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The Effects of Chronic Stress on Women's Health

Women are 30% more likely than men to experience the symptoms of chronic stress. They juggle multiple demands, from their work to their family to maintaining a happy relationship with their partner. Women are "on" all the time, due to being constantly available through text messages or email. 

Chronic stress can take a toll on women's long-term health. It's not limited to their physical health, but mental as well. 

This guide will go over the effects of chronic stress on women's health, its sources, and ways women can combat the effects. 

What Is Chronic Stress?

When you're faced with demanding situations, stress is a biological response within your body that causes it to release various hormones. These hormones can include adrenaline and cortisol. They prep your body for taking action, such as increasing your heart rate. 

As cortisol and other hormones are released when you're experiencing stress, it results in a temporary increase in your body's energy production. Other bodily processes that you don't need for immediate survival are often put on the back burner. This includes your immune system function and digestion. 

Chronic stress is when you experience a constant and prolonged feeling of stress. If untreated and ignored, it can negatively affect a person's health. 

Chronic stress happens when your automatic nervous system doesn't have a chance to activate its relaxation response regularly. This means your body is constantly in a state of "fight or flight" mode. 

Your body is designed to withstand short periods of stress, which is called acute stress. It's unable to manage long periods of stress. 

Symptoms of Chronic Stress

With chronic stress affecting both your mind and body, it can result in psychological and physical symptoms. These symptoms can cause a myriad of stress-related health issues. 

Some of the symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Decreased energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Pains and aches
  • Fatigue
  • Disorganized thinking 
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Feeling like you're losing control
  • Helplessness 
  • Muscle tension 
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Upset stomach
  • Difficulty concentrating 

It can be difficult to figure out if you have chronic stress. Since it lasts long-term, some people get used to the feeling of being stressed. It starts to feel normal to them. 

Recognizing chronic stress's effects on your body is the first step. Some questions you should ask yourself include:

  • Do you often feel irritated or moody?
  • Do you feel like you're always worried?
  • Do the smallest problems seem like a larger issue?
  • Do you feel like you don't have time to do the things you enjoy?
  • Do you get sick often?
  • Are you relying on alcohol or other unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with your stress?

If you've answered yes to one or more of the questions above, it's time to look at your sources of stress and ways you can cope and manage them in a healthy way. 

Causes and Types of Chronic Stress

Loneliness, high-pressured jobs, and even busy traffic can keep a women's body in a constant state of stress. Creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself and learning techniques to manage your stress levels can help backtrack the negative effects of stress on your body. 

There are a few types of chronic stress women can experience:

  • Environmental Stress: Where you work and live
  • Emotional Stress: Hard emotions like sadness, frustration, or anger
  • Work Stress: Pressures or challenges that relate to your job
  • Relationship Stress: How you deal with family, friends, partners, children, etc. 

In some cases, the various types of stress can affect multiple areas of a person's life. They add continual wear and tear to your body and cause long-term health effects. 

Long-Term Health Effects of Chronic Stress on Women

Chronic stress can make alterations to the hormone balance in a women's body. That can result in late, irregular, or missed periods. Women that work in a high-stress job are also known to have shorter period lengths of less than 24 days. 

Another effect of chronic stress is acne breakouts. As your cortisol levels get higher, it'll result in your body creating an excess of oil. That contributes to acne breakouts. 

Psychological and emotional stress that's significant can result in an imbalance in your body, contributing to hair loss. Chronic stress can disrupt your hair's lifecycle. Hair loss might not appear right away, taking three to six months to take full effect. 

Depression is another health effect of chronic stress. The body's elevated cortisol levels are often a depression trigger. 

Chronic stress can also result in decreased fertility. Alpha-amylase is an enzyme that's linked to stress. An increased level of it can sometimes make it more difficult to conceive. 

How to Manage Chronic Stress

The way a person manages their chronic stress varies. A technique that works for you might not work for another. There are some tips and tricks you can incorporate into your life to help you manage your stress and its effects. 

Physical activity and exercise is a great way to improve your mood. Try walking to start but add in more heart-pumping activities as you progress. Talk to your doctor first before making any major physical changes. 

You can also try relaxation exercises, like meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises. They can help reduce your feelings of stress while increasing your body's positive emotions. It also gives you the time to reflect on how you're feeling. 

Sleep is also important. Insomnia is another effect of chronic stress on your body. Prioritize your sleep and create a nighttime routine to put yourself in a relaxing mood. 

Giving yourself a bit of grace is also important in this journey. We're often not kind to ourselves. It's okay to be human and release your stressful feelings. 

Explore Ways to Reduce Your Chronic Stress

You don't have to live a life full of chronic stress. There are treatments for stress and ways you can reduce or eliminate your feelings of stress. Get your body feeling happier and healthier. 

Brown and Toland Physicians offer stress reduction workshops at no cost to you. Visit our website for more information on upcoming events.