In today’s world, stress is a loyal friend. It doesn’t discriminate in any way. Whether it is professional or personal life, stress has taken over like a plague. As per the American Institute of Stress, female hormones and brain chemistry offer some protection from stress, but women seem to be more deeply affected by the physical and emotional effects of stress than men. Shweta Bhatia discovers more
Mehvish Tanveer, 42, is a mother of three and a homemaker. Two years ago, her husband suffered a
major loss in his business, which caused financial problems. The troubles escalated quickly and the stress caused a big hit to their relationship. They started to fight and the arguments were getting out of control. The stress even affected her sleep. “There were times when I wouldn’t sleep a wink for two-three days straight. I was constantly tense about our situation and my husband’s changing temperament didn’t help the matter at all. I found myself feeling irritable, usually taking it out on the children. My energy levels had significantly dropped and I was unable to take care of my children’s needs or run the house. I was perpetually tired. The stress was definitely taking a toll on my health and family life. I felt trapped and don’t know how to deal with it,” says Mehvish.
Dr. Rosch, a clinical professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at New York Medical College and Honorary Vice President of the International Stress Management Associations states that a large reason for stress is hormones. Compared to men, women experience more fluctuation in hormone levels throughout their life. Whether it is menstrual, post birth, mid-life, menopause and post-menopause, hormones, for women, are their best and worst friend. Dr. Rosch’s studies reveal that the natural anti-stress hormone, oxytocin, is present in both sexes and is known to be enhanced by estrogen and reduced by testosterone. And while this does help women more than men, the catch is that women need more oxytocin than men to maintain their emotional health.
According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), prolonged stress effects can negatively affect a woman’s physical and emotional health. The levels may vary, but if you stress about work, family or relationship all at once, the effects are instantly visible. It usually starts with changes in menstrual cycles or hair loss. “I had just broken up with my boyfriend of six years and a week after that, I lost my job due to the recession. The stress of it all caused me to lose my appetite. Soon, I realised that I had gone a whole week without eating one proper meal. I was trying really hard to get a job and get over my cheating boyfriend, but nothing seemed to be working. I was living on coffee, diet sodas and two packs of cigarettes a day. Deprived of food, my body soon started reacting. My hair began falling, the smoking was ruining my skin and I had no strength or energy,” Aisha Moharrak, 27 shares. Seeking professional help to cope with her situation was the way forward for her.
The AIS has put together a list of factors that can help decipher the physical side of stress among women. They are:
EATING DISORDERS: Ever noticed how you are more likely to skip a meal after a bad day at work? Anorexia and bulimia are 10 times more common in women than in men and it has everything to do with stress levels. But it doesn’t always mean that you lose your appetite. Sometimes stress will cause you to eat more than normal.
STOMACH AILMENTS: If stressed, one will find themselves reaching for junk food and binging to the point where they feel sick. Common stomach problems include cramps, bloating, heartburn and even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This can cause weight gain or loss.
SKIN REACTIONS: Stress is one of the most common reasons for breakouts, rashes and hives in some people.
EMOTIONAL HEALTH: Women are better than men at hiding emotions. Repressed anger and aggressiveness
often leads to post-partum and early menopause depression in women.
SLEEP ISSUES: Staying asleep or having trouble falling asleep is common in women affected by stress. And while it is true that a good night’s sleep can help reduce stress, it needs to be balanced.
DIFFICULTY CONCENTRATING: Stress makes it very hard to focus on your day-to-day activities and this affects your productivity. This could make it difficult to deal with your job and long-term effects include migraines.
HEART DISEASE: Prolonged stress makes women highly susceptible to heart disease. It negatively affects the entire cardiovascular system and leads to high blood pressure, strokes and heart attack.
LOW IMMUNITY: Over time, the body’s ability to fight diseases reduces. This can manifest in any form, from a prolonged cold to a chronic condition.
Dr. Michael Hamarneh, psychiatrist with City Hospital Mediclinic Dubai, says, “No two women will have the same symptoms for the same amount of stress. It all depends on the kind of person you are. Whatever the stress you’re facing, try and eliminate the source of stress. If you can’t eliminate the main source of stress then try and eliminate the little stuff that you stress upon. This will gradually help you cope and help you to eliminate the situations that cause stress.”
Zareen Khan, 34, a Creative Director at a leading ad agency shares, “My job caused me to work late hours. The stress to meet deadlines was so high that I couldn’t be bothered to meet any friends or spend time with family. This led to arguments at home and I found myself fighting with my husband everyday, thinking that he was being unreasonable for wanting me at home. At the same time, I realized that my son wasn’t coming to me as he was constantly seeing me be aggressive. Deadlines were stressing me at work and the fights were stressing me at home. I became a recluse. It reached a point where my family called in an intervention and asked me to choose one factor of my life. The next day, I handed in my resignation. I’m a happier person now.”
Stress needs to be handled as seriously as you would treat any other health issue. If you feel overwhelmed by stress and its effects, you may find that therapy could help you get it all under control. With the need to live
competent lifestyles and the urge to succeed at everything, health and its related factors seem to be taking a toll. Coping with stress is one way to fight it but, sometimes, wrong methods are chosen to try and combat stress. If there is an increase in stress driven health issues, sometimes, there is an increase in bad habits as well.
AIS revealed that many women adopted unsavory habits in order to cope with stress. They resorted to smoking, drinking too much and binging on junk food. Moreover, women who deal with high levels of stress, whether in their job or personally, were found to withdraw themselves from friends, family and other activities. Some used pills or substances to relax. Many were found to fill up every minute of their day in order to avoid facing their problems. Others had a significant change in their tempers and were found to lash out, have angry outbursts and even display physical violence.
Dr. Hamarneh states that the following factors can help cope with stress and even significantly reduce it:
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: This plays a key role in reducing the effects of stress. You don’t have to be an athlete or spend hours in the gym to experience the benefits. Exercise releases endorphins that boost your mood
and make you feel good. Breaking into a sweat helps to relieve stress and gives you more energy and optimism. Yoga and meditation are other forms that help to a great extent.
SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT: One of the most efficient ways to rein in stress is to communicate with friends and loved ones who make you feel safe and understood. By building and maintaining a network of close friends, you can improve your resiliency to life’s stressors.
IMPROVE DIET: Food plays a very important role. By eating well-balanced meals, you can improve your physical wellbeing and your emotional health.