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Stress in Women

How Women's Stress Differs; How Women Can Relieve Stress

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Updated May 05, 2010

It seems to be common knowledge that women are generally busier and more stressed than men, that they juggle more roles and are constantly rushing. But how true is this perception?

Researchers from The University of Arizona's School of Family and Consumer Resources decided to find out. They took a sample of 166 married couples and had each participant maintain a daily diary over the course of 42 days, where they recorded their daily stressors. The results indeed showed that women reported a greater amount of "high distress" days and fewer distress-free days than men.

Interestingly, the differences in levels of stressful days were due to women experiencing more onsets of "distress episodes" (having stress response triggered), rather than being more likely to continue in a distressed state from one day to the next. In other words, women didn't hold onto their stress more; they just experienced more episodes of being stressed.

This brings up some important issues regarding women and stress, that women need to be aware of:

  • Understand Gender Differences in Stress
    If you're feeling more stressed than your male counterparts, don't take it as a sign that you're not handling stress as well; it might be because you're experiencing more stress. Give yourself a pat on the back for handling what you already are, and move confidently to step two.
  • Eliminate What You Can
    It seems that people are always asking women (especially mothers!) to help with group projects like organizing office birthday parties or running the PTA. While many of these activities are fulfilling, they can add up to a significant amount of stress just by filling your schedule to the brim. While it can be very difficult to say no sometimes (especially if you tend to be a "people pleaser"), it's vital to your health and happiness that you keep in mind that saying yes to too many requests means saying no to things you need: time alone, hobbies, and other soul-nourishing activities. To maintain a reasonable level of daily stress, women need to get used to the idea of setting priorities and saying no.
  • Alter Your Perspective
    Much of your experience with stress can be eliminated with a change in the way we look at things. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn't! Altering the way you conceptualize the events you find stressful (viewing them as a "challenge" instead of a "threat," or an "opportunity" instead of a "crisis," for example) can actually make them feel less threatening and stressful. When you don't perceive a situation as a threat, your body's stress response is deactivated more quickly (or doesn't get triggered in the first place), and you're more able to avoid the effects of chronic stress. (See this article on cognitive restructuring for more.)
  • Have Some Quick Stress Relievers
    Because you can't eliminate all stress in life (and wouldn't want to if you could!), and because it may not be possible to stop reacting to stress (even with the most positive outlook), it's important to have some fast stress relievers in order to reverse your stress response quickly and prevent yourself from entering a state of chronic stress.
  • Maintain Regular Stress-Relieving Habits
    You can also prevent yourself from getting into an overwhelmed state (where you're more reactive to stress) by maintaining some regular stress relief activities as part of your schedule. Studies show that those who meditate regularly are less reactive to stressors that occur in their lives. Exercise is also an important option to remember; it can keep you physically and emotionally healthy. Journaling also has many benefits for its users. Adding one of these options to your morning or nightly routine could bring be especially useful.
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Sources:

Almeida DM, Kessler RC. Everyday stressors and gender differences in daily distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. September, 1998.

MacLean CR, Walton KG, Wenneberg SR, Levitsky DK, Mandarino JP, Waziri R, Hillis SL, Schneider RH. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice. Psychoneuroendocrinology. May, 1997.

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