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6 ways stress affects women differently than men

POSTED: March 15, 2017 9:51 a.m.
Courtnie Erickson/

How does stress affect your body?

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We all have stress, but our gender plays a role in how we react and are affected by it. Women are not only more likely to suffer from chronic stress, but studies show that stress affects the female body much differently than a man’s. Here are a few ways that common enemy of us all — stress — affects women much differently than men:

Hormones

When stressed, two hormones — cortisol and epinephrine — raise your blood pressure and blood sugar. For women, as these two hormones rush through your body, oxytocin is released from the brain. This hormone promotes a nurturing and relaxing feeling in your body. Men also release oxytocin, but in small amounts, so it makes little difference in a stressful situation. The release of these hormones in women causes them to befriend and care for others to calm down and handle stress, while men tend to take a fight or flight approach.

Brain Function

In 2010, a team of researchers led by Mara Mather studied various parts of the brain when both men and women were under stress. The team of researchers had stressed individuals look at images of angry faces. They found that when stressed men looked at these images, they had low brain activity in areas of the brain that help them process the emotions of other individuals. However, when women were stressed, emotional and social areas of their brain showed a significant amount of brain activity.

Cardiovascular

Stress increases the risk of heart disease for women if the woman has experienced menopause. According to the American Psychological Association, if women are pre-menopausal, their levels of estrogen help blood vessels respond better to stress than post-menopausal women. However, both men and women are at risk for heart attacks or stroke if they have persistent chronic stress or acute stress.

Menstruation

Stress also has profound effects on a woman’s menstrual cycle. Too much stress can cause irregular or skipped periods. Stress can also affect the length of your cycles and can cause your periods to be more painful than usual. In addition, stress can increase PMS symptoms such as increased cramping, bloating and mood swings.

Reaction to Stress

Not only does stress affect your body physically, it also wreaks havoc emotionally as well. In a survey by the American Psychological Association, 44 percent of women surveyed felt like crying when stressed, where only 15 percent of men said they do. However, gender doesn’t play too much of a role when it comes to how stress affects your appetite. Twenty-two percent of women surveyed said stressed changes their appetite while 19 percent of men said it changed theirs as well.

There’s more stress for women

While both men and women suffer from stress, women suffer from it more. A study at the University of Cambridge found that women in America and Western Europe were stressed out twice as much as men. The study also discovered that people in America were the most stressed and every eight in 100 people suffer from anxiety. Additional studies and research from other institutions have found that women stress over money, family issues and the health of family members more than men.

What to do about it

If you suffer from a significant amount of stress in your life, there are things you can do every day to keep yourself healthy and lower your stress. A few recommendations include:

  • Limit your alcohol and caffeine. Try to focus on drinking your recommended water intake each day.
  • Focus on yourself. Practice yoga, meditate, listen to music, focus on your breathing.
  • Exercise each day and eat well-balanced meals.
  • Spend time socializing with friends and family members who build you up. Stay away from negative people or those who may trigger your stress or anxiety.
  • Sleep.
Next time you feel stressed, remember that it's normal — and take the right steps to handling it and helping your body return to normal.
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