» Getahead » Women! This is how stress affects your body

Women! This is how stress affects your body

By Alka Dhillon
August 19, 2018 12:41 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

'Believe it or not, your skin can tell you a lot about your stress level.' 

'Your immune system gets a huge knockout punch when stress attacks it.'

'Who would have thought that cavities were related to stress?'

'The problem is that it is not just confined to our belly getting bigger.'

In her book The Om Factor, author Alka Dhillon breaks down 11 ways how stress affects women's health. Read on...

People with stress have great trouble falling asleep. Photograph: Courtesy Dieter Robbins/

1. Weight gain

When we feel stressed out, a lot of us develop cravings for salty, fatty, and sugary foods to help us feel better.

That is why they are called comfort foods.

It's great to feel better, and there are studies that show that eating these comfort foods make a temporary difference.

However, the word 'temporary' is key.

The more you feel stressed, the more you will eat, and then the effect no longer becomes temporary.

The shocking thing is that even with a healthy diet you can gain weight -- especially in your midsection.

The release of cortisol, which is a big stress hormone, appears to boost abdominal fat.

Cortisol and insulin also appear to be the cause of stress-related food cravings.

The problem is that it is not just confined to our belly getting bigger.

Abdominal fat really increases the risk of diabetes and heart problems.

2. Broken heart

I mean this literally.

Acute stress immediately causes an increase in your heart rate, and your heart muscle contracts more strongly.

Your blood vessels begin to dilate and the amount of blood pumped to your heart and the larger muscles increases.

This can cause inflammation in the coronary arteries and result in a heart attack with repeated episodes of stress.

There is also a strong role that stress can play in hypertension or high blood pressure as your heart beats faster and your blood vessels narrow.

According to a July 2012 study conducted by Dr. Michelle Albert, a professor in cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, stressful jobs increased the risk of heart attack in women by an astonishing 70 per cent.

She and her colleagues analyzed data from over 22,000 women over the span of 10 years.

The data was derived from asking women questions about their sense of control they felt at work and job strain.

Although many of us cannot leave our current jobs for our dream jobs due to our circumstances, we can absolutely control the way we feel about our lives and find happiness in any situation.

Once this organ stops working, the game is over.

3. Reproductive function problems

Stress is known to affect hormone levels.

As a result, a woman under high stress may find that she has less frequent or even missed periods.

Periods can also become more painful.

Symptoms of PMS and menopause have been reported to worsen with stress.

Hormonal imbalances caused by stress may make the symptoms of endometriosis and fibroid tumors worse.

Furthermore, stress can also affect fertility.

According to some sources, the chemical changes that stress induces in the body can affect the maturation and release of the egg.

It can also cause spasms in the Fallopian tubes and uterus, affecting implantation.

This actually applies to both men and women as stress in men can affect sperm count and motility.

Then, infertility itself causes more stress.

The stress of desperately wanting a child and not being able to have one, the efforts to determine the root of the problem of not being able to conceive, and the painful and emotionally draining treatments are only a few of the results of hormonal imbalance. Truly, stress begets stress.

4. Digestive system problems

Stress-related symptoms may also include constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, bloating, and stomach cramps.

Tension can also cause other gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, which is very strongly related to emotional stress.

This is a condition when the large intestine gets very irritated, and instead of the smooth wave-like contractions that it normally has, it has spastic contractions.

The abdomen becomes bloated and the person experiences bouts of alternating constipation and diarrhea.

5. Rashes

Believe it or not, your skin can tell you a lot about your stress level.

Stress can cause breakouts of itchy rashes with raised spots or hives on the face, stomach, arms, and back.

Experts say that stress releases histamine, which causes the itchy bumps.

6. Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common form of headache and women are twice as likely as men to get them.

Usually this kind of headache is caused by tense muscles in the scalp and neck, and you feel the pain around the forehead or back of the head and neck.

These can really interrupt your day, whether the pain is debilitating or not.

