How Men and Women Deal With Stress Differently

0
89

Amanda Ezman’s life is a little on the stressful side these days. She’s a first-grade teacher to a classroom full of rambunctious 6-year-olds, she’s planning a July wedding, and she’s house hunting with her future husband. So it’s a common occurrence for her to come home after a harried day and feel stressed. What does she do?

“When it all piles up, I usually need to cry and get it all out,” says Ezman, of Sherrill, N.Y. “I talk and then talk some more and then some more, and then once I’ve had a chance to talk through all the things that bottle up inside me during the day, I usually feel better.”

Andrew Flynn’s pregnant wife and 5-year-old daughter have relocated from Long Island, N.Y., to upstate N.Y., while he still works on Long Island. He commutes once a week back and forth, and in the meantime, tries to get his family settled in their new house near Syracuse. Stress is unfortunately a part of his life for the time being.

“I don’t talk about my feelings when I’m stressed,” says Flynn. “It’s easier just to let it pass and move on.”

Clearly, men and women tend to deal with stress in very different ways — but why? WebMD talks to experts who explain why stress affects the sexes so differently.

Men vs. Women and Hormones

One of the most important reasons why men and women react differently to stress is hormones. Three play a crucial role: cortisol, psychology at UCLA.

Why do women tend and befriend instead of fight or flight? The reason, in large part, is oxytocin combined with female reproductive hormones, explained researchers in the study.

Men, on the other hand, with smaller amounts of oxytocin, lean toward the tried and true fight or flight response when it comes to stress — either bottling it up and escaping, or fighting back.

Demand vs. Energy

“The major sex differences I see have to do with the management of demand and maintenance of energy,” says Carl Pickhardt, PhD, a psychologist and author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Positive Discipline. “Because male self-esteem is often built around adequacy of performance, and female self-esteem is often built around adequacy of relationships, overdemand and insufficient self-maintenance tend to cut somewhat different ways for women and for men.”

A woman, explains Pickhardt, is often at risk of letting other people’s needs determine her limits, while her own needs are ignored.

“Self-sacrifice in Managing stress is very different by sex,” Pickhardt tells WebMD. “Women often seek support to talk out the emotional experience, to process what is happening and what might be done.”

Whether its friends, family, or a support group, women like to tell their stories.

“Men often seek an escape activity to get relief from stress, to create a relaxing diversion, to get away,” says Pickhardt.

Golfing is a common example of how men escape — they’re acting out their stressful energy in a challenging way while enjoying the companionship of other men. They typically, explains Pickhardt, don’t take time out of a round of golf to discuss their feelings or stress amongst each other.

Stress and Evolution

For both sexes, stress has evolved from the days on the savannah when we were running for our lives. Now, it’s mortgage payments and childcare that keep us up night after night.

“The single most important point to make is that stress has evolved from dealing with a single short-term crisis to the ability to turn stress on in a chronic way,” says Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

Unfortunately, because the hormonal result of stress is increased blood pressure and circulating Managing stress from overdemand and inadequate self-maintenance is very simple, and so very complex,” says Pickhardt. “Two little words are all it takes: ‘No’ and ‘Yes.'”