Modern everyday life is stressful for everyone, but stress hits women differently than man, new research shows
If you’ve been neglecting your stress — isn’t everyone anxious right now? — it may be time to take action. This is due to the fact that even if you are generally healthy, stress is still causing harm. The most recent evidence? Researchers have recently shown a relationship between high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and brain atrophy and memory impairment in healthy middle-aged persons. Moreover, the impact was more prominent in females than in males.
This new research highlights an essential point. Although stress affects the entire body, the primary target is the brain. It’s not simply the impacts of cortisol; your gray matter perceives and interprets teeth-grinders such as traffic delays, personal slights, and financial problems. Fortunately, brain-focused research is leading to new, more effective strategies to alleviate stress.
But first, let’s examine how and why your brain’s natural responses make you more susceptible to tension’s stings and arrows.
How stress influences the brain
Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and founder of the Mayo Clinic Resilience Program, asserts that aspects of the brain’s architecture that served us well thousands of years ago today render us vulnerable to negative emotions and mental exhaustion, both of which amplify our stress. Despite the fact that our brains have developed over time, “the speed of life today is the primary stressor; it’s more quicker than our brain’s capacity to adapt,” he adds. Consequently, we are frequently left with insufficient time and resources to meet the daily challenges that life presents, which contributes to a dwindling sense of control over our lives. It has been demonstrated that perceived loss of control is a major source of stress.
In his book Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century, Dr. Sood identifies a variety of cognitive traps that commonly entangle our minds. Three of the most difficult are:
When gigantic predators roamed the Earth, a scanning, outwardly-directed attention served humans well; however, this focus is now inwardly-directed. Currently, we are 80 percent of the time in a condition of mindlessness, even if we are unaware of it.
According to studies, this situation reduces our happiness, and the more unhappy we are, the more our attention wanders and our thoughts accumulate. Dr. Sood compares it to having a large number of open files on your computer, only they are in your brain, distracting you and demanding your attention. Our reliance on technology, a continual source of distraction, contributes to our difficulty to concentrate.
Survival depends on the brain’s (mostly the amygdala’s) capacity to identify physical and emotional dangers. Moments or occurrences that induce dread increase our heart rate, which the brain retains as knowledge that may serve as protection against future danger. This so-called negativity bias causes us to focus more on negative news than positive. Our brains also secrete chemicals that enhance certain memories, further ingraining them in our thoughts. As a result, we easily recall negative experiences. The outcome? More anxiety.
A few of body organs (such as the heart and the kidneys) may continue functioning indefinitely, but the brain is not one of them. After working hard, it needs relaxation. This can occur in as little as four minutes or as much as two hours, depending on how monotonous and taxing the task is. Your eyes feel tired and you start making mistakes, becoming inefficient, losing your willpower, or experiencing a decrease in your mood when your brain is taxed (it must transmit this indirectly, as it lacks pain receptors). Brain weariness leads to stress, and stress leads to brain fatigue in an endless cycle.
Why women are more affected by stress than men
It’s almost as though stress had it in for women. In yearly surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association, women have consistently reported higher levels of tension than males, as well as more stress-related physical and mental symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomachs, weariness, irritability, and sorrow.
In addition, midlife women face more stressful situations than men and women of any other age, according to an ongoing study by the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Excessive stress may potentially result in chronic disease: According to a new study from the University of California, San Francisco, the combination of long-term home and work stresses and trauma-related stress nearly doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes in older women. Additionally, women are more susceptible to stress-related mental health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Here’s the rationale: According to Dr. Sood, a triple whammy renders women more susceptible to stress and anxiety. First, the brains of women make them more sensitive to pressures and a perceived lack of control than males. The highly active limbic regions of women’s brains, which help regulate emotions and memory, cause them to recall slights and injuries more readily. Another example of the negativity bias at work, ruminating and having difficulties letting go of these bad emotions strengthens the brain circuits of these negative emotions, which raises women’s stress.
In addition, the many responsibilities of parenting and being responsible for the household’s well-being cause women’s attention to be more scattered. As previously said, a distracted mind is also a source of stress. Dr. Sood explains that a mother’s protective radar is constantly on for her children, which makes her more sensitive to threats and more inclined to linger on them than her spouse.
What males do not always understand
Obviously, the disparities in how men and women perceive tension do not exist in a vacuum. They influence how spouses, friends, and coworkers perceive and interpret the world, and sure, they frequently lead to conflict. Consider a moment when you had an upsetting quarrel with your supervisor, if you are a woman. When you complained to your spouse about how your employer looked at you, what she said, how you replied, how you felt, and what she said next, he may have glazed over and suggested that you let it go and talk to her tomorrow. Depending on whether emotion was predominant, you either pushed the dialogue into an argument or withdrew to contemplate the situation.
New research are examining how the sexes handle stress in the present and determining the causes for the disparity. Using fMRI to measure brain activity, Yale University School of Medicine researchers discovered that while imagining a personalized, highly stressful event, the action- and planning-oriented regions of men’s brains were active, whereas women’s brains were engaged in visualizing and cognitively and emotionally processing the experience.
