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Do Men Have Different Stress Triggers Than Women?

We all lose our minds sometimes, but when it comes to stress, are men and women really that different?

We thought it would be interesting to look at the difference between the two ends of the gender spectrum when it comes to what stresses us out. Physiologically, we may be different, but are we psychologically distanced as well?

The real task might not be to look at if we can separate what makes us stressed out by our gender - the answer to that is based more around our specific and individual personalities - but rather, look at how the genders react to and cope with the stress we find ourselves having in the first place.

We’re Not That Different When it Comes to Triggers…

The things that bring us worry, concern and a sometimes inescapable feeling like we just aren’t good enough and can never seem to keep up are relatively the same for all of us. We all feel pressure from our commitments, work load and environments. Common stresses on everyone’s list include:

  • Financial obligations
  • Death or sickness in ourselves or loved ones
  • Relationship/family problems
  • Work stress (#1 cause of stress in the US)
  • Moving
  • Social/emotional stress (Anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, anger, grief, guilt)
  • Traumatic events (Divorce, natural disaster, violence)
  • Poor health/lack of sleep/poor diet

...But Our Reactions Might Be

What studies have found though, is that men and women may be physiologically programmed to cope with stress differently, depending on what form the stress takes.

A 2000 study by UCLA social psychologist Shelley Taylor and her colleagues published in a Psychology Review article proposed that when it comes to stress, there are actually two ways we deal with it: the well known fight or flight response, handed down to us from our cave-dwelling ancestors. and the lesser-known tend or befriend system.

Fight or flight, as we know, is the reaction our brains and bodies have to an impending danger - a tiger roams into your dwelling threatening your children, or a natural disaster looms on the horizon and you have to react quickly to survive.

In the modern day, we aren’t faced with those issues, but our bodies have the same reaction - to release hormones cortisol and epinephrine to help us gear up for what we need to do. Nowadays, that can be triggered by having to do an important presentation in front of our colleagues, or facing a boss who never seems to be satisfied with our work.

Even dealing with a workplace bully or horrible clients can trigger this reaction.

Taylor’s article pointed to the idea that men are much more likely to have a traditional fight or flight response to stress, while women, who were brought up as carers and nurturers, have the tend and befriend reaction.

Instead of fighting or running, women’s bodies were found to secrete feel-good endorphins to help with social interactions, seeking to befriend the enemy, meet them on their level and essentially lower the tension with social behavior. The tend response comes out when women look to close friends and family to talk out the problem, finding relief in social support.

This theory might not be a line drawn in the sand to separate men and women - it may come down to how much testosterone we produce. Another study found that women who were found to have higher than normal levels of testosterone were more likely to have the fight or flight response when faced with danger.

Behavioral Differences May Also Play a Role

Another way to look at this topic is to nod to those caveman days, when survival was much more difficult. Men needed to protect their families and hunt, while women needed to make sure their children were taken care of and given the lessons they needed to grow into contributing community members.

Interestingly, women largely still carry that nurturing gene (tied to estrogen levels), and in modern times, are more likely to feel stressed out because of the needs of those around them, overlooking their own needs in order to make someone else’s life easier.

Women are more likely to reach out to ask for help and support than men are, essentially diluting their stress by sharing it with others who can give them a solution or even just a bit of empathy.

Men, on the other hand, more often turn to problem solving and are more likely to simply avoid their stress, seeking escape and even relying on competition instead of help.

Men might find it easier to release stress by hitting the gym hard, or engaging in a rough and tumble game of pick up basketball; something where they can dominate in a different area of their lives if they feel they can’t necessarily control a bully boss or a family member dealing with an illness.

The Fear of Saying “No” is Not Gender Based

How much of your stress could be alleviated if you could just say “No” to people? Another interesting way to look at what causes stress is this simple fear we all may have to tackle at some point. Many people, if they dig a little deeper, find that a huge amount of their stress is self-inflicted, due to not wanting to say that little word.

It could take the form of:

  • Fear of conflict
  • Hurting someone’s feelings
  • Letting someone down
  • A desire to fit in

This problem can come down to how we were raised; as children, we learn that we need to heed our elders and the rules they impose upon us. We all carry this into adulthood, and while some of us learn how to constructively navigate what rules we should and shouldn’t follow, some of us hold onto parts of that obedience.

No matter what our gender, our personalities and social needs will dictate whether or not we worry about saying “No” and how that ability affects our stress levels.

Conclusion

While yes, men and women have different physiological make ups, there is no definitive answer that all men do this and all women do that. Our background, relationships, ability to adapt, communication skills, and overall personality all play a role in determining how we will deal with stress.

The most important thing for you is to seek to understand your own triggers and find as much information as you can to help you mitigate them before it becomes a health problem.

Whatever gender you identify with should not limit the way you view your problems - you need to find your own path to balance, so use whatever tools you can find to make that happen!

Even if our bodies do react differently based on gender, if you have enough sense of self to identify how you handle stress, you can take back control by learning to make it work for you instead of against you.

Remember, stress can be a good thing! If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be as good at adapting to or responding to changes in our lives. Stress can also come when we feel challenged or feel a loss of control.

Whatever your gender, learning to conquer and cope with your fears and setbacks in healthy ways can allow you a higher level of success. More than that, you’ll learn from experience how to handle stress and you’ll become stronger for it. Stress never really goes away, but you can certainly learn how to manage it so it doesn’t get in your way!

Related Article: Tense Relationships? Try These Tips to Ease the Stress

Sarah McCullough

Sarah McCullough

Sarah focuses on stress management, healthy sleep, and how interior design and colour contribute to relaxing environments. By day, Sarah works in Human Resources, eagerly absorbing knowledge about the human psyche and why we behave and interact the way we do. Sarah started her career journey with a single year... Read More

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