Stress is part of daily life, but skyrocketing stress can take a toll on physical and mental health. Women -- many of whom are juggling a broad array of responsibilities -- can be under substantial pressure. Based on results of a survey published in 2010, the American Psychological Association notes that 28 percent of women reported feeling they are under "a great deal" of stress, and nearly half of women surveyed stated their stress had increased over the past 5 years. High levels of stress can cause physical, emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms in women.
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Women under significant stress may experience depression, mood swings or problems with decreased self-esteem. Anxiety, anger, irritability and increased hostility toward loved ones or casual contacts commonly occur. Sadness, hopelessness and helplessness typically occur as the predominant emotional symptoms if depression develops due to chronic, high-level stress.
Behavioral changes frequently develop in women who are under extreme stress. Some women respond by eating more and gaining weight. The opposite occurs for other women under stressful conditions. Because chronic stress is a risk factor for addictive behaviors, smoking and drinking may increase, and other substance abuse may develop. Sleep patterns often go awry with stress, with some women sleeping more than usual and others finding it difficult to sleep. Many women experience poor concentration, forgetfulness and indecision when they are under stress.
Digestive System Symptoms
Digestive system upset is common with high-level stress. In a study published in the June 2010 issue of "Industrial Health," researchers found that workers who felt they were under a high level of stress had 8 times more risk of an "irritable" stomach, compared to workers who never or seldom felt stress at work. Heartburn, diarrhea and constipation may also occur more frequently when a woman is under stress.
Pain and Other Symptoms
Stress can cause a variety of physical symptoms. Women under stress may experience pain in the back or jaw pain; stiffness in the neck, shoulder and upper back muscles; and headaches. Women under high-level stress may experience changes in their menstrual cycles or skin problems, including acne breakouts.
Heart and Blood Pressure Problems
The authors of a 2008 review article published in the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology" examined the results of studies looking at the relationship between psychological stress and cardiovascular disease. They note that chronic stress may increase the risk for high blood pressure and heart attack. For example, women and men caring for a spouse with Alzheimer disease were found to have an increased risk of high blood pressure, according to the authors of a March 1999 article published in the "Journal of Psychosomatic Research."
When to See a Doctor
A woman should see her doctor if stress is disrupting her daily life or affecting her ability to manage relationships. Feeling depressed, afraid, anxious or worried or losing interest in activities she used to enjoy may also signal high-level stress. Persistent, unexplained symptoms or difficulty sleeping should also prompt a visit to the doctor.