Contrary to traditional Western medicine practices and beliefs, the body doesn’t sever at the neck. Mind and body remain quite interconnected, and their processes intertwine. Stress, often caused by distorted thoughts or faulty automated thoughts and beliefs, creates real physiological stress symptoms in the body, and vice versa. A study published in 2012 of more than 7,000 women noted that job stress, especially when women felt as though they had no control over their jobs, doubles the risk of diabetes. Researchers postulate that disruptions of hormones and the immune system, and increased cortisol and stimulatory hormones are the culprits. Researchers also suggest that women cope differently with stress, often turning to food for solace, which may compound the problem.
Stress can hurt the heart. It’s no secret that stress gets the heart pumping and the blood moving, which taxes the body if stress is prolonged. And it’s not a coincidence that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death among women and men in the US. Stress is a major contributor. As significant as smoking, high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. Think of it this way; the elevated blood pressure from adrenaline pumping to keep you going to complete a last minute report works for you short term–but stress hormones work against you, literally can kill you, when you are constantly stressed; juggling roles, tasks and enduring sleepless nights.
A recent longitudinal study of over 17,000 women with demanding jobs illustrated that they were 40 percent more likely to suffer from heart problems, including heart attacks, strokes or blocked arteries. While many women susceptible identified themselves as feeling as though they had little control on the job, research from the Scott Institute for Optimal Stress suggests a paradox exists for the most elite high achieving women. In women who often appear to have ultimate ‘control’ ,the subtle signs of strain and impending heart disease often go unnoticed. The ‘demand/control’ model which is used to study work related stress does not always fit for these high achieving women.
In fact, the drive that propels elitie women through the glass ceiling can ultimately lead to a crash landing on what i call the ‘glass gurney’ –the invisible place waiting for you on the bed in my emergency department.
And gender matters. The burden of cardiovascular disease is much greater on women than men. Here is why. First women often have very different signs and symptoms when they go to the doctor or the emergency room. As Rosie O’Donnell recently reported when she suffered a heart attack. Women may just have fatigue or dizziness- not crushing left chest pain. And there are other differences; actually women have a lower occurrence of heart attacks, but more severe congestive heart failure, more severe angina, less coronary artery disease seen at cardiac catherization. Then AFTER heart attacks or heart surgery women under age 65 years have 2X mortality rate compared with men of the same age. 38% of women die within the firs year following heart attack compared with 25% of men–and finally women post heart attack have higher rates of depression and physical disability.
And, yes, stress and depression correlate. In 2009, researchers studied more than 800 women.
Their conclusion? Major depressive episodes were “significantly associated” with chronic and acute stress. A national publication on women and depression list “stress” as a primary cause of depression, stating that evidence suggests that women respond differently than men to stressful life events, often prolonging their feelings of stress and making them more prone to depression.
Stress affects hormones too, leading to missed menstrual periods, difficulty getting pregnant and possibly even miscarriages. When stressed, our adrenal glands pump out cortisol and adrenaline. Your adrenal glands need progesterone to do so, leaving little progesterone to support body processes (like nourishing your uterine lining) that lead to pregnancy, and successful egg implantation and sustenance.