Evidence suggests women are more likely than men to experience adverse health consequences from chronic stress, including mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Experts do not fully understand the reasons for this difference, but it may relate to how men’s and women’s bodies process stress hormones. Chronic stress can affect women in many ways, including weight gain, insomnia, low libido and difficulties concentrating.
Women’s Stress and Invisible Labor
Many women take on a significant burden of chronic stress due to invisible labor – unpaid, unsung work such as caretaking, housework, cooking and grocery shopping. Even in modern, progressive households where couples have a relatively even division of labor, one person tends to take on additional responsibilities known as “worry work.”
Typically, the chores and responsibilities involved in managing a family fall disproportionately on women’s shoulders. Having a never-ending to-do list running through your mind, remembering what needs to happen for the household to run smoothly and delegating various tasks to family members can be exhausting. One study published in the American Sociological Review describes this emotional labor as the responsibility of “anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions and monitoring progress.”
In addition to invisible labor stealing your time and energy, you may feel unloved or resentful if your partner and children don’t acknowledge everything you do. For example, even if other family members do their own laundry, you may continue to take responsibility for ensuring it gets done – buying detergent and fabric softener before they run out and ensuring clean towels and sheets are always available. That mental load takes a toll, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and unable to spare time for self-care.
How Does Chronic Stress Affect Your Health?
When you are living with chronic stress, even enjoyable activities may start to feel like a chore. Sometimes, you may be too busy to take time out and reflect on how stress is adversely impacting your well-being. In the constant rush of tasks to complete and responsibilities to accomplish, you could begin experiencing symptoms like these.
- Physical: Muscle pain and tension, fatigue, lethargy, difficulty sleeping, apathy and eating too much or too little can be physical characteristics of excessive stress.
- Mental: You may have trouble concentrating and making good decisions when you are overcome by near-constant pressures.
- Emotional: Some women react to extreme tension with irritability, mood swings, resentment and anger. You could also respond by deliberately isolating yourself from friends, work colleagues and family members who don’t understand what you’re going through.
Healthy Ways to Manage Chronic Stress
Many women turn to drugs and alcohol to find relief from chronic stress. While drinking and drug use may initially seem like a beneficial way to unwind, a few glasses of wine with dinner or even a doctor’s prescription for an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax can quickly spiral out of control. Ultimately, an over-reliance on these substances will contribute to a worsening substance use disorder. Not only do women become addicted more rapidly than men, but they also face unique stigmas and challenges that may discourage them from seeking treatment.
When your life and work feel unfulfilling and meaningless, a wellness plan that includes more personal time for self-care can help you manage stress and feel more empowered to set firm boundaries with people who ask too much of you.
At Canyon Crossing, we believe women deserve to live richer, happier lives without anxiety, depression, chronic stress and addiction holding them back. To learn more about finding your freedom and embracing your full potential, connect with us today.