The results of a new study of mice demonstrates that chronic stress in females was as detrimental to healthy gut bacteria as a junk food diet. The results presumably translate to humans suggesting that especially in women, chronic stress can be as bad for your body as junk food. Yikes.
The good news is that unlike mice, we have more tools at our disposal thanks to our vastly more powerful and complex brain. Research on humans has demonstrated how we think about stress can influence its effect on us, giving us a leg up over our animal cousins when it comes to stress. Thinking about stress as harmful has made it so, whereas thinking about stress as a motivator and a manageable part of life has been shown to limit the negative impact of stress. The more we embrace stress, the more we can use it effectively.
So what can we make of these data, and what can we do when we are exposed to chronic stress? Yahoo asked me to weigh in on why this stress might be more unhealthy for females, and what can someone do if they feel stressed all the time.
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Sure, the study was conducted on mice — not humans — and it’s hard to definitely say if stress would impact people the exact same way. Still, the study’s researchers say it’s likely that women experience something similar, especially given that women have higher rates of depression and anxiety which are linked to stress. Women may also experience stress differently than men. “It may be that the ability to feel and intuit emotional needs, as well as potential threat, has been more genetically conserved in women than in men,” licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, who did not work on the study, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Being more emotionally sensitive can be an advantage in some areas, like when you’re caring for your children, she says, but may make women more prone to being deeply impacted by stress.
If your stress feels like it’s too much lately, it’s a good idea to talk to a trusted friend, family member, or colleague to help you figure out how you can take back control, Clark says. “Understanding what your stress is illustrating is a key step in understanding how you can use it more effectively,” she says. It’s also a good idea to try to find more than one coping mechanism in case one fails you in a particular situation, Mayer says, listing meditation, mindfulness, and exercise as good options.
If you do feel stressed (and it’s going to happen), it’s important not to make things worse by resisting it, Clark says. “Our stress response can be helpful in giving us the boost we need to cope,” she says. And, if it feels like your stress is too much lately, it might be time to bring in a professional for help. Your overall health depends on it.