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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Women and Stress: Is Your Job Making You Fat?

All of us need some stress

Men and women respond to stress differently, not only emotionally, but also physically. Typically the greatest stressor for men is performance failure and for women, a relationship loss. Men might let a rival's efforts or their employer's agenda set the level of demand, losing focus on the self to preoccupation with winning or attaining an extrinsic objective. A man's self-esteem often is surrounded by adequacy of performance while a woman's self-esteem is built around adequacy of relationships.

When a man is feeling stressed, they typically do not talk about their feelings, thinking it's easier to just let the situation "lay low" and move on. The way they manage their stress is often by letting challenge and competition set the pace. For example, a man might manage his stress by going golfing - it's a common escape - they act out their stressful energy while enjoying the companionship of other men. During their golf game, they will rarely take time to discuss their feelings or stress amongst each other but will finish their game feeling relieved and revived.

A woman, on the other hand, typically will manage their stress by "telling their stories" to friends, family or coworkers. They tend to talk out the emotional experience; process what is happening and discuss what options might be available. Nearly 50% of American women say they don't have enough free time, according to a study by the Families and Work Institute. Women look forward to their "free time" as a way to tell their stories so when there's not enough free time, stress builds and builds.

High stress levels in women (as well as men) create an increase in hormones. There are three primary hormones which play a role: cortisol, epinephrine, and oxytocin. Cortisol lowers the effectiveness of the immune system while the other two in combination raise blood pressure and circulate blood sugar levels. Men and women both produce the same amount of cortisol during stress but when cortisol and epinephrine rush through the bloodstream in a stressful situation, oxytocin also comes into play. Oxytocin is released from the brain. It also counters the production of cortisol and epinephrine and promotes nurturing and relaxing emotions. While men also secrete the hormone oxytocin when they are stressed, it's in much smaller amounts, leaving them on the short end of the stick when it comes to stress and hormones. Hence, the difference between how men and women react to stress. Women tend to have more nurturing, befriending types of responses while men tend to lean toward the tried and true responses by either bottling it up or escaping or by fighting back. Women and men just tend to handle things differently.

There are other consequences for women who have high stress levels. One of the major indicators of high cortisol levels (stress) is weight gain in the abdomen and fatigue. Women experiencing these symptoms should visit their doctors for a routine hormone level test, which can determine if the cortisol levels are too high as a result of stress. If that proves to be the case, reducing stress through methods such as yoga, regular exercise, seeking professional help through counseling might be considered.

If you are experiencing stress and anxiety as a result of your workplace, please seek professional help and contact

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