Sometimes the headaches don't start until long after the stressful event or interaction has ended.

Many studies show that emotional stress is also a possible trigger for more severe migraine headaches even though the headache may show up after the acute stress has subsided.

7. Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep

People often hear the word insomnia and think it means that you have to be unable to sleep the entire night to have it.

That is not the case. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it's a form of insomnia.

We have all been there. We turn off the light looking forward to a few hours of deeply needed shut eye and . . . nothing.

But our brains are in overdrive thinking about that project we need to complete, bills we need to pay, the person we need to talk with, and a million other things.

This is unfortunately very common.

Studies show that 70 per cent of adults with chronic stress have trouble sleeping.

This also creates a vicious cycle. You are stressed because you can't sleep, and then the next day you are stressed because you didn't get sleep the night before.

As a result, you are again sleepy and exhausted the following day.

8. Trouble concentrating

Stress can make it really hard to focus and be effective in your daily life.

Handling all of your responsibilities becomes very over whelming, and you are a lot less successful at completing that 'to-do' list.

It can also cause confusion when you can't make seemingly easy and routine decisions, such as what to make for dinner or which outfit to wear to work the next day.

9. Forgetting things

How many times have you lost your keys or left your cell phone some where?

How many times have you missed a meeting or forgotten to pick up something you had been reminded to do only a few hours before?

Countless times in most cases.

Many studies have connected long-term exposure to stress to the shrinking of the hippocampus, that is the brain's memory centre.

The good news: research also shows that once the stress level comes back to normal, the size of the memory centre also follows suit. But who wants to shrink ANY part of their brain, even if it's for a little while?

10. Weakening of the immune system

Do you get sick often? If so, you may want to really rethink all that worrying you are doing.

Your immune system gets a huge knockout punch when stress attacks it.

There was a study conducted at the Medical Research Council's Cold Unit in England led by researcher Sheldon Cohen.

Researchers injected a cold virus in to 394 volunteers, and those who reported that they didn't have much stress in their lives had such strong immune systems that they were half as likely to get sick as the other volunteers who reported that they had very high stress levels.

People that have chronic stress have low white blood cell counts due to the shrinking of their thymus gland, which is responsible for making those cells.

This then makes them more susceptible to infection. A

lso, once you get a cold, stress scan really impair your body's ability to fight off the infection.

11. Jaw pain and cavities

Who would have thought that cavities were related to stress?

I was always told that it was because I ate too much candy.

But since the stress from your day doesn't magically disappear at night, women tend to unknowingly grind their teeth a lot at night.

This actually erodes their teeth, making them very susceptible to cavities.

In really severe cases doing this often can leave you with teeth that are worn down to nubs, and inmost cases it causes jaw pain and headaches.

A night guard from a dentist can help this, but why not just resolve the stress -- or better yet, as we'll learn how in the tools described in the chapters ahead, reduce the incidents of feeling stressed and hopefully eventually eliminate them.

While all these symptoms are stress related, nothing said here is meant to replace seeing or getting the advice of your physician.

On the contrary, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, take them seriously and follow up with our doctor.

Picture a beautiful clear vase filled with refreshingly cool water. Add to this water one drop of blue food colouring.

One drop tints the water only very lightly.

As you add more drops, the water gets darker and darker and eventually it is almost opaque.

The reason that one drop only tints it lightly is because the majority of the water is clear.

It is only when an abundance of colour is added that a real difference is seen. It’s the same thing with our bodies.

A minimal amount of stress will not have the consequences that a great amount of stress does.

With constant and consistent stress, you won't even recognise the woman in the mirror anymore.

You will be left to ask, if you have not already, the timeless question: 'What happened to me and how did I get here?'

Excerpted from The Om Factor: A Woman's Spiritual Guide To Leadership by Alka Dhillon, with the permission of the publishers, Pan MacMillan India.

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Alka Dhillon