BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — After a grueling week of work, school, or managing the household, most people look forward to a stress-free weekend. However, a new study finds women seem to benefit the most.
Understanding when women feel the most — or in this case, the least — stressed can help in improving negative moods and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, according to a team from Binghamton University.
“This is important because it is known that women have twice the risk of mental distress such as anxiety and depression when compared to men,” says Lina Begdache, PhD, an assistant professor of health and wellness studies, in a university release. “Women tend to juggle several responsibilities and multitask because their brain is wired to do so, but obviously, this adds to their mental distress. Therefore, knowing that taking frequent breaks may improve their mental well-being may ward off the need to resort to medications.”
There are multiple factors that could lead to mental distress. Previous research from Dr. Begdache’s group showed that a person’s food choices, the day of the week, and physical fitness affect the activity of the stress hormone cortisol. In the current study, the team followed 48 college students who kept 336 records of what they ate for three days and their responses to two mood questionnaires on a Wednesday and a Saturday.
Does exercise play a role?
On a Wednesday, which the researchers considered a “peak” weekday, people who reported more negative moods were also more likely to have mental distress. However, these emotions tended to go away when they had extra time to themselves — such as on the weekends. The results suggest taking a short break may do wonders for people experiencing a mental health crisis. Dr. Begdache notes taking a break could help to manage stress, potentially preventing future mental distress.
“I know myself, as a woman who juggles many responsibilities, that it is sometimes easier said than done, but by making a conscious effort to experience some downtime, many times we could be successful,” she comments. “Delegation of tasks or building priorities sometimes helps.”
Another factor that came into play was a person’s fitness level. People who exercised were more likely to relax faster than those who did not. Future research will look at how often a person needs to exercise during the weekday versus the weekend to improve their mental health. Dr. Begdache and her team will also explore how the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying restrictions have impacted exercise’s influence on stress.
The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.