Stress can cause a variety of reactions in women. Men and women exhibit stress differently partly based on how they were raised and taught how to cope as well as what society typically deems as an appropriate response. Some research also indicates that women experience stress hormones and physical responses to stress differently than men.
What Triggers Stress
Stress can be triggered by interpersonal relationships, changes in the workplace, home related stressors, deaths, health problems, and family issues - to name a few. When someone feels stressed, cortisol and adrenaline are released via the adrenal glands. These hormones trigger the fight, flight, and freeze response which elevates your heart rate, slows down digestion, and increases your blood sugar levels. These reactions are there to give you the best chance possible of surviving a perceived threat. Women may also feel stressed about:
- Self-constructed goals not being met at work or within her personal life
- Watching or seeing something disturbing on the television or in person
- Feeling like they let a friend or family member down
- Experiencing harassing, sexist, or discriminatory behavior
Women process emotions differently than men do. According to research, women were able to recall memories that were tied to positive and negative events better than men. With more vivid memory recall, woman are at a higher risk of experiencing rumination compared to men. Excessive rumination can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and for some, even depression. This means that she may want to talk about the stressful situation several times before feeling ready to move on and she's at a higher risk of getting stuck in the same thought process loop.
A stressed out woman may also project or displace her feelings onto you, or others. When people project their feelings, they are placing how they feel onto others as a means of processing their emotions. A Canadian study indicated that women who showed higher rates of defensiveness displayed higher levels of stress when compared to men. You may notice them:
- Lashing out about seemingly neutral situations
- Picking fights
- Placing anger or frustration onto less threatening people or situations
Women will also tend to react differently to men when it comes to physical manifestations of stress.
- When women are stressed, their bodies tend to release higher amounts of oxytocin, which can trigger the "tend and befriend" response.
- Women may experience migraines and tension headaches because of stress more than men.
- Women also report experiencing gastrointestinal issues and crying spells due to stress at a higher rate than men.
Healthy Coping Techniques
Ideally, a stressed partner or friend verbalizes how and why she is feeling stressed as well as lets you know what you can do for her. You may notice your friend or partner engaging in some healthy coping techniques such as:
- Talking to a supportive person
- Doing meditation
- Practicing mindfulness
- Going for a walk
- Listening to calming music
- Watching a favorite show or movie
- Making an appointment with a therapist or counselor
Supporting a Stressed Partner
If your partner is feeling stressed out, there are a few supportive actions you can take. Try to:
- Listen to and validate her emotions.
- Ask what her what she needs from you during this time.
- See if you can make her a special dinner or pick up a goodie for her.
- Offer affection or a gentle touch if that's okay with her.
- See if she'd like to go for a walk with you.
- Ask if she would like to be left alone to process her feelings.
If your friend or loved one is feeling stressed, take time to let her process how she's feeling. Reach out and provide support while giving space to take care of herself. Keep in mind that stress is temporary, and the intensity tends to peak and fade like a bell curve.