Why Women In Stressful Roles Need To Double Down On Self-Care
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Why Women In Stressful Roles Need To Double Down On Self-Care

High-pressure jobs are renowned for increasing stress levels and creating a longer-term threat to women’s health, so it’s vital that you prioritise self-care to avoid turning your dream job into a nightmare.

I’m a research assistant for Elevate Talent, the organisation founded by my mother Jacqueline Frost; we pride ourselves on supporting mid-level female executives to advance their careers and create a work-life balance that is enjoyable and sustainable. 

I am a Biomedical Science graduate from Newcastle University and am now working towards my Masters in Regenerative Medicine at Queen Mary University of London. I’m passionate about research and through this have discovered some alarming information around women’s health.

How gender impacts on your health

While there are clear physical differences between men and women, we also know that men and women experience illness and disease differently. For example, we know that 60 per cent of women who experience a stroke die, but the figure for men is 40 per cent (1).

Why does a large gap exist between genders? Why is this not being talked about?

This is one example of many where I believe there is a distinct need for more gender-specific research into health.  In the meantime, though, it’s important to be aware of this, especially if you are experiencing stress at work (which is a well-known contributor to high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke).

In this blog, I’m going to explore some of the factors that typically contribute to strokes, and what you can do, as a woman in business, to protect your health.

What do we know about women’s health and strokes?

If you were to answer who is at higher risk of stroke, men or women – which would you choose?  The answer is women.  One in five women have a stroke (2).

To add to this more than half of women (51.8 per cent) who have a stroke report ‘non-classical’ symptoms such as; changes in mood, headaches or fatigue (3). These symptoms have not been as thoroughly explored as classical symptoms have (“classical” refers to the UK National Health Service F.A.S.T acronym – face, arms, speech, time). Although many female patients do experience classical symptoms, having an awareness that there are non-classical signs may help you and your female family members and friends in the future.

Women are also more likely to experience symptoms that are similar to those of a stroke (known as stroke mimics). These can include migraines, epilepsy, seizures or high blood pressure (always seek medical reassurance if you experience any of these). Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with stroke mimics too,  and experience worse recovery post-stroke than men (4). Factors such as hormonal treatments (for women) have been thought to interplay with the recovery process. These perhaps complex statistics demonstrate that there are key gender differences in stroke healthcare that need to be addressed.

Which factors might contribute to a stroke?

The following factors are known to contribute to the risk of having a stroke: 

  • Gender; whilst women are considered slightly less likely to have a stroke than men of the same age,  they have strokes at a later age, which makes them less likely to recover well (5).
  • High blood pressure (hypertension, which is often prompted by high stress levels and high cholesterol).
  • Smoking (smoking or chewing tobacco, and this includes passive smoking).
  • Heart disease (and an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation).
  • Excessive alcohol intake.
  • Diabetes.
  • Being overweight.
  • Medication (including blood-thinning drugs and drugs used to treat menopause).
  • Age (your chances double each decade beyond the age of 55).
  • Genetics (if a close relative parent, grandparent, brother or sister has had a stroke, your risk of a stroke is likely to be higher).

While this might sound like an intimidating list, it’s useful for you to know so that you can take steps to improve your health.

What you can do to support your wellbeing

As women, an awareness of key differences within medical care is vital. A study from 2018 using online healthcare databases (Pubmed, Embase, and PsycINFO), demonstrated that women in “high strain jobs” had a significantly increased stroke risk, whereas men in the same high strain jobs do not have an increased stroke risk (6).  Hypertension, the scientific term for high blood pressure, has a greater burden on women than men. This essentially means that women with high blood pressure are more likely to develop more serious illnesses as a result, when compared to men (7).

Another larger risk factor for women which is not significant in men is migraines with aura (8) (this is a type of migraine which women are more susceptible to due to hormonal differences) (9).

Overall, there are certain conditions that put women at risk of stroke but do not affect men as significantly. As women, knowing and acknowledging our increased risks and taking active decisions to alleviate stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle is extremely important.

Burnt toast

Add to this, women are known to frequently put others first and themselves last.  An expression coined for this scenario is ‘burnt toast’.  Very simply, if making a round of toast for the family and one slice burns, the woman will most likely eat that one; while it has become a bit of a cliched example, it’s important to follow the aeroplane rule and ‘put your oxygen mask on first’.  We must do our best not to repeat the mistakes of our foremothers. 

Take action

I hope you’ve found this blog insightful. Although women who experience high levels of stress in the workplace are more at risk of a stroke than their male counterparts, with the basic knowledge provided here, you’re in a powerful position to start taking action to protect your health and enjoy a successful career.

What’s your experience of gender-specific health research? Do you think we need more facts about women’s health? Send us a message on LinkedIn and share your thoughts.

And, if you’d like to know more about how Elevate Talent can support you to advance your career, check out 5 Of Our Top Blogs To Help You Take Your Career Further, Faster, or get in touch.

Please note that the information provided in this blog is for general informational and educational purposes only. If you have any health concerns or medical queries please seek the appropriate medical advice.

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2665267/

(2) https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/stroke-risk-factors/women-have-a-higher-risk-of-stroke

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2861793/

(4) https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.121.319915

(5) https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/know-your-risk/risk-factors/risk-of-stroke-in-women-infographic

(6) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30405992/

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6005390/

(8) https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.121.319915

(9) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201