The Impact of Stress on Women’s Health

Life can be stressful. But if you only feel it for short periods it’s not a worry, it’s natural. But if you feel stressed every day for long periods it can lead to some pretty severe problems. It drains your energy, dulls your interest and your libido and affects your enjoyment of life. It can also make your hair fall out. You could also feel out of control, suffer headaches, eat too much or too little, and have trouble sleeping.

Major causes of stress:

  • Death in the family
  • Moving House
  • Divorce, separation
  • Job loss
  • Major illness or injury
  • Pregnancy
  • Retirement

10 ways stress affects women:

  1. Heart disease, high blood pressure abnormal heartbeats – Competing for jobs in today’s environment has increased the risk of heart disease in women. Stress affects the cardiovascular system, leading to high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks.
  2. Cancer – Research suggests a link between stress and ovarian and breast cancer, with one study showing a risk increase of 62 percent in women who had suffered a death in the family or a divorce more than once.
  3. Hair Loss – In super stressful periods the levels of your sex hormones (called androgens) soar, and after about three months you could suffer hair loss. In some cases this can be severe and it can also affect skin and nails.
  4. Menstrual problems – Since stress messes with your hormones it’s no surprise that your menstrual cycle will be affected. Chronic stress disturbs the production of estrogen, the hormone that keeps your reproductive system working properly.
  5. Depression, anxiety – Many of the symptoms of stress are similar to those of depression (tiredness, loss of interest, anger etc) and anxiety, and chronic stress can lead to these more serious states that need medical attention.
  6. Constipation – When you suffer from chronic stress it affects the release of hormones by the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism. If these hormones are out of whack it often results in constipation.
  7. Muscle aches and pains – During stress the hormones send your heart rate and blood pressure up causing your muscles to tighten, ready for flight or fight. This can intensify any aches or pains in the body.
  8. Forgetfulness – Traumatic stress, suffered when your life feels under threat, has a severe impact on the hippocampus where memories are stored. Severe stress can shrink this part of the brain causing memory loss and an inability to store new memories.
  9. No sex drive – Oxytocin is the natural anti-stress hormone produced during childbirth, breastfeeding and in both genders during orgasm. It is increased by estrogen but reduced by testosterone. During stress, oxytocin is reduced, resulting in a lack of libido.
  10. Weight gain – Dieters in a study by the University of Kentucky, USA, who learned stress management strategies were more successful at losing weight than those who didn’t. This could explain stress-related binging on food, or comfort eating. Anorexia and bulimia are related to stress.