Women and Stress: Could Your Hectic Life Be Killing You?

Many women deal with stress on a daily basis, and new research indicates it could be killing them. Nearly 50 percent of American women say they don't have enough free time, according to a study by the Families and Work Institute, an alarming figure given the effects that stress can have on the human body.

High stress levels in women can lead to a rise in cortisol, the hormone that takes charge of the adrenal glands, boosting our fight-or-flight response. This can be good in certain situations, such as when an emergency burst of strength or speed is needed, but long-term high cortisol levels can lead to long-term illness in women.

According to Dr. Sherita Hill Golden of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, high levels of cortisol increase a woman's risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, thinning of the bones, cognitive impairment, and depression. They can also lead to obesity and fatigue.

One of the biggest problems, according to Golden, is that women, and consequently their doctors, don't know how stressed they really are. Often, he said, "women are actually not articulating stress to their physicians because they're thinking this is just a normal way of functioning."

Among the major indicators of high cortisol levels are weight gain in the abdomen and fatigue. Women experiencing these symptoms should visit their doctors for a routine hormone level test, which can determine if their cortisol levels are too high. If that proves to be the case, doctors advise focusing on reducing one's stress through methods such as yoga, regular exercise, meditation, and getting enough sleep.