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Men, Women & Stress

Men, Women & Stress

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to talk about men, women and stress and reveal the different ways that men and women respond to stress and how that affects relationships.

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Now, let’s talk about the different ways that men and women respond to stress and how that affects relationships.

I would like to begin by explaining the Stress Response.

The first stage of The Stress Response is “Alarm” – the body prepares for violent muscular action (Fight-or-Flight Response) regardless of whether or not the stimulus/stressor is physical, mental or emotional. The body’s response to a stressor includes anxiety, panic, fear, racing thoughts, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, headaches, muscle tension, gastrointestinal distress, etc. The second stage of The Stress Response is the “Adaptive/Resistance” stage where the body tries to recover from the physiological strains of the alarm stage once the stres­sor is eliminated. If the stressor is not eliminated, then the body stays in Alarm stage and the body enters stage three, “Exhaustion” or burnout. The longer the stress remains, the greater the symptoms and the greater the damage to the body – the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual body.

For decades, it was assumed by researchers and scientists that men and women respond to stress in exactly the same way i.e. The Fight-or-Flight Response. That may have been due to the fact that almost all of the subjects and participants in the study were male. However, in the past 10 years, new studies involving men and women now reveal that men and women have vastly different responses to stress.

The findings are that men and women both respond the same way to physical danger and threats – i.e. The Fight-or-Flight Response. However, stress in general, and perceived threats to self-esteem including judgments, criticism and condemnation result in a different response by women.

In studies conducted in 2002 at UCLA, it was discovered that women have a much broader range of behavioral responses to stress than men do and this is primarily due to the differences in the hormonal makeup between men and women.

In fact, as part of the stress response, women release Oxytocin which buffers the Fight-or-Flight Response and accordingly women tend to their children more (protecting and nurturing) and turn to other women for friendship, comfort and support. In other words, women “tend and befriend.” And when they do this, the body releases yet more Oxytocin and this calms women down even more. Additionally, women’s Estrogen enhances the calming effect of Oxytocin.

The opposite is true for men. When faced with stress men release more testosterone which counters any possible calming effect of Oxytocin.

Additional studies reveal that:

  • Men are more likely than women to respond to stress by developing certain stress-related disorders such as hypertension, aggressive behavior or abuse of alcohol or hard drugs
  • Women are also more likely to eat in response to stress
  • Men are more likely to turn to illegal drugs
  • Women are more likely than men to report feelings of nervousness, wanting to cry or lacking energy
  • Men are prone to describing their stress conditions as sleepless, irritable or angry

Thus, it could be argued that The Fight-or-Flight Response is a male reaction, a male response to stress. For women, though, it’s more of an emotional response that triggers a different part of the brain; It’s triggered in the limbic system, along with the hormonal differences explained above. So, therefore, women when confronted with stress will  “tend and befriend.” Women need to have social contact, they need to talk; they need to talk it out and they need to do this with other women. And tending and befriending for women may explain why women outlive men as research from Harvard University reveals that the more friends women have the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age, and the more likely they are to live a happy, joyful life.

Men on the other hand respond to stress very differently. They don’t speak about their emotions, they don’t necessarily become teary and they don’t recognize the depression. They tend to isolate themselves, reporting that they can’t sleep, they’re irritable and they’re angry or as mentioned above, men tend to abuse substances.

And in another study, UCLA psychologist Rena Repetti, examined the differences between fathers’ and mothers’ behaviors with their children after a stressful workday. Dr. Repetti found that when the typical father in this study came home after a stressful day at work, he responded to stress by wanting to be left alone enjoying peace and quiet away from the stress of the office.

Further, when office-related stress was particularly acute, a typical response would be to react harshly or create conflict with his wife or children. This supports what I said earlier, that men tend to respond to stress with aggressive behavior, verbal conflicts or even more drastic actions i.e. The Fight-or-Flight Response – either withdrawing & fleeing from the stressful situation or fighting – expressing oneself physically.

Thus, women who respond to stress with “tend and befriend” will move towards befriending methods – talking on the phone with relatives or friends, making social contacts, even asking for directions when lost.  A key point here is that women simply need someone to listen to them, someone to be sympathetic and empathetic. When women are in a stressful situation, they really just want a sounding board.  So in the study that I was referring to a moment ago, when the typical mother in that study came home from work bearing stress, she was more likely to cope with her bad day by focusing her attention on nurturing her children.  Accordingly, when marriages face extreme stress or challenges over an extended period, I have observed a pattern whereby the woman immerses and loses herself in and with her children & female friends while the man loses himself in his work and possibly drugs. He reaches out to her physically and she often rejects him. The man though, will suffer much more than his wife as she receives the support she needs to handle the stress but he doesn’t. Often the couple drifts apart more and more until the wife becomes almost independent of the husband except for his provisions – financial support – and even more independent of him if she has her own career and finances.

In closing, I say that the application of knowledge is real power, and thus, as we understand the different ways that men and women respond to and handle stress, we can encourage, aid and assist our partner to get the support they need during times of stress while also not cutting off our partner, not isolating ourselves, and helping each other also to open up and share their challenges and emotions. In one study at Harvard on stress, the researchers concluded that not having close friends or confidantes is as dangerous to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

If you would like more information, insights and help with stress, read my Success Newsletters archived on my blog:

Remember,  you can download my gift to reduce stress now, click here.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

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