career and hormones- how climbing the corporate ladder may be affecting your female health.

We all get stressed from time to time. Sometimes even the right amount of small-scale stress can lead to greater productivity and performance in many areas of life. Though when we live from a place of stress, spending most of our time here with the pressures of balancing our professional and personal lives, it can easily tip the scale of stress from motivation boosting to health hindering.

With a more expanded vision of modern day gender equality, especially when it comes to the corporate world, women in positions of influence and importance are becoming less of a novelty and more of a norm.

Of course, we can do it all! As masters of multi-tasking we are amazing at leading in professional roles, caring for our families, and ourselves and maintaining a social life all at the same time. Though that doesn’t mean we are always able to keep a calm mind and body in the process.

Especially for women climbing the corporate ladder, in a high paying, high caliber job with long hours and big responsibilities, this can easily create unwanted, heightened levels of stress. Throw in family responsibilities, hobbies, friends and everything else we women do and this can lead to greater effects on our mind and body health. It has been reported that the ages where women experience the highest amounts of stress are from ages 35 to 54 – generally, the ages were women are at the peak of their professional career, and already most with families.

It’s no secret that stress is not healthy for us, and is a leading cause of many illnesses and diseases. Research indicated that 75-90% of health care visits to the GP are for stress related conditions. Continued, long term stress can lead to development of psychological and physiological illness and disorders which not only personally affect the person, but also their home environments and employment spaces.

Why Do Women in the Workplace Feel Stressed?

With growing amounts of women climbing the corporate ladder, entering executive roles and kicking-ass at business in more ways than one, it is apparent that now, more than ever, a balance between our fast paced lifestyle needs to be created in order to maintain health of our minds and bodies.

Studies examining this area found that one prevalent source of stress for women in higher roles of corporate jobs, is the relationship of manager-subordinate. This can be in both directions, as leading roles can create tense relationships between subordinates, and working in a role where you are seeking promotions, this competition can lead to stress, which hinders our professional and personal relationships to a point of unease.

A study investigated the differences between male and female dominated industries where women reported to experience more pressure in work environments that were generally male dominated. This can be feelings of discrimination from co-workers, pressure to perform at a more intense level to ‘prove’ themselves, and competing for jobs and roles from a more aggressive energy.

Research reveals that there are a myriad of factors contributing to workplace stress:

  • Overwhelming workloads – taking on more than we can handle.
  • Length and type of hours worked – creating fatigue and disrupting healthy lifestyles.
  • Isolation and loneliness – especially if away from family for a long time.
  • Toxic environments – with unfriendly co-workers and bosses.
  • Role ambiguity or conflict – leading to confusion and uncertainty.
  • Bullying and harassment – from bosses or co-workers.

What Happens to our Hormones?

Our hormones are there to send messages throughout our body. They are often referred to as ‘chemical messengers.’ The complex relationship between our hormonal balance and the functioning of our organs means that if one part of this process is out of balance (low body system/organ health, or imbalanced hormones) then this can lead to a myriad of disease and illness.

For women, the way in which stress is experienced in the body has a very real effect on the balance of our hormones.

Women, being emotional, sensitive creatures, also having surges of hormones running through us at all times to varying heights and peaks, suffer from stress in potent way. Our body chemistry affects the way that our bodies respond to stress. Dr. Paul Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress (AIS) comments that women’s “brains are also wired differently” and we “react to stress differently than men.

Women need more oxytocin than men do. This hormone is produced during our natural nurturing experiences such as childbirth and breastfeeding, and is also secreted during orgasm. Dr. Rosch also notes that women need touch from another in order to maintain healthy levels of oxytocin, especially when not child rearing and with a lack of intimate sexual experiences.

Basically, think of Oxytocin as the opposite to Cortisol. Released into the blood from the adrenal glands, Cortisol is the stress hormone, which has many different functions in the body. It controls blood sugar levels, regulates the metabolism, as well as influences blood pressure.

Overtime, if our oxytocin levels are low, and replaced with higher levels of adrenaline and cortisol, our abilities to regulate our stress levels and hormones in the body is impeded, leading to an imbalance in our entire systems functioning as regulated by our hormonal system.

Lori Heim, MD notes that stress can affect women with “changes in menstrual patterns [to even] losing their hair.”

The National Women’s Health Information Center notes that the effects that stress can have on women, in particular include:

– Digestive Issues

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cramps, bloating, heartburn. Depending on your body’s response to the stress hormones, and how this affects your eating and exercise habits, this can lead to metabolism fluctuations leading to weight loss or weight gain.

– Sleep Issues

Trouble getting to sleep, and staying asleep can be a big issue for women dealing with stress. Especially if we are spending all day in a demanding role, even if we enjoy our job, it can be hard to switch gears and calm our system down even when we get home.

– Skin conditions

Hormones play a big role our body’s levels of inflammation. Cortisol creates inflammation in the body very easily, and skin issues are a sign of inflammation. This can be ache, rashes and even hives. The excess production of oil is also experienced through a surge in cortisol, with breakouts being a common occurrence for people under stress.

– Emotional disorders

Irritability, low mood and general emotional wrecks. We have all been there. Though prolonged periods of stress can lead to much more serious mental health conditions such as depression. Dr. Rosch states “The emotional effects of stress on women can range from postpartum depression after pregnancy to depression after menopause.” Studies even claim that women are more prone to experience depression up to double the amount than men.

