Stress is a constant part of modern life, but the way that it physically affects men and women is strikingly different. While men are more susceptible to long-term stress and alcohol abuse as a result, women are more sensitive to and display more symptoms in response to acute, daily stressors.
People experience stress differently and for a wide variety of reasons. Some succumb to work pressures, while others battle family or relationship struggles that contribute to chaos and distress. Regardless of the cause, women and men process stress, on the whole, quite differently, with women more susceptible to depression and anxiety as a result of chronic stress.
The Different Ways Stress Affects Women’s Health
All stress does not appear equal, and it can influence a woman’s physical, emotional, and mental health all at the same time, or in differing levels. Generally speaking, women feel and experience more symptoms of stress than men do, which could be a partial reason why women suffer from psychiatric illness in higher numbers.
What one person feels as stress could be another’s version of a normal Tuesday. We all have a unique makeup that characterizes how we handle certain types of stress. For some, taking risks is part of the thrill of living, whereas others would buckle under the weight of stress. It isn’t just major stressors either that can take their toll, but little everyday things that can add up, like financial problems, health issues, parenting, job changes, relocation, or family conflict.
Major depressive disorder is significantly higher in women, affecting them 1.7 times more often than men. Many factors can contribute to depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges, but a large reason may be the higher level of hormones that women have. While women have need of these hormones for reproduction and overall health, imbalances in hormones can occur as a result of stress, or can lead to worsened symptoms of stress. Hormone health can feel like a vicious cycle of ups and downs when it is disturbed.
Physical signs of stress can include heart palpitations, body aches and pain, digestive upset, inability to sleep well, and more. These can be interwoven with anxiety and depression, as well as emotional health, and can lead to a greater stress burden. Fatigue and poor sleep alone can worsen stress levels significantly.
6 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress in Women
It’s not always easy to get rid of the situations or factors that are causing stress, but we can improve how the body and mind cope with the effects of it.
Research supports many natural ways of addressing stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and many other symptoms associated with higher stress levels and a chaotic, burdensome modern lifestyle.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The modern diet is typically deprived of enough of these anti-inflammatory fats which are naturally found in fatty seafood like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. The body relies on a specific balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but the modern American diet is heavy on omega-6s, which are found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
Omega-3 fats reduce inflammation and anxiety even in healthy adults, according to research. The brain is especially susceptible to inflammatory effects, and even depression has largely been linked to being a disorder of brain inflammation.
Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD oil, has risen in popularity in the last year and for good reason. It’s used for a wide variety of purposes, but research supports CBD oil as an effective remedy for anxiety disorders, OCD, PTSD, social anxiety, and depression.
While dosing isn’t uniform, it can be used both acutely and long-term, depending on the need. CBD works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system in the body. It helps to downgrade the level of brain response to anxious thoughts and stimuli. It’s also an effective way to address systemic pain and other physical symptoms that might be associated with stress.
A non-essential amino acid, theanine is naturally found in tea leaves. It is well supported by research to reduce anxiety and boost mental focus. Theanine interacts with glutamate receptors in the brain and downgrades the stress response without causing drowsiness, making it a better alternative than other herbs or supplements which lessen anxiety but are also mildly sedative, like passion flower or valerian root.
Theanine is also not habit forming and doesn’t seem to have any major side effects. It works on an as-needed basis or can be taken regularly.
Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, utilizes herbs and other forms of treatment, but acupuncture is a mainstay and backed by research for many things — including its ability to lessen the perception of stressful life events.
Acupuncture is also one of the longer-lasting stress busters, with positive effects showing up for at least three months after treatment ends.
Exercise is good for just about everything, and stress ranks near the top of the list. Yoga is so powerful for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression that it is literally considered to be medicinal. The effect was noted after just 12 sessions and was superior to groups who were focused on walking only.
Yoga has other healthy benefits, too, ranging from helping promote natural weight loss, to healthy sleep, to balanced hormone levels.
Society is more sun-phobic now than any other time in history, yet research shows that risk from UV light exposure is only a very small percentage of global disease. Sun exposure is, however, vital for healthy vitamin D levels — which is one major reason why natural sun exposure, without sunscreen, can help to fight stress, anxiety, and depression.
Vitamin D, which is more hormone than vitamin, is produced in the body in response to sunlight’s effect on cholesterol. It is available in supplemental form, but one session of natural exposure likely produces five to ten times more D than is considered safe for supplementation. The body only produces as much vitamin D is needed, making sun exposure the safest way for most people to boost their D levels. When taken internally, it can become toxic, so should not be supplemented unless vitamin D blood levels have been tested and a doctor has suggested an appropriate dosage.