In the second round of the trial, when both men and women experienced significant anxiety, areas of the brain that were active in women were dormant in males. According to Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center, this shows that women tend to become absorbed in processing their stress, ruminating on it in their brains and reinventing it.
“Women manage by discussing their anxiety and explaining their feelings and circumstances,” she explains. This might increase their likelihood of ruminating on the difficulties. Men are unable to access this cognitive-processing region of their brains and “are more inclined to instantly consider doing something, as opposed to vocally expressing their sorrow. It’s just the way we’re built differently.”
This may explain why women are more likely to provide emotional support to a worried individual, whilst males are more likely to offer guidance or practical assistance such as money. According to Jennifer Priem, Ph.D., associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University, all genders desire emotional support during stressful situations. Therefore, stressed men and women prefer to receive assistance from women.
Bridging the gender gap in stress
Priem discovered that conflicts between partners emerge when each partner has a distinct sense of what constitutes stress. When people are really anxious, their spouses are less likely to give assistance if they believe, “If I were in this circumstance, I wouldn’t consider it to be that serious.” So how can you obtain the desired answer when you need it?
Ask your partner to just listen
Sinha states that listening to and validating the sentiments of the other person is priority number one. “Therefore, simply stating in a nonjudgmental manner, ‘You’re extremely irritated by this,’ is affirming and will alleviate someone’s uneasiness.”
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Explain how you feel when he disregards your experience.
“When a partner minimizes the relevance of something, the stressed individual may cling to it harder or feel they must convince the other person that it’s genuine and that they have the right to feel that way,” Priem explains. “You may say, ‘I’m quite unhappy right now, and I’m irritated that you appear to be making light of my emotions. Even if you don’t understand, it would make me feel better if you were more receptive to the fact that I’m sad.
Consider yourself compassionately
Sinha states, “Women tend to be more self-critical about their inability to manage their emotions.” Therefore, they may interpret a partner’s word as judgemental even though he did not intend it as such. In that situation, forgive yourself and let it go, and give yourself a big embrace, which may alleviate stress and increase happy emotions.
Learning to resolve disagreements is a significant step towards reducing stress. Developing techniques to combat the distractions, worries, and exhaustion that your brain naturally collects is also essential (see below for four smart ones). These can help you handle stress with a fantastic payoff: improved health and happiness, as well as a more robust brain.
How to manage stress and relax your mind
To keep stress under control, you should eat healthily, exercise frequently, and get sufficient rest to enhance your mood, emotions, and cognition. But these are only the fundamentals, and they are not always simple to execute, especially when life throws you a lot of stress. Based on the effective resilience program he administers at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sood has stress-reduction recommendations. Here are four of his brain-focused, research-based, minute-per-day tactics.
Give your mind a shot of RUM
That stands for Rest, Emotional uplift, and Motivation. All three are necessary to invigorate the brain and prevent weariness. Therefore, when engrossed in a work, halt for RUM for three to five minutes every couple of hours (or sooner if you begin to fidget).
How-to: Get up from your computer or pause what you’re doing, then look at pictures of your children or your favorite vacation site, read motivational phrases, text or phone a friend, or watch a brief, upbeat movie. Choose an activity that motivates and makes you feel good.
Commence a morning practice of thankfulness
Take charge of your thoughts before it’s taken over by the day’s issues and welcome the day with a brighter, more connected disposition. (Check out these straightforward ways to express thanks.)
How-to: When you first wake up, before you get out of bed, think about a few individuals who care about you and send them your thanks in silence. Another reason why the proposal is sound: A recent study demonstrated that anticipating a difficult day upon waking impacts working memory later in the day, even if nothing stressful occurs. (Working memory is what allows you to absorb and remember information despite distractions.)
Be consciously present
Meditation is an effective stress reliever, but not everyone can sit motionless and inwardly focus for twenty minutes or more. Good news for fidgeters: research indicates that directing your attention outward affects the same brain network, so you may get similar stress-relieving effects by intentionally focusing on the world.
How to: Force yourself to be inquisitive and pay attention to details, such as the color of the barista’s eyes at the coffee shop, the design of your boss’s necktie, and which flowers are in bloom in your area. Curiosity enhances memory and learning while feeding the brain’s reward network, which makes one feel good.
Focus on kindness
Even the kindest among us are eager to pass judgment on others, especially if they vary from us (thank the amygdala, a region of the brain that interprets difference as a threat).
How-to: When you’re feeling judgmental about someone, you may quiet the amygdala by focusing on two things: the fact that everyone is unique and that everyone suffers. Commence the habit of sending quiet well-wishes to persons you pass on the street or in the hallways of your workplace. The advantages for you: Your oxytocin, the bonding hormone, rises, your pulse rate lowers, and you feel more altruistic. All of which contributes to your health and happiness.