We are all different and all unique and this is particularly true when it comes to our brains. Our personalities and the way that we perceive events, the things we believe and the way we act are the result of years of upbringing, teaching and experience and are laid in stone in the form of our ‘connectome’ – the connected web of different neurons that represents all of our neurons and the relationships that have formed between them.
At the same time, we all have different neurochemical profiles. That means that the neurotransmitters we each produce are slightly different. Some of us have more serotonin, some of us have more dopamine. These neurotransmitters are what control our mood, what affect our memory and attention and what influence the way in which we form those connections between neurons in our connectome.
So different is the balance of neurotransmitters from person to person that a drug can have completely different effects from one person to another. When some people use certain medications or ‘nootropics’ (smart pills) they may have no effect at all – these people are called ‘non-responders’. That’s simply due to differences in the brain and the way they produce those chemicals.
We’re all different then and thus our moods, our opinions, our cognitive prowess and importantly our perception of events are all going to vary as well.
And what’s more: the brains of men and women also vary in some key ways. This is why stress in women is slightly different from stress in men and why sometimes women might benefit from different stress management strategies than men.
Stress Symptoms in Women
In terms of women, stress symptoms are very similar. Stress symptoms in women include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Anxious thoughts
- Depression (slightly more common in women)
- Elevated heart rate
- Negative thoughts
- Heightened blood pressure
- Lack of appetite/increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Difficulty waking
- Lack of libido
- Delayed period
- Bad skin
- Joint pain
Of course delayed period is one of the stress symptoms in women that men do not experience. Why does this happen?
The answer is that stress can cause the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that regulates hormones – to stop behaving properly. As your ovulation (the release of eggs) is controlled by the hypothalamus as well, this means that it can be delayed by the change in hormones.
For this reason stress can also interfere with women trying to get pregnant and it can cause problems during pregnancy too. Bear in mind though that stress is generally a normal part of life so most women would have to experience some kind of severe type of stress for it to have enough of an impact to prevent them from getting pregnant.
That said, if you are interested in trying for a baby, it would certainly make sense to try and remove as much stress from your life as possible first.
Stress has been correlated with depression. This is because stress reduces the production of ‘happiness hormones’ like serotonin which normally act as natural antidepressants as well as anesthetics. Depression is one of the slightly more common stress symptoms in women as compared with men because women produce less testosterone. Testosterone is protective against stress and low testosterone has been correlated with depression in men. This also means that women might experience some of the effects of stress more strongly that are associated with depression – for instance lethargy, difficulty waking up and joint/muscle pain.
Other Differences in Female Stress
There are some other unique aspects to stress in women too. One example is that women are more affected by a decrease in dietary tryptophan than are men.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in proteins, particularly turkey and some others. Tryptophan is a chemical precursor to serotonin. What this means, is that your brain can take turkey and the tryptophan content and then turn that into serotonin to combat stress and depression.
In women, a lack of tryptophan will much more quickly lead to stress and depression than it will in men. That means that stress symptoms in women may be more effectively remedied by tryptophan supplementation or diet changes.