Stress has truly been with us always, since our ancestors were hunting and gathering, being constantly watchful of Saber Tooth Tigers around every dark corner. As such conditions were common in our evolutionary past, our DNA has an instinctive mechanism known as the fight or flight response, named because of the way our bodies respond to stress. Immediate physiological responses, transmitted by the discharge of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, prepare the human body for this fight or flight, by boosting blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. Fact is that blood flow can increase 300 to 400 % in order to prepare the legs, brain and lungs for the extra demands of either fighting off a physical threat, or running to safety.
The problem, nowadays, is that this system often operates inappropriately. Traffic jams, deadlines, complex family problems are not life threatening, nonetheless, the flight or flight response is switched on anyway when we perceive we are losing control of the situation around us. This build up of stress, that over time allows the recurrence of fight or flight, can many times begin to alter our everyday physiology and health. As per most medical, neuropsychiatric and psychological research, women seem more prone to complex stress responses, largely for the reason that not only do women have the fight or flight response, they also have the tend and befriend response.
This response is merely to reach out to their support systems, friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues – which ameliorates for a time the chronic, plus acute, stress issues to which they react initially. But does this stress come back? It may, and with damaging outcomes if anti-stress strategies are not put in place. The outcomes of two new studies outline how ubiquitous and essentially how severe stress can be on women, as regards work/life balance. A survey was undertaken by the American Psychological Association, in 2013. There are tons of statistics that are quoted below, but these appear to be the benchmarks that depict the serious issue of women and stress.
- As per the APA, which surveyed 1,501 employed adults, women are more likely to report that they feel tense during work (37 percent of women versus 33 percent of men) and less likely to feel there are sufficient options for internal career advancement (35 percent of women versus 43 percent of men).
- More women report physical and emotional symptoms of stress versus men, like having had a headache (41 percent vs. 30 percent), having felt as though they could cry (44 percent vs. 15 percent), or having had an upset stomach (32 percent vs. 21 percent) in the past month.
- Merely 33 percent of women report being successful in their attempts to get ample sleep (compared with 75 percent who think this is important);
- Only 35 percent report success in their attempts to control stress (compared with 69 percent who think this is important);
- 36 percent report success in their attempts to eat healthy (compared with 64 percent who think this is important);
- Merely 29 percent are successful in their attempts to be physically active (compared with 54 percent who think this is important).
Furthermore, a 2012 study by the Families and Work Institute discovered that almost 50% of American women think they don’t have enough free time, for family, for themselves, creating an increase in stress which can then bring on a rise in cortisol, the hormone that dictates the fight or flight response. The entire stats prove that chronic and acute stress is common in women, perhaps because they are not fully aware of the how it begins. But, they will definitely be aware of its often radical outcomes.
Listed underneath are some physical consequences of chronic stress.
Heart Disease. Abrupt changes in heart rate and increased demands on the cardiovascular system can trigger angina even increase one’s risk for a fatal heart attack. Recurring increases in blood pressure can damage the inner lining of the artery walls, causing atherosclerosis.
Stroke. Recurrent episodes of stress can slowly worsen high blood pressure, affecting the cardiovascular system and the arteries that lead to the brain, therefore escalating the risk of stroke.
Depressed Immune System. Exposure to stress for longer periods can blunt the immune system response, escalating the risk for colds and more serious infections
Weight and Body-Fat Changes. Chronic stress can bring on either a loss in appetite and weight loss or an increase in cravings for fat, sugar and salt, which causes weight gain. A new study indicated that chronic stress could bring on abdominal fat accumulation in otherwise thin women. The researchers credited this fat build up to an increased secretion of the hormone cortisol, which is released at the time of stress – some release more cortisol than others. Central distribution of fat escalates women’s risk for certain diseases like heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Insomnia. Chronic stress makes it hard for people to get a sound sleep at night, which interferes with the body’s mechanisms for recovering and repairing itself. Not enough sleep can also worsen psychological stress and prevent one from identifying problems and dealing with them rationally.
Migraines. Studies have indicated that migraine attacks happen more often when one is under increased levels of stress.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A strong link has been correlated between stress and IBS.
Although there are many other physical diseases and psychological disorders linked with chronic and acute stress, there are still lifestyle changes anyone can take to alleviate stress. Given below are just a very few of the most crucial, especially #3.
Determine what is causing stress in your life. There perhaps are specific situations, people or events that make you feel nervous, anxious or fearful, keep a daily record. Maintain a logbook of physical symptoms and how you are feeling.
Strengthen your support system and chat with family and friends. You can cope well with stress if you have a strong social support network with family, friends and even pets.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” when somebody asks you to do a certain thing and you don’t have time for it. Also don’t hesitate when you need help. If you have many projects on hand, delegate some of them.
Simplify your life. Find out what activities are most important, and leave out the ones that aren’t. You will feel more rested. Plus, you’ll have more free time to spend with family, friends or even to be by yourself.
Improve lifestyle habits. Do regular workouts and eat healthy in order to manage stress. That way you get to improve weight, energy levels, self-confidence, and overall health and well-being, making it much easier for you to handle daily stressors.
Laugh! Laughter is a great stress buster! Regardless of how bad things are, laughing dissolves tension and seems to help brighten the situation. Don’t be negative — it only adds to your level of stress. Furthermore, laughter help boost the immune system, making you less prone to developing colds and other infections.
Take a media break or a news fast. According to a new research the emotional content of the news can affect mood and worsen sadness and depression.
Try mind-body exercises for example, breath work, meditation, yoga and biofeedback.
Last but not the least one of the most tough yet essential lessons to put into practice is learning that leisure time must be considered a necessity, not a luxury, for good mental and physical health. Do anything that is personally relevant, or maybe sometimes irrelevant, but nonetheless promotes a sense of peace, agency, and sanctuary. Leisure time lets the stressed woman re-evaluate, renew and re-balance, enabling stressful situations to become manageable.