– Heart conditions

From research conducted in 2012, over 22,000 women were studied for their experience of work related stress. It was found that those women who reported to be under large amounts of stress at work were at a 40% more risk of experiencing a cardiovascular issue such as a heart attack or stroke than those who reported to have lower levels of stress at work. In a literature review of work related stress and women, it was found that one of the main creators of stress was the demand and capability aspect of women.

– Reduced libido

Stress at work can come not only home, but also into the bedroom. Dr. Irwin Goldstein, M.D comments that the heightened levels of cortisol hindered the body’s natural ability to produce sex hormones.

– Irregular menstruation

The hormonal balance of the body is impeded when stress becomes chronic, leading to irregularities in the menstrual cycle, and even the absence of periods all together. Women in stressful work role were found to be at a 50% higher risk to have a shorter length of their menstrual cycle than those who did not hold stressful work roles.

– Decreased fertility

Some studies has found that women will high levels of stress are found to also have a higher concentration of the enzyme alpha-amylase, which can impede the cycle of ovulation. Women with this enzyme in high concentration were 12% less likely to conceive than women with lower levels of this stress related enzyme.

How to Manage and Lower Stress

There are many ways that we, as women, can support our hormonal, and therefore overall health.

Support hormones

There is a range of supplements for women to take to create a healthy hormonal balance. Check out our previous articles on herbal remedies for vagina health, fertility supports and more. One of the best herbal supports is Maca Powder.

Build Immunity with Diet

We are what we eat, and if we eat high-sugar, processed foods that create heaviness, toxicity and deplete our energy, this will surely have a strong impact on how we experience and deal with stress. In order to stay in a healthy state, and feel strong and energetic, support your health through fresh, water-rich foods. That means plenty of vegetables and fruits, high fiber foods and an adequate amount of calories to give us the energy we need. Grains and good fats and great supports for healthy hormonal balance.

Exercise

We all know that being active lifts our spirits by producing happy hormones. These endorphins run through the body, giving us a much needed boost of energy and mood lightening, and also work to promote the body’s natural ability to regulate the adrenal glands secretion of cortisol. Give yourself an extra boost with a ‘sexy bedroom’ workout to also increase that stress-fighting hormone oxytocin!

Connect

As mentioned above, we need and seek connection. It can be as small as a few hugs a day, maintaining a healthy sex life, spending time with family and friends, and reminding ourselves what really matters most. Is that looming deadline really more important than how connected you feel to your loved ones? At the end of the day, who is it that you can turn to when things get tough? Or who will help you when we need it? Definitely not next week’s report.

Mind-Body Interventions as Effective Stress-Busters

There are many ways to connect to mind-body interventions. Yoga, Thai chi and meditation are the most well known forms of stress-busting, calm creating practices.

Mindfulness techniques are increasingly being prescribed to people of all ages to deal with a range of physical and mental health conditions. For an accessible, natural, risk free and, oftentimes financially free technique, it is apparent that mindfulness practices are an effective strategy for dealing with stress related disorders. With the perceived drop in stress experienced, this boosts personal health, filtering to a more effective occupational performance.

Mindfulness based stress reduction has been researched on working adults to determine whether there are benefits here for mindfulness treatment for stress. Self-reports of sleep quality, mindfulness and perceived stress were documented at the beginning and end of an intervention that went for 6 weeks. Cortisol was tested also to note the physical reaction in the participants systems. It was found that significant reductions were found in perceived stress and experienced mindfulness, though workload and job role remained the same.

Additional research also points out that “forms of meditation that emphasize ‘thought reduction’ or ‘mental silence’ may have particularly potent effects beyond simple relaxation techniques. This means that the value is not only taking part in mind-body interventions, but the type of practice you experience will have a greater (or lesser) impact on your sense of stress or calm.

One randomised control trial was conducted to determine the effectiveness of meditation on full time workers experiencing stress, anxiety and low moods. The 8-week study involved mental silence meditation, relaxation techniques and a control group of no meditation practice. In the psychological questionnaire assessment, the results showed a significant improvement for those who meditated, compared with those who just did relaxation techniques, or none.

Remember…

Life will always throw challenges our way, and there is much that is out of our control. Though we can choose how we react to these changing, tough circumstances by supporting our mind and body health in a range of ways. Especially for women leading a fast paced, responsibility rich lifestyle with balancing career and personal life, it is important to keep stress managing practice a part of your daily life to ensure hormonal health, and prevent serious conditions and illness from occurring.

One of the best ways to find a mind body intervention that you can practice. This may be yoga, guided meditation or classes or any other technique you feel called to. Try out a few, see what works best for you, and remind yourself of what is most important in life: Connection, Health and Happiness.

Have you felt that your corporate career or business may be affecting your female health? What do you do to deal with stress? Let us know in the comments below!

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Article References

“Cortisol.” You and Your Hormones, Society for Endocrinology, Jan. 2017.

Gregoire, Carolyn. “10 Ways Stress Affects Women’s Health.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 Jan. 2013.

Haw, Mary Ann. “Women, work and stress: A review and agenda for the future.” Journal of health and social behavior (1982): 132-144.

Kermane, Muntazir Maqbool. “A Psychological Study on Stress among Employed Women and Housewives and Its Management through Progressive Muscular Relaxation Technique (PMRT) and Mindfulness Breathing.” Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy 6.1 (2016).

Kittredge, Clare. “The Physical Side of Stress.” EverydayHealth.com, Everyday Health, 23 Jan. 2015.

“Statistics: Work Related Stress, Anxiety and Depression Statistics in Great Britain 2016.”Health and Safety Executive, Health and Safety Executive, 2016.

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