Serita Polinaire, M.A
Stress and Women's Mental Health: Understanding the Effects and How to Cope
Psychological stress is very common in today’s society. Women, in particular, are susceptible to the devastating effects of stress, especially when it comes to the impact it has on mental health.
You see, despite how marvelous our brains are, they still have limitations.
One of these limitations is the inability to differentiate between psychological and organic stress. In other words, your brain deals with the daily stress that you face in your life as if you are being chased by a bear.
I should note that not all stress is bad since it allows us to keep going (more on that later).
In this article, I will define good and bad stress, then switch gears to discuss the effects of stress on women’s mental health. I will also cover the role of nutrition in coping with stress.
Good stress Vs. bad Stress
The physiological response to #stress is natural and vital for the survival of our species.
Taking stress out from the equation of productivity means nothing will get done. We just need stress to work on projects, prepare for exams, and seek a better way of living.
Unfortunately, modern life messed up this natural response, where people started to experience the supposedly temporary stress for years. As a result, the incidence of mental disorders in women skyrocketed.
Experts attribute this phenomenon to the insanely high levels of stress hormones that wreak havoc on our brains.
The effects of stress on women’s mental health
1. The over secretion of cortisol
Cortisol is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress.
The functions of this hormone include the dampening of inflammation, suppression of the immune system, and promotion of certain metabolic pathways.
Over time, you will become prone to mental disorders, such as generalized #anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD).
2. Eating disorders
Humans are emotional creatures, where a big part of our behavior gets controlled by how we feel.
When we get stressed, some of us may stop eating altogether while others indulge in binge-eating.
For this reason, women who live in constant stress are likely to develop eating disorders, including binge eating and #bulimia. Additionally, the weight gained during binge eating will have a negative impact on body image and self-esteem.
3. Sleep disorders
Chronic stress is a very common cause of sleep disorders (e.g., #insomnia, #hypersomnia) that interfere with the normal function of your circadian rhythm.
Consequently, your hormonal status gets out of whack, leading to a myriad of mental disorders.
4. Reduced physical activity
Another example of our emotion-driven behavior is the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle during times of stress. After all, the last thing you want to do when you are in the middle of a crisis is to exercise. Sadly, this habit is one of the most important factors that further exacerbates women’s mental health, especially when it turns chronic.
While reduced physical activity is not a mental health side effect of stress, it will undoubtedly lead to some devastating consequences and predispose you to depression, anxiety, and several psychiatric disorders.
Nutrition for mental health
Cherries are rich in antioxidants that neutralize free radicals in the brain. As a result, you will feel calmer and at rest.
Generally speaking, fruits and vegetables act as hormone regulators, which temper down the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mental fatigue.
According to studies, eating at least five servings of fruits per day will promote your mood and decrease the risk of cognitive decline. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a mere 10% of Americans meet the required amounts of fruit and vegetable consumption.
Kiwi is loaded with vitamins C, E, and B9. These compounds dampen inflammation and neutralize oxidative stress.
Moreover, kiwi promotes the secretion of serotonin, which induces feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
The benefits of avocado mainly revolve around regulating mood and controlling anxiety. Researchers believe that this fruit boosts the production of anxiolytic (i.e., anxiety-relieving) neurotransmitters inside the brain.
Asparagus - In a 2013 study, Chinese researchers demonstrated that asparagus has significant anxiolytic properties, which may warrant its use as an alternative treatment for depression and anxiety.
Curcumin (i.e., the active compound of turmeric) increases the concentration of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This chemical is responsible for neurogenesis of the central nervous system, which translates into more developed neurons (i.e., nerve cells).
Interestingly, researchers found that patients with cognitive disorders have low levels of
Besides BDNF, turmeric possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties that lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease).
In a 2017 study, scientists inspected the effects of green tea on mental health. They found that it reduces the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. The active ingredient in green tea is theanine.
Studies found that consuming magnesium-rich foods improve several cognitive functions, including sleep, memory, and concentration.
Sources of magnesium:
· Green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale)
· Fruits (e.g., figs, avocado, banana, raspberries)
· Nuts and seeds
Vitamin C is one of the compounds that your body cannot produce intrinsically. Therefore, you can only get this vitamin through your diet (e.g., fruits, vegetables).
Unfortunately, a large number of people do not get enough vitamin C through food, which mandates the intake of dietary supplements.
In a 2015 paper, researchers concluded that vitamin C is indispensable for the optimal function of the brain. It reduces anxiety, depression, insomnia, and poor memory.
Sources of vitamin C:
· Lemon peel, pomegranates
· Cranberries, blueberries, and raspberries
Chronic stress is a key trigger of numerous mental health disorders that affect women. Following the tips listed above will save you from all the psychological and organic diseases it can precipitate. Hopefully, this article managed to convince you of the potential damage that stress inflicts on your mental health as well as proper eating habits.
If you still have any questions or concerns about the role of stress in women’s mental health, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below.