Stressed out: Women more likely to feel economic pangs

TORONTO (Reuters) - Stocks are tumbling, the U.S. economy may be in recession, and don’t even look at your 401K. It’s little wonder some people are stressed out, but women may be bearing the brunt of it.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, September 30, 2008. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

In a recent survey, women expressed more fear about the economic situation than men and reported more physical and psychological effects because of related stress.

“Women are sometimes more aware of the stress they are feeling,” said Stephanie Smith, a psychologist and public education coordinator for the American Psychological Association (APA).

“They are often more willing to talk about it and admit to the struggles they are having,” she said in a statement.

The survey, conducted by the APA, showed that 84 percent of women expressed fear about where the economy is going, compared with 75 percent of men.

One reason could be the primary caretaker role many women hold in their families, Smith suggested. A financial crisis can become even more worrying if you are responsible for caring for children and older relatives than if you are just taking care of yourself. As well, although surveys have shown a shift toward a splitting of chores between genders, women still carry a heavier burden in maintaining the home.

“As much as things have changed over the years, women still tend to do more of the household work,” Smith said. “Taken together, these things often lead to more stress in women because they just have more things to be stressed about.”

Stress is considered a risk factor for many diseases, including heart disease, bowel illnesses like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and mental illness. It causes biochemical changes in the body that can compromise the immune system, and makes it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar.

A recent study found that some types of stress, such as that caused by financial debt, can increase the risk of preterm delivery, and another showed that people who are chronically stressed are three to four times more likely to suffer heart problems. They also have a 53 percent increased risk of high blood pressure or stroke. A long-term study out of Finland discovered that uncertainty about your role in your workplace can up the risk of a heart attack over time.

The first key to reducing stress is recognizing its symptoms, which include irritability, sadness, changes in sleep patterns, weight gain or loss, difficulty concentrating and restlessness.

Most people likely already have the tools to cope with stress, said Smith. “One of things we often do is abandon our good coping strategies,” she said. “The first and easiest coping mechanism is to keep up your good habits.” That means trying to stick to your existing schedule for social activities and taking some time during the day to focus on yourself.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also suggests making an effort to get adequate sleep. A lack of sleep could make stress worse and lead to other health problems like weight gain and reduced immune function. Exercise and a good diet will help you stay healthy, and talking to friends and loved ones about your worries can also help you work through your anxiety.

If stress is affecting your quality of life, the American Heart Association recommends speaking to your doctor to find ways to cope and reduce your risk of stress-related health problems down the road.

Are you feeling extra stressed because of the economic crisis? Tell us about it: