We can all relate to feeling stressed — it’s a common experience that affects people of all ages, genders and backgrounds.
However, stress in women can go undetected as women tend to display and experience the symptoms of stress differently from men. For example, in women, it can present as chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, depression, and anxiety disorders.
That’s why we’re making sure that you can recognise the signs of stress in women and how it impacts women’s health, so you know what you can do to combat it. Read on to find out.
Causes of stress in women
Stress is often caused by a multitude of external and internal factors. For example, women can face a range of work-related stressors, such as long hours, high workloads, conflicts with colleagues or supervisors, and a lack of control over work tasks.
Then there’s the added burden of financial stress which can be caused by a low income, job loss, other unexpected expenses and, of course, the cost-of-living crisis.
Family and relationship issues, such as caregiving responsibilities, relationship conflict and parenting challenges, can be a cause of stress in women. Unsurprisingly, trauma triggered by events such as divorce, illness and bereavement can also lead to stress.
And all these environmental triggers may well be compounded by hormonal factors such as menopause — which, in itself, can cause stress, while the symptoms of stress can increase the intensity of menopause symptoms, leading to more stress.
Types of stress in women: what is chronic stress?
Stress isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience; women can experience many different types of stress, and potentially more than one type at once. These can include:
- Acute stress — this is a type of short-term stress that arises in response to a specific event, such as a work deadline or a traffic jam.
- Episodic acute stress — this type of stress occurs when a person experiences repeated episodes of acute stress, leading to a pattern of chronic stress.
- Chronic stress — this is a type of long-term stress that occurs when a person experiences ongoing, excessive stressors that they feel unable to control or manage. Interestingly, research shows that women are 30% more likely to experience this type of stress than men.
It’s important to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms of the type of stress you’re experiencing so that you can get to the bottom of what’s causing it and take steps to overcome it. Understanding the differences between each type of stress is key to this process.
Chronic stress, for instance, can have serious negative effects on both physical and mental health — keep reading to find out what these are and why they occur.
Symptoms of stress in women
Stress can affect us in many different ways. The symptoms of stress can be broadly split into two categories — physical and mental.
Physical symptoms of stress
When the body enters its stress response, it triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Effectively, this means your body is in its ‘fight or flight’ mode and is prepared to respond to a perceived threat. It does this by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate.
Of course, in this case, the perceived threat is whatever environmental and/or internal factors are contributing to this prolonged and excessive stress. But even if these factors aren’t necessarily life-threatening, your body, unfortunately, doesn’t know the difference. And when the body stays in fight or flight mode for too long, this response can become chronic, leading to physical symptoms and negative effects on health.
These physical symptoms of stress include:
- Muscle tension or pain
- Digestive issues such as stomach pain, nausea, or diarrhoea
- Fatigue or low energy
- Changes in appetite, either increased or decreased
- Insomnia or other sleep problems
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Chest pain or tightness
- Increased susceptibility to colds, flu, or other infections
- Menstrual changes or irregularities
Mental symptoms of stress
Chronic stress impacts mental health because when stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, are released, it affects the areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. As you can imagine, when these areas are continually impacted over a long period of time, it can reduce your ability to cope with the factors causing stress in the first place.
Unfortunately, this can create a vicious cycle which can have a significant negative impact on your quality of life, relationships, and overall wellbeing. As a result, chronic stress can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Oher mental symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Anxiety, worry, or nervousness
- Irritability or anger
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope
- Low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness
- Depression or sadness
- Mood swings
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Substance abuse or other unhealthy coping mechanisms
Health effects of stress on women
The collective impact of both the physical and mental impacts of chronic stress are likely to take a significant toll on women’s overall health in various ways, including:
- Cardiovascular problems — increased cortisol produced by chronic stress can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems.
- Digestive problems – the stress response can suppress digestion to conserve energy, causing issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach ulcers and acid reflux.
- Reproductive issues – prolonged stress can lead to irregular periods, infertility and even premature menopause. Chronic stress may increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as premature births and low birth-weight babies.
- Weakened immune system — as the stress response suppresses normal bodily functions, it can also make women more vulnerable to infections and illnesses.
- Poor skin health — stress can also exasperate conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis.
Stress management techniques
Effective stress management is not just about fighting fires. Rather, it is a process of reducing stress every day through simple, manageable techniques — so that when periods arise that test your endurance, you are well-equipped to deal with them.
Stress management techniques can include:
- Regular exercise — exercise can help relieve stress and boost mood by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
- Relaxation techniques — deep breathing exercises, meditation and yoga can help reduce stress levels and promote relaxation.
- Time management — prioritising tasks and setting realistic goals can help reduce feelings of overwhelm and stress.
- Social support — spending time with loved ones and engaging in activities that bring you joy can help reduce stress levels and promote feelings of happiness and connection.
- Self-care — taking time for yourself to engage in activities that bring pleasure and relaxation, such as reading, taking a bath or getting a massage, can help reduce stress levels.
- Healthy lifestyle habits — eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption can help reduce stress levels and promote overall health and wellbeing.
By incorporating these tips into your life, you may find that your stress levels decrease significantly — as well as your accompanying symptoms.
How to reduce chronic stress
Reducing chronic stress can be challenging, but identifying the source can be the first step to recovery. One simple way to do this is by keeping a diary so that you can spot any stress triggers or patterns that emerge. This can help you gain a much better understanding of what’s causing your chronic stress.
As well as this, try to incorporate relaxation techniques, such as those mentioned above, into your everyday life. Make sure that you prioritise yourself and engage in activities that bring you joy.
For long-term chronic stress reduction, it’s vital to put boundaries in place and understand that you can say no to unrealistic goals. Doing so will help reduce feelings of stress and stop you from becoming overwhelmed.
It’s important to seek professional help if you find that chronic stress is interfering with your daily life. A mental health professional can provide you with the support and tools you need to regain control.
Get in touch with Echelon Health
Because women’s symptoms are frequently milder, they can appear later in the illness, and they can occasionally be atypical, women experience certain diseases differently than men. Heart disease in women typically goes undiagnosed, which can result in more advanced damage and worse results than in males.
Additionally, several heart disease diagnostic techniques are less reliable in diagnosing heart disease in women than in men. Without any signs of chest pain, a heart attack can strike a woman. They might have nausea or vomiting, which are frequently mistaken for the flu or acid reflux.
The Cullinan Assessment is designed as a holistic experience, with body and soul in mind. In addition to the highly detailed health assessment, our clients benefit from a chauffeur driven round trip transfer within 100 miles of our Harley Street clinic and an overnight stay at The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, which includes a CBD oil deep relaxation massage.
The following tests are part of the Cullinan Assessment:
- Comprehensive bloods + Hormonal Profile + cancer markers
- Digital mammogram
- Transvaginal Ultrasound
- CT Coronary angiogram
- CT Chest
- CT Bone Density
- Full Body Mole Check
The Cullinan assessment is a pioneering preventative health assessment, dedicated to women, allowing them to take control of their health and gain an unparalleled insight into their body at a crucial stage of their lives.
However, if you need more peace of mind, we have the fully comprehensive Platinum Assessment. Combining the best imaging technology through our CT, MRI and ultrasound scans and years of experience among our medical experts, Echelon Health are able to detect up to 92% and 95% of preventable causes of death among men and women respectively, in one comprehensive assessment.
If you want to take charge of your health and manage your stress more effectively, book an appointment at Echelon Health.
Our female health assessment can check your current health and see what impact stress is having on you — enabling you to make the changes you need to lead a healthier, stress-free life.