The last two years my life has been really chaotic and stressful. My husband changed jobs twice. Our second son was born. I had my second round of postpartum depression. I got pregnant very quickly again, and we lost that baby—he would’ve been my third boy. We moved several states away, and I did not adjust well to a completely new region.
Through all of the chaos and transition, my husband has certainly been stressed, but I have been so physically overwhelmed with all of it that it has affected my health and worsened my anxiety and depression. My husband and I have lived through the same set of circumstances, and somehow, it has hit me dramatically harder.
Turns out, my experience is not unusual. While stress may be a regular part of modern life for most of us, some seem to cope better than others. And research suggests that women are more susceptible to anxiety and depression as a result of chronic stress, whereas men are more likely to compartmentalize and perhaps even be able to put stressors behind them at times. Women feel and experience more symptoms from stress than men do, which research suggests could explain why there are disproportionately more women than men who suffer from psychiatric illness. Additionally, major depression occurs 1.7 times more often in women than in men.
Women can also be more susceptible to the physical, emotional, and mental effects of stress partly because of their higher level of hormones. Signs that stress is impacting your physical health can include heart palpitations, body aches, pain, digestive disorders, insomnia, fatigue, and restless legs. Appetite can increase or decrease, sometimes on an unpredictable basis. Hormone imbalances can occur for many reasons, and when they do, increased stress, anxiety, and depression can all be natural side effects. One interesting study conducted after the 6.0 magnitude earthquake in northern Italy in 2012, found that women experienced more stress-induced cardiovascular events in the wake of the quake.
So, we shouldn’t be diminishing our experience of stress. Even if you can’t resolve all situations causing stress, you can certainly find better ways to cope and even find some relief.
Proactive ways to find stress relief
Omega-3 Fats: Most of us are familiar with these fishy nutrients, found in especially high amounts in salmon and mackerel. According to research, omega-3s help tame depression and anxiety, which can be helpful for coping with stress. But our modern diet tends to be rich in omega-6 fats, a more inflammatory type, rather than omega-3 fats. To prevent inflammation and even mental health problems like depression, the intake of omega-3s needs to be close to or equal to that of the omega-6s. Eat more fish or take a high-quality fish oil supplement, like this.
Spend time in nature: Being in the sun and digging your toes into the grass is calming because it produces a grounding effect. It’s also a good way to get vitamin D, and low vitamin D levels can contribute to depression, anxiety, and more extreme responses to stress. Vitamin D is actually more of a hormone than it is a nutrient, and worldwide it is still one of the most common deficiencies. If you can’t spend time in the direct sun without sunscreen, have your doctor test your blood levels and optimize supplementation with a high-quality vitamin, like this.
Try acupuncture: If you’re needle-phobic, don’t worry, so was I. Acupuncture proved so intensely relaxing that I fell asleep during every session and found it more rejuvenating and relaxing than a whole body massage. Research shows that acupuncture can help to reduce a person’s perception of stressful life events, leading to an improved outlook, even without changed circumstances. I found the best anxiety-busting relief when I had weekly sessions.
Do some yoga: It’s almost a ubiquitous joke to try yoga if you’re stressed, but for good reason. Regular yoga sessions are so therapeutic for stress, anxiety, and depression that it can work as effectively as medicine.
Try l-theanine: If your mind is racing at night from the stress load, try taking the amino acid l-theanine. Research shows that it downgrades anxiety and helps fight the stress response. It’s not a sedative, so it won’t put you to sleep, but it can help calm the mind and let you fall asleep easily on your own. When I was in the worst of my anxiety, I took this every night before bed and felt every bit as relaxed as I did right after an acupuncture session.
We can’t avoid situations that will cause stress in our lives. But building in stress relieving habits can go a long way in mitigating the effects of stress. The next time you find yourself stressed, try one or two of these practices, be patient, and rest easy—chances are you’ll feel better soon. And if you’re not feeling better, reach out for help from your doctor or a counselor—we don’t have to carry the load alone!
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Correction: An earlier version of this article was missing part of the introduction. The piece has been updated and we regret the error.