More Women Than Men Reporting Higher Levels of Stress

Stress is on the rise for women — nearly 50 percent of women in survey said their stress has increased over the past five years, compared with only 39 percent of men

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Stressed out? How you perceive it and respond to it can vary depending upon your gender, according to the American Psychological Association.

The organization’s website states that men and women report different reactions to stress, both physically and mentally. “They attempt to manage stress in very different ways and also perceive their ability to do so — and the things that stand in their way — in markedly different ways,” according to the site.

For example, women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms to which stress is contributory, including headache, feeling as though they could cry, upset stomach, interrupted sleep and more.   

According to the association, stress is on the rise for women. Nearly 50 percent of women surveyed said that their stress has increased over the past five years, compared with only 39 percent of men.

Compared with men, women usually work more. They complete more cooking and housekeeping tasks, manage the household’s social calendar and primarily care for their children or elderly relatives, all on top of working a job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey in 2015, adult women spend an average of two hours, 15 minutes on household activities daily, compared with men’s one hour, 25 minutes. Both indoor and outdoor chores were included. The bureau also states that women spend twice as much time caring for others in the household than men. About 72 to 75 percent of adult women have worked full-time since 1968.

Taking care of themselves doesn’t end up high on many women’s to-do list.

Cutting back on commitments, controlling screen time, eliminating or setting boundaries on toxic relationships and lowering self-expectations can lower possible sources of stress; however eliminating stress isn’t possible. Plus, some circumstances that contribute to stress are generally pleasant — a promotion, new baby, or surprise party. Managing stress is vital for reducing its ill effects.

Ron Pratt, licensed acupuncturist and owner of Ronald Pratt Acupuncture in Buffalo, advises women to focus on physical self-care, such as quality sleep, hydration, eating right and exercising. Because without self-care, physical issues often manifest.

“There is often a physical component to dealing with stress,” Pratt said. “Mental, emotional and physical health are inter-related.”

While under stress, hormones secreted to aid in physical defense can divert energy from digestion may reduce the absorption of nutrients.

Pratt said an old Chinese proverb goes, “Eating a good meal standing is like eating a rock.”

In modern times, eating while watching the news, checking email or skimming through social media can result in stress-filled eating.

“It seems like a good way to multi-task, but it’s not good for you,” Pratt said. “If you take a break to eat, you’ll think clearer.”

He also advises cultivating a habit of gratitude and taking time each morning to “enjoy your cup of coffee or take the dog for a walk, which gets your mind in the right place.”

Modalities such as massage, talk therapy and acupuncture can help reduce the effects of chronic stress.

Maintaining a positive outlook really does make a difference. In the midst of a difficult circumstance that could be stressful, look at possible solutions and what’s going right.

Taking time for pleasurable pursuits can help manage stress, but it’s important that the activities don’t require a specific outcome. For example, if bowling a perfect game makes the activity stressful, walking in nature or taking yoga would provide greater stress relief.

“Exercise helps put you in a more relaxed state mentally and emotionally,” said Victoria Fontana, certified personal trainer and certified health coach with Crunch in Amherst. “It releases endorphins, which help you feel better. In general, when you exercise, you feel better about yourself and you feel like you accomplished something.”

She added that exercise may also help improve lifestyle choices, which in turn can cause a positive effect on stress.

“To have a positive effect on stress, it doesn’t have to be traditional lifting weights or running on a treadmill for an hour,” Fontana said. “Anything that gets your endorphins going and gets you moving is good.”

It doesn’t take long for exercisers to notice the effects. Aubree Shofner, certified personal trainer and is a group fitness instructor and nutrition coach at Jada Blitz Training, Inc. in Williamsville, said that it takes about 10 minutes for people who are exercising to notice a reduction in stress.

“That’s why people come in and tell us, ‘I’m so glad I came and I feel better,’” she said. “Those endorphins help combat the stress hormones.”

Shofner added that the average gym is becoming less of a male-dominated space and more women are coming out to lift weights and seek fitness.

“I’m seeing more women with the confidence to come in and meet with a trainer,” Shofner said.