Last year we conducted a resilience training program for women and it was a great experience for us. Focusing on issues of particular interest to women was an eye-opener, even when we were getting most of the information from our own book manuscript. Once we were focused on women in particular, it became clear that a surprising amount of the research we discussed in our book was about women. Here we list many of those, and some others that are important to both women and men.
We came to the conclusion that women in particular need to build their resilience and thus neutralize the effects of stress. Here are some reasons why we think that:
- In an important study, women who hid their thoughts and feelings (“Self-Silenced”) during marital conflict were four times as likely to die during the ten year study as women who spoke up. Men did not show the same effect. Resilience training includes learning the skills needed to express yourself without causing unnecessary trouble.
- Highly stressed women have chromosomes that reflect over a decade of extra aging when compared to those of women who are low in stress. (For more on this click here).
- The most damaging pattern of stress is when your stress hormones go up and stay up for a long time. With resilience these hormones may go up but recovery is prompt. Research done in Sweden by Marianne Frankenhaeuser shows that working women as well as working men have high stress hormone levels during the workday, but for men these levels drop after work. For women they are less likely to do so, especially if they have children. If they can’t arrange for a more equitable sharing of work at home, women need to learn skills that bring those levels down in the evening.
- Researchers found that couples with high levels of stress hormones in the first year of their marriages were 30% more likely to be divorced 10 years later. Those high in stress who were still married were twice as likely to have troubled marriages.
- Women with high levels of stress hormones are three times more likely to have miscarriages
- In one study, women with high levels of stress hormones had significantly lower bone density in the back and thigh. For more details click here.
- When stressed, both men and women are less able to think clearly, are more forgetful, and more likely to miss information important for them to do well in life and deal effectively with others. For an extensive review of stress and cognition click here.
- Stress hormones increase abdominal fat, especially internal fat. High levels of internal abdominal fat are associated with cardiovascular disease in both men and women.
- People who have to be caregivers of elders with dementia (disproportionately women) tend to have suppressed immunity, and it stays suppressed for years after the loved one dies. Biological indicators of age indicated that the caregivers’ on average lost four to eight years of their lifespan.
This is far from a complete list. Still we think it makes a compelling case for women to devote some of their energy to becoming as resilient as they can be.