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The impact of stress and anxiety on women’s health: How the pace of life affects women’s wellbeing
Today we have two pieces of news: one good and one bad. The bad news is that women suffer more stress than men (we’ll explain why). The good news is that they identify it and work to overcome it sooner.
Female stress is related to mental workload. A psychological concept that encompasses the “set of tensions induced in a person by the demands of mental and emotional effort in a given context”.
The concept of mental workload has spread rapidly from the workplace to the family and domestic sphere, and is related to the mental work involved in dividing up daily tasks, managing logistics and taking on family and work responsibilities. According to P&G’s Proxima a ti study, 71% of women carry a high mental workload, a circumstance that only affects 12% of men.
Although changes are taking place in society, the logistics, planning, coordination and decision-making in the household still fall on women, a situation that is intensified by motherhood.
A recent study on family involvement in education, carried out by the Observatory of the La Caixa Foundation, concludes that women are more involved in the day-to-day school affairs of their children. This study highlights that more than 90% of students perceive their family’s constant support for their studies. Mothers are more involved in these processes than fathers. Some data indicate that 80% of mothers take a regular interest in their children’s school performance, compared to 20% of fathers.
Managing multiple tasks linked to culturally assigned roles traditionally assumed by women is a cognitive effort for which no remuneration or recognition is received. In addition, women are under more pressure than men to be perfect in their professional, personal and even physical appearance. Such a mental burden increases stress and emotional imbalance and can lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Depression is more than just being sad. It can literally hurt. In fact, some people with depression don’t feel sad at all, but may have other physical symptoms, such as headaches, cramps or digestive problems. Someone with depression may also have trouble sleeping, or wake up in the morning and feel exhausted, unable to get out of bed.
Women with depression often experience feelings of persistent emptiness, hopelessness or pessimism. They may also be irritable or feel a lack of energy. They often experience feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness.
Depression also manifests itself with difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering. Changes in appetite or weight may also be a sign, as well as thoughts of death or suicide, body aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems with no clear physical cause, or that are not relieved by any treatment.
In addition, certain types of depression are unique to women. These include those that occur at different stages of life such as pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause and the menstrual cycle. All are related to drastic physical changes and hormonal imbalances unique to women.
Some studies document that anxiety is more prevalent in women than in men. Women of reproductive age are two to three times more vulnerable to developing anxiety disorders than men. “Being male or female may not only influence the prevalence of mental disorders, but also the manifestation and expression of symptoms, the willingness to seek medical or psychological care, the course of the illness, and even the response to treatment,” the study says.
There is increasingly strong evidence of gender differences in brain anatomy, neurochemistry, and patterns of activation and response to environmental stimuli that appear to influence the aetiology and course of psychiatric disorders.
Anxiety and depression have a considerable impact on women’s health and well-being. Several decades ago, a study by David Spiegel and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine found that women diagnosed with breast cancer whose depression decreased lived longer than those whose depression worsened. Their research and other studies clearly showed that “the brain is hard-wired into the body, and vice versa,” Spiegel said in an interview. “The body tends to react to mental stress as if it were physical stress,” he said.