Nearly everyone these days experiences some type of "stress" in one form or another: work, personal life, parenting, school, and so on. But stress has become so commonplace that sometimes we forget that it affects us in unnatural ways that can take a toll on our health. Women, too, are often impacted more significantly than are men.
While it may never be possible to truly get rid of all stress, there are some natural ways to cope with the daily grind, as well as to ease the burden on our mental and physical health.
Stress and Women: Why It's Harder on the Brain
Research suggests that women are more susceptible to side effects of stress, including anxiety and depression, particularly when their overwhelming work load becomes a chronic part of their regular existence. Men feel effects of stress, but according to this study, they're better at compartmentalizing and being able to put certain stress factors out of their minds for periods of time.
Women, on the other hand, are said to be superior at multi-tasking (see this research), but this skill can come back to haunt them. While men can separate things in their minds, women feel and experience more overall symptoms of stress because they tend to blend various aspects of life together in their heads.
While this works better for multitasking in motherhood or even working motherhood, it could explain why women suffer from psychiatric illness disproportionately more than men. Women are also nearly two times more likely to experience major depression than men are.
Why Do Women Feel More Stress?
Every individual will feel and process life's stressors differently, but in general, women are more susceptible to physical, emotional, and mental effects of stress in part because of higher levels of hormones.
Sometimes we have the ability to cope with stress well for long periods — months or even years — before signs of breakdown occur. But eventually, stress will show its ugly face, often in the form of various symptoms. These can include:
- Heart palpitations
- Body aches
- Digestive disorders
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Weight gain or loss
- Restless legs
- Hormone imbalances
Sometimes even more severe episodes can occur, with research showing a connection between extremely stressful events (like an earthquake) and stress-induced cardiovascular events. Bottom line? We aren't immune to stress, no matter how well we think we are handling it.
Six Natural and Proactive Ways to Find Relief from Stress
While stress might always find a way to be somewhat present in our lives thanks to chaotic schedules, demanding jobs, parenthood, and more, there are natural ways that we can support our body in coping — and even thriving.
1. Herbal Support
Several herbs provide potent support for helping the body cope with anxiety and stress. Some of these research-proven herbs include passionflower, hops, and holy basil. These herbs and others known to provide calm, relaxation, and emotional stability are featured prominently in herbal blends aimed at stress support.
For occasional stress, consider the following:
- Serious Relaxer for muscle tension
- Deep Stress for adrenal support
- Liquid Bliss for mental calm and balance
- Emotional Ally for anxiety
- Stress Relief for pregnancy
An amino acid, l-theanine is research-proven to help calm a racing mind and decrease anxiety. It's also not a sedative, so it won't cause drowsiness or decrease alertness, and can even be taken any time of the day. While it shouldn't be taken during pregnancy or lactation, it's not habit-forming and won't lead to symptoms of withdrawal if you decide to stop taking it.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Depression and anxiety can stem from chronic inflammation in the brain. This can occur over time as a side effect of stress and other inflammatory processes in the body. Research finds that omega-3 fats like those found in salmon, mackerel, and sardines can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety and help support a healthy inflammatory response in the body.
Most of us eat way too many omega-6 fats, often found in foods like nuts and seeds, and we don't get a high enough intake of omega-3 fats to balance it out. If you don't eat a diet rich in seafood, consider adding a daily omega-3 supplement that includes both EPA and DHA.
It might be an expected answer, but yoga is proven by a significant amount of research to be helpful for addressing stress, anxiety, and depression. It can even work as effectively as medicine when practiced regularly. The good news is that you don't have to be an expert, or even flexible, to give it a try. With plenty of free videos on YouTube or even apps dedicated to yoga programs, you don't even have to leave your house to give it a try.
5. Sunshine and Nature
Being outside, in the sun, with your feet in the grass sounds like a picture of bliss. It's also a great way to help your body physically cope with stress. Even if you're not the lay-in-the-sun type or you don't enjoy long walks by the beach, you can harness the power of nature to help downgrade your body's nervous system. Even just a few minutes of exposure to bright sunlight or putting your bare toes in the grass can help to have a centering and balancing impact. It can also help to lower the fight-or-flight response that gets triggered during episodes of stress.
Vitamin D is also an essential component of fighting the stress response, and you can naturally get it from sun exposure. Low levels have even been linked to depression and anxiety. If you aren't able to spend time in the sun sans sunscreen, consult your healthcare practitioner about dosage recommendations for a vitamin D supplement. Before you start, though, be sure to get your levels tested. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that gets stored in your fat cells, so taking too much can make you toxic.
A lesser-known antidote for stress is acupuncture. For anyone afraid of needles, they're so tiny you're almost never aware they're in there and most people find the session so relaxing that they fall asleep. Research shows acupuncture to be an effective way to reduce a person's experience of stress and can lead to an improved and more positive outlook.
While herbal and other natural methods of support can provide some balance, never underestimate the need to speak with a therapist or work with a medical professional to address more serious cases of anxiety, depression, and distress. In the same way that you wouldn't let high blood pressure or a gaping wound go untreated, tending to mental health is an important aspect of physical well-being.
We all experience stressful situations, but we don't need to simply tolerate them. Harness the power of these natural methods to improve your outlook and find more joy in the chaos of a busy schedule.
Writer Aimee McNew has a Master's in Holistic Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and is also a Certified Practitioner of Nutrition Therapy (CNTP).
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.