How Stress Is Affecting Women's Health

21/10/2014 11:05 BST | Updated 21/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Stress is a term that has become synonymous with busy lifestyles. It's born from the feeling that you have too many demands and not enough tools to cope with them. Too much stress can affect you both physically and mentally leaving you feeling shattered and burnt out.

And yet to many it's become a sort of 'badge of honour' that goes hand in hand with late hours in the office, juggling family friends and work, and is even perhaps a misguided symbol of achievement. But as women have fought hard for the past few decades to be recognised in the workplace, grappling with balancing a healthy life with a corporate game of snakes and ladders, more and more women are citing increased stress as a snowballing problem in their lives. Stress is becoming one of the biggest barriers to women's health, and the root of a whole host of issues.

Obviously we're not about to let go of everything we've achieved, and far from advocating that I believe we need to ask important questions around this growing problem so that we can learn how to recognise real stress, and learn how to combat it.

When we asked Dr Andy Jones, MD for Nuffield Health, he told us that prolonged stress is a big concern for doctors with more and more women visiting their GP because of it. He said that regardless of why we're stressed the body always reacts in the same way: "Step one it produces more stress hormones; step two: immune function is inhibited, step three: the result may be a physiological symptom such as a stomach ulcer. Stress can reduce the white blood cell count opening the body up to infection and gastrointestinal issues."

He added "many immune-related conditions and diseases that are associated with stress are characterised by the prolonged presence of proinflammatory cytokines which are small proteins released by cells in the body which cause inflammation. These illnesses include cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), other ageing related diseases, and some cancers."

Acute stress has also been lined to back pain, adult acne, and weight gain. As Dr Andy Jones explains "stress also produces cortisol, which has been found to directly influence appetite and cravings. A stressful day can lead us to seek dopamine as a reward and this means reaching for foods that are high in sugar or fats." Definitely not good for our health or waistlines! With all these health issues arising from stress, it's vital for us to manage any prolonged periods of stress in our lives for the sake of our own health.

The best advice is often the most simple. Dr Andy Jones's says to manage stress it's key to "exercise regularly and eat healthily." It's important to make time to nurture ourselves, as in the long run it will keep your energy levels up and your outlook happy and positive. Here are my tips for beating the burnout:

• Get to know your limits and learn how to manage stress- some people thrive on stress while others don't. Learn what makes you tick and when you feel as though your stress is getting too much then it's time for a pause.

- Take a short walk to clear your mind and remove yourself from any unwanted situations.

- Don't feel guilty about taking some time to yourself. Enjoy a spa treatment, or try aromatherapy oils like bergamot, chamomile, lavender, sandalwood or ylang ylang to relax you.

- Try meditation techniques - they can really help quiet and focus busy minds.

• Pinpoint the causes of your stress - Knowing that you're stressed won't provide a long-term solution. Figure out the reasons behind it and tackle them.

- Work - Work smarter, not harder! Prioritise tasks and manage your time effectively so you're not spending all of your time at work, and avoid reading emails late at night.

- Too many commitments? Don't be afraid to wind down; sometimes we can stretch ourselves too much, so figure out which obligations you can sacrifice.

• Eat healthily - when you're stressed your blood sugar levels rise, but a healthy, balanced diet and eating regular meals can help to keep your blood sugar level steady.

• Exercise regularly - you don't have to train for a marathon, but regular gentle exercise will get your endorphins flowing which helps to reduce cortisol.

• Take Time Out - Taking a wellness break or any kind of break is important to your health and an investment in yourself. It's a chance to reboot and recharge so you return feeling more enthusiastic and refreshed.

This October Nuffield Health are running a campaign to raise awareness around #womenshealth. Tackling tricky topics from heart disease to fertility, cancer to incontinence, Nuffield aren't shying away from discussing the big health issues that many women face. Have a look on their twitter feed #womenshealth to read some excellent articles on these subjects.