There are positives and negatives to the busy holiday season. While it’s great fun to celebrate and exchange gifts with loved ones, there can be a considerable amount of stress associated with spending money, cooking meals and cleaning house - especially for women. In the United States alone, nearly half of all women report higher levels of stress during the holidays, while only a third of men would say the same.
This is hardly surprising given the expectations placed on women during this time of year, both by society and sometimes even ourselves. If you’re someone who plays the role of party planner, chef, baker, interior designer, and designated shopper, we urge you to slow down and address your own needs this year - for the sake of your body and mind.
The women’s health specialists at Genesis Women’s have seen how high stress levels can be severely detrimental to overall wellness. Here are just a few of the negative effects on women’s health that make checking in with yourself so important during the busy holiday season:
High levels of stress can affect your menstrual cycle in a variety of different ways. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who spend prolonged time in high-stress scenarios (especially at work) have a 50% higher risk of experiencing shortened menstrual cycles, meaning multiple periods in less than a month’s time that may or may not be predictable. Women under stress also report heavier flow than usual, as well as more severe symptoms of pain and lethargy. Before your period begins, you may even feel more severe PMS symptoms than normal, including mood swings that can feel like genuine depressive episodes.
The pH (or acidity content) of the vagina is determined by a balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. High levels of stress can negatively affect your immune system, lowering your body’s natural defenses and throwing off this delicate balance. This can lead to a higher risk of contracting uncomfortable yeast infections and various bacterial ailments. Vaginal yeast infection symptoms include itching, burning, swelling, rashes, and thick, white, odorless discharge around the vagina and vulva.
Studies on depression in men vs women have shown that women are twice as likely as men to be depressed. Women are also at a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders such as general anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Due to our body’s physical responses to stressors, unmanageable levels of stress can trigger or exacerbate all of these conditions.
Women under high stress can begin to display a number of physical symptoms that affect various parts of the body. Some of these symptoms include:
- Stomach and bowel issues: Women under stress sometimes experience stomach upset, nausea and diarrhea. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is also twice as common in women, and flare-ups can be triggered by stress.
- Heart problems: Prolonged stressful situations can lead to high blood pressure, resulting in an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Headaches: Women are more prone to tension headaches and severe migraines than men, both of which are related to or worsened by stress.
Sex Drive and Fertility
Finally, stress can have an impact on a woman’s sex life and pose an obstacle to fertility when trying to conceive. Women who are under a great deal of stress tend to have a lower sex drive, feel distracted during sex, or may even experience discomfort due to vaginal dryness. Women under stress also have more difficulty getting pregnant, and for those who want to build a family, this may even become an additional stressor.
While coping techniques are always helpful, the best thing you can do when faced with holiday stress is to reach out for help when you need it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask a spouse, sibling, parent or friend for a little support. You deserve it!
Experiencing any of these symptoms? Dr. Waltrip and the women’s health center at Genesis Women’s Health are always here to answer questions and help you find relief. If you’re ready to reach out, either as a new or existing patient, please request an appointment at (724) 488-4963, or via our practice’s Patient Portal.