Stress related health disorders in women

The multi-tasking woman of today, who takes pride in juggling both domestic and professional commitments simultaneously, has unwittingly allowed stress to get the better of her. While it’s true that everyday life has become a hassle to many, a woman’s response to the demands of modern life often takes a heavy toll on her mind and body.

Stress and its impact

Stress can be defined as the response of an individual to a stimulus. The response, be it positive or negative, has an impact on the mental and physical well-being of the individual. During the process of a physical response to a situation that is loaded with threat or danger, the nervous system triggers the defence mechanisms through release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in one’s body as it prepares for an emergency action.

We have heard it often – that stress is not always bad and in fact it helps an individual to perform better and motivates him to excel. However, in the context of modern life accompanied by challenges of unrealistic goals and deadlines, broken relationships, unhealthy competitions and frustrations, stress is more often recognised as a negative response that demands a heavy price from one’s mind and body.

Stress is like spice – in the right proportion it enhances the flavour of a dish. Too little produces a bland, dull meal; too much may choke you”, says Donald Tubesing, the famous writer who has authored several books on stress management.

Even as stress helps individuals to rise up to the occasion and meet challenges, beyond a certain point it unleashes a negative impact that damages the physical, mental and behavioural aspects of life and dilutes its quality. Response to stress varies from individual to individual. The variation in is more pronounced between men and women. A woman caught in the nightmarish whirlpool of work-life balance, gradually gets used to a stressful routine on a daily basis thereby enabling chronic stress caused due to factors related to family, finance, work, relationships etc., to creep on her. Compounding to the negative impact is the stress caused by internal factors like pessimistic attitude, low-esteem, unreasonable expectations etc., Unable to bear the overload of stress, a woman’s body and mind wilt under the pressure, releasing warning symptoms.

Watch out for these manifestations

  • Stress manifests in the form of physical symptoms like aches, obesity, nausea, dizziness, palpitation, pains, indigestion, insomnia, hair loss, irregular periods, frequent infections like common cold, skin conditions and reduced sexual drive.Over exposure to stress hormones leads to all these health conditions.
  • The hormones released by the body in response to stress has a negative impact on the woman’s immune systemand makes her vulnerable to short term and long term ailments.Hormonal imbalances could lead to uterus problems like fibroids. endometriosis and irregular periods.
  • Women are more vulnerable to stress-related conditions as the effect of the brain chemical, oxytocin, released during stress is enhanced by the estrogen hormone.
  • Chronic long-term stress,that results in over production of the stress hormones, leads to weakening of the immune system, infertility and an increased risk of major diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
  • At the emotional level, a woman experiences low self esteem, depression, loneliness, moodiness, restlessness and a sense of being overwhelmed by agitation and unhappiness. The hormone cortisol, released during stress, often leads to stress-induced depression or behavioural disorders.
  • These manifestations at the emotional and physical levels take a toll on her behaviour and impair her cognitive abilities. She tends to either eat more or less,sleep too much or too little, neglects her responsibilities,isolates herselfand develops unhealthy habits like smoking and alcoholism.She also experiences memory problems, and suffers from poor judgment and lack of concentration.
  • Increase your tolerance level

Instead of crumbling under the pressure of stress, what can a woman do to shield herself against the damages caused by stress? Always remember that an individual’s ability to withstand stress and overcome its pressures is hugely dependent upon factors like her general outlook on life, emotional intelligence, her relationships and genetics.

It is imperative for women to understand that stress management is all about acquiring control over the physical, mental and emotional aspects of their lives. A woman, who intends to decrease her stress level, if not totally eliminate it, should take concrete steps to improve the quality of her life.

  • She should develop a strong support group consisting of her friends and family who can shield her in times of stress.
  • She should cultivate a positive outlook towards life that will help her face the challenges and take stress in her stride.
  • Sense of humour will go a long way in de-stressing one’s mind.
  • Learning relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises will infuse one’s mind and body with energy and serenity that can enable the stressed mind to relax and achieve clarity.
  • Engaging in physical activities like walking, jogging, dancing, swimming etc., isanother great way to keep stress away.

The genetic angle

Genetic studies now indicate that acute stress can alter the activity and control of one’s genes by altering the methylation of DNA. The stress-induced genetic expressions that are responsible for making an individual prone to illnesses are also likely to be passed on to the next generation through a process known as epigenetic inheritance. It is of paramount importance that a woman understands all the implications of becoming a victim of stress. Stressful experiences not only affect her mind and body, but also affect her genes which she, in all probability, would transmit to her children. Researchers say that epigenetic inheritance can make individuals predisposed to stress and make them less resilient in their response to stress. This leads to the onset of chronic diseases.

The all important key to one’s happiness in life depends on his or her ability to overcome stress. As a woman, if you feel that stress is inevitable in your life, you have a choice as to whether you want to let it impact your health or not. By adopting the right attitude one can convert the negative impact of stress into a positive one. Undue worry and stress not only add to tomorrow’s woes but also wipe away the peace and happiness that one is blessed with today!