How Stress Affects Women’s Health

April 8, 2024   •  Posted in: 

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, we’re all affected by stress to some degree. But gender inequalities in responsibilities and privileges can make stress feel even more unbearable for women – and it should come as no surprise women are much more likely to live under high stress than men.

While stress itself is a normal biological response, chronic stress poses threats to women’s health, causing a wide variety of issues, from high blood pressure to mental health challenges.

This article explores how stress uniquely affects women’s health and how societal factors, including family obligations and workplace pressures, contribute to elevated stress levels among women. We’ll also provide some practical tips for stress management to help women cope healthily with stress, and how stress can affect health.

Although we talk about stress as something terrible for health, stress is a normal biological reaction. Stress is the body’s response to anything that feels overwhelming. In short bursts, stress helps us cope with challenges and rise to the occasion during crises.

When we’re under constant stress, however, stress becomes a problem. Our body’s stress response isn’t meant to be activated for long periods. When we’re under chronic stress, it can lead to significantly adverse effects on health, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Decreased immunity
  • Digestive issues like acid reflux
  • Weight gain and obesity

You may also notice short-term symptoms of stress, such as headaches, stomachaches, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shaking, sweating, and irritability.

Stress and women’s health

In addition to the above effects, there are some ways stress affects women specifically. Women react differently to stress than men and are twice as likely to report symptoms of stress[1].

Depression and anxiety

Studies show women are almost twice as likely to have depression as men[2]. The reasons for this are multifold, but one contributor is stress. In addition, women are more likely to have other mental health conditions, including anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Women who are under high-stress levels are more likely to develop these conditions.

Changes to the menstrual cycle

Stress can affect the menstrual cycle. Women often experience delayed or skipped periods due to stress. Some women may even stop having their periods altogether when stress is severe. Stress can also make periods more painful and worsen premenstrual symptoms[3].

This has to do with the way stress affects hormones. Stress releases cortisol, a hormone that can lead to changes in your period.

Pregnancy and fertility

Stress can affect fertility for both sexes. Women who experience high levels of stress tend to have a more challenging time getting pregnant than women who are not as stressed.

Stress can also lead to high blood pressure, and having high pressure while pregnant can lead to an increased risk of preterm labor, as well as more serious medical complications like eclampsia (seizures) and stroke[4].

Breastfeeding

Stress is the number one cause of reduced milk supply in breastfeeding women. In addition, stress can change the composition of breast milk, making it less nutritious for the baby. One study found chronic stress has more severe adverse effects on breast milk composition than short periods of acute stress[5].

Weight gain

Women are more likely to experience weight gain as a result of stress; they’re also more likely to have an emotional relationship with food. Obesity can lead to additional health conditions, including heart problems.

Headaches and migraine

Women are more likely to report tension headaches and migraines. Although stress isn’t the only cause of headaches, it does make pain worse.

Stomach problems

Women are twice as likely to have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can be significantly worsened by stress.

Why are women so stressed?

Not only does stress affect women differently, research also shows women are more likely to be stressed in general. There are valid reasons for this, many of which are societal.

Some reasons women could have higher levels of stress include:

  • Being expected to manage most family obligations, including child-rearing and caregiving for elderly parents.
  • Having to balance family obligations with work responsibilities.
  • The wage gap between men and women can create understandable feelings of pressure and resentment.
  • Taking on the majority of unpaid domestic work.
  • Being more likely to need emotional labor or forcing yourself to express emotions you don’t feel.

In short, women today are expected to do so much. Women are given more and more responsibilities at work, which is not, in itself, a bad thing – but they’re also expected to continue bearing the burden of family obligations on top of not being paid for the same work as men.

Do women deal with stress differently?

There are also significant differences in how men and women respond to and think about stress.

According to one report by the American Psychological Association[6],

  • Women are much more likely to think managing their stress levels is important (68% of women vs. 52% of men).
  • Women are more likely to report using a variety of coping strategies to manage their stress.
  • 1 in 4 women, vs. only 17% of men, acknowledge they are not doing enough to manage stress levels.
  • Women are more likely to understand stress has a significant impact on health.
  • Men are much less likely to acknowledge stress has an impact on their physical or mental health.
  • Women are significantly more likely than men to report they’ve tried to reduce their stress levels in the past five years.
  • Men are less likely to believe psychologists can help make lifestyle or behavior changes.

It’s interesting to note although women report thinking about stress more, men are more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease – all chronic illnesses linked to stress.

How can women cope with stress?

Every person needs to learn how to cope with stress – but it’s uniquely important for women, who both carry more stress and better understand the importance of dealing with it. Living with chronic stress can have severe health consequences for women, but there are effective ways to deal with it.

Prioritize self-care

When life gets demanding, self-care often takes a backseat. However, acknowledging its importance is the first step. Self-care gets a bad reputation, but it’s not all about going to the spa and getting your nails done. It’s simply noticing your needs and doing what it takes to meet them.

Set aside dedicated time for activities that bring joy and relaxation. Whether it’s immersing yourself in a good book, chatting with friends, or pursuing creative hobbies, these moments of self-nurturing can significantly contribute to stress reduction.

Establish healthy boundaries

One of the reasons why women have so much more stress is people need so much from them in every area of life.

Learning to set and enforce healthy boundaries is crucial for maintaining your mental well-being. Recognize your limits and communicate them assertively. Saying ‘no’ when needed isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a proactive step you need to take to preserve your energy and prevent yourself from burning out.

Get regular physical activity

Exercise isn’t just about physical health—it’s one of the most powerful tools for stress management. Find fun ways to engage in regular physical activity, such as a brisk walk, yoga, or dancing. Exercise not only lowers stress hormones but also boosts endorphins, which enhances your overall mood and helps you be more resilient against stress.

Connect with your support system

Human connection is a powerful antidote to stress. Women have a leg up in this area – research shows women are far more likely to report talking to their friends about deeper subjects like family and mental health[7].

Lean on your support system during challenging times. Whether it’s friends, family, or mental health support groups, having a network with which to share your thoughts and feelings can provide emotional relief and help you cope better with stress.

Hormonal health awareness

Stay attuned to your hormonal fluctuations and menstrual cycle. Stress can mess with hormones and impact everything from your mood to your period. When you understand these connections, you become empowered to navigate stress and better understand its potential effects on your health as a woman.

Seek professional support

Getting professional mental health support is nothing to be embarrassed about—it’s a brave and proactive step toward managing stress effectively.

A licensed therapist can offer valuable insights and coping strategies to help you manage stress. They can provide you with a safe space to discuss and address stressors and help you navigate any mental health concerns like depression you may be dealing with.

Support for stress management and mental health in Washington State

The Center • A Place of HOPE provides a sanctuary where you can escape the stress of day-to-day life and figure out where you want to go. Our mental health treatment programs are a safe place for women to learn about themselves and heal from within. You may not be able to avoid stress altogether, but our expert clinical team can help you minimize impacts on your life.

Contact us for more information about our programs.


1 – https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/good-mental-health/stress-and-your-health
2 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4478054/
3 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2875955/
4 – https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-complications.html#hypertension
5 – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-90980-3
6 – https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2011/gender.pdf
7 – https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/10/12/what-does-friendship-look-like-in-america/

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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