How Stress Affects Women's Health

Learn the symptoms of stress, and how to fight it

The expression, “I’m stressed,” is a popular saying we’ve all used at one time or another. But what does it really mean to be stressed, and exactly how can stress affect a woman’s health?

Stress is our body’s response to change. We react to physical stresses, such as extreme hot and cold, and emotional stresses, such as the loss of a job or loved one. Stress is not simply an emotional response, but a physiological one. When we send out a stress signal to the body, hormones are released, causing digestion to slow, blood sugar levels to rise and the heart to pump more blood to the muscles, thereby increasing alertness and energy. This is an important function when dealing with a threatening situation that requires you to act fast.

These same hormones, however, will gradually wear down the body if called upon too frequently. The accumulation of everyday stresses places a strain on the body and can ultimately lead to symptoms such as stomach problems, susceptibility to colds and infection and exacerbation of inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders.

Symptoms of stress

It’s easy to maintain a healthy balance when things are going our way. Yet, when conditions are a bit overwhelming, we tend to inadvertently let stress wreak havoc on our bodies. There are some symptoms we can look out for to spot the onslaught of stress and bring us back to a more conscientious frame of mind. Symptoms of stress include chronic anxiety and depression, irrational behavior, a short temper, loss of appetite, binge eating, muscle pain, headaches, poor concentration, fatigue, disrupted sleep, skin problems and upset stomachs. It is important to manage these symptoms in order to avoid more serious health complications.

How stress affects the body

A woman’s hormone levels fluctuate during puberty, pregnancy, menopause and her monthly menstrual cycle. These hormonal changes leave women especially vulnerable to stress and its symptoms. Stress has been known to cause both heavy menstrual bleeding and lack of bleeding, endometriosis and fertility problems in women.

Heart disease is the number-one killer of American women and the most prevalent consequence of stress. Stress causes high blood pressure, which compels the heart to work double time, increasing the risk of strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure and diabetes. A Canadian Study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October of 2007 indicates that heart attack survivors with chronic stress appear to be more likely to have a second heart attack, die of heart disease or be hospitalized for chest pain.

Stress can also cause backaches, insomnia, weight gain and weight loss, stomach cramping and bloating and the loss of sexual desire.

How to manage stress

Stress can be managed by eating a balanced diet that is low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. Caffeine tends to aggravate stress, so it should be consumed in moderation. Exercise and relaxation are also important components to managing stress. Treat yourself to whatever helps you feel at ease, be it a yoga class, a 10-minute meditation or simply several deep breaths a day.

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