Moving house, planning a wedding and preparing for your first child are among life’s most stressful times. PICTURE: Supplied
Moving house, planning a wedding and preparing for your first child are among life’s most stressful times.
But women struggle to cope with the stress of these events far more, according to research. In fact, women worry more than men about major life events from Brexit to going on holiday, putting themselves at higher risk of insomnia, increased blood pressure and even depression.
The British Physiological Society’s survey of 2,000 British adults also found young people become more stressed at losing their mobile phones, while people in the east of England struggle more with their commute. Women worry more than men about situations, real and imagined – including their partner dying, losing their job, or their house flooding. It is thought they cope less well as they internalize feelings instead of letting them out.
Dr Lucy Donaldson of The Physiological Society said: ‘Men deal with stress primarily with a fight or flight response, but alternatively, women tend to adopt a “tend and befriend” strategy. ‘Because they don’t have that outlet of fight or flight, they potentially hold onto things, go over them in their minds and keep them inside. ‘In response to stress, women’s brains tend to be very active in the limbic, emotional areas when stressed, whereas men activate their pre-frontal cortex.’ The survey, conducted by YouGov, found the biggest gender gap in stress over the fear of a terror attack.
Although men and women suffer similar levels of panic about becoming parents, women reported higher levels of anxiety across a range of 18 different life events. These included fears over going to prison, falling victim to identity theft and becoming seriously ill. Studies show men have higher levels of stress hormones than women, but women release the ‘cuddle hormone’ oxytocin at the same time.
This means they are more likely to tend to others rather than rid themselves of their feelings through a more aggressive ‘fight or flight’ response. While stress can be good, in making the brain more alert and producing pain-killing adrenaline, too much can affect bodily processes. This can potentially lead to increased blood pressure, insomnia and even sexual dysfunction.
Dr Donaldson said: ‘While many people are aware of the effect of stress on mental wellbeing, it is also important to consider the impact on the body’s systems. ‘Your brain, nervous and hormonal systems react to stress and it affects your heart, immune system and gastro-intestinal system. ‘When stress is prolonged, these effects on the whole body can result in illnesses such as ulcers or increased risk of heart attack.’
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