about everyday chores – being stuck in a traffic jam and getting late at work, not being able to pick up kids from school, nearing project deadlines, and not finding time to do what you always loved to do.
This post talks about how prolonged stress can damage the bodies of women. But before that, let’s examine why prolonged stress is more dangerous for women than men.
Response to Stress: Men versus Women
There are a number of challenges that a woman gets to face every single day, be it at home, at work, or in the society. All these challenges are bound to increase the stress in the lives of the women.
Men, too, experience everyday stress. However, their mechanism to respond to stressful situations is a bit different from that of women. At least, this is what research suggests. While men may react in a similar fashion in a number of situations, a study published in the journal Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that women may be more physically and emotionally sensitive to certain types of stressful situations. This is primarily because of the differences in the brain and body of men and women.
In the study, the researchers explain how women, instead of opting for fight or flight response, tend to negotiate as a response to stress. This kind of a response has also been recognized as “tend and befriend” response. Another team of researchers has theorized that it may have been more evolutionarily adaptive for women to protect her child than to attack the predators or run away from them.
This adjusting, negotiating, and caring nature of all women under stressful conditions can, however, take a toll on their bodies. Any stressful event in life marks an increase in the stress hormone known as cortisol. This hormone can do a plenty of things to your body, apart from making you suffer emotionally and psychologically.
Let us look at the top 10 ways in which stress affects the health of women by messing up with their bodies.
#1. Libido and reproductive system
Specific situations in the life of a woman that makes them stressed have the ability to lower libido or sex drive. This is because increased levels of cortisol suppress the production of body’s natural sex hormones.
Additionally, chronic and prolonged stress can throw the menstrual cycle of a woman off balance by messing up with the hormonal system. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that women who are exposed to psychological stress at the workplace are 50 percent more likely to have shorter menstrual cycle length than women that are less exposed to stress at work.
#2. Increased risk of heart disease
Heart disease among women is more common than it actually sounds. In fact, it is the number one killer of women. A study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh suggests that women who experience three or traumatic events in life, including a road accident, menopause, or the death of a child, are more likely to suffer from a heart disease or stroke.
#3. Lower metabolism and weight gain
Research suggests that women who are constantly stressed end up metabolizing fats and sugars in a different way than women who are neither stressed nor anxious. Stress can alter the metabolism and slow it down, thus making women gain weight.
This is the primary reason why increased cortisol levels have been associated with a greater waist-to-hip ratio. Such women experience sugar cravings and hunger pangs more often. All these factors contribute to weight gain.
It has been scientifically proved that weight watchers who are better able to follow stress management techniques are more successful at losing weight than those who do not follow such tactics.
It is natural for a woman trying to conceive for months to get worried and obsessed about why is she not able to get pregnant. However, getting stressed about the failure to conceive can actually make things worse.
A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility suggests that women with high levels of alpha-amylase can actually have a hard time getting pregnant. Alpha-amylase is an enzyme that has long been correlated with stress. It is secreted by the parotid gland into the saliva when the nervous system produces specific compounds that initiate a stress response.
#5. Digestion issues
Stress can mess up with a woman’s digestive system. It can trigger the production of stomach acids that can cause indigestion, bloating, and other types of gastrointestinal discomfort. In severe cases, it may even lead to the development of gastric ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.
Additionally, stress affects the release of hormones by the thyroid gland and as a result, the entire metabolism is affected. This can lead to constipation.
#6. Acne and hair loss
Stress increases the levels of androgens in the women’s body. Androgens are the male sex hormones or testosterone that can cause acne to flare up. Additionally, increased cortisol levels trigger excess oil production that can further flare up acne. Apart from acne, stress can manifest itself in the form of rashes in other parts of the body as well.
Loss of hair is yet another side effect of stress. This can be attributed to a sudden spike in androgen levels. The worst part is that hair may actually start to fall out at a double rate three to six months after you experience a stressful situation!
#7. Reduced immunity
Anxiety and stress can create a havoc on your immunity. Regular stress can cause your eczema to flare up or it can even trigger a Staph infection. Prolonged exposure to stress gradually weakens your immune system and its ability to fight off infections, including flu and a common cold.
Research suggests that women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men when exposed to a stressful situation in life.
#9. Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
Women, when exposed to stress, tend to suffer from insomnia. Suddenly, they are either not sleeping at all or sleeping too much as a response to stress. This kills productivity while leading to irritability, a decrease in motivation, and difficulty in concentrating.
In fact, traumatic stress can affect the hippocampus, the memory controlling area in the brain. Constant stress can gradually shrink this area, thus making it difficult for women to remember previously stored things or feed new things into their memory.
When a woman is stressed, her body naturally pumps hormones to help with the fight or flight response. There is a rise in the heart rate and blood pressure and a combination of these responses tighten the muscles. Thus, women with a backache because of sedentary jobs or lifestyle may experience amplified stress-related back pain.
About The Author:
Guneet Bhatia is a freelance medical writing professional and has catered to the requirements of more than a dozen clients located across the globe. She is an aspiring novelist who intends to live a nomadic life with a vision to empathetically touch as many lives as a person can during his or her lifetime. She has a vested interest in breaking the health myths that people often surround themselves with. Connect her on LinkedIn.