How Men and Women Experience Stress Differently, and Why That’s Important


man-woman-stress2In modern times, men and women share many of the same experiences. Gone are the days of Ozzie and Harriet where a woman’s main concern of the day was getting her husband shirts from the dry cleaners and making sure the pot roast was ready as soon as he got home. A man no longer can assume he can rest on his couch after a long day, but the modern man shares much of the parenting and home responsibilities with his wife, who likely has a job outside of the home. This has an effect on the traditional distribution of labor between men and women, but it has also allowed men and women to share experiences and connect with childcare and office politics the way they couldn’t in generations past.

It’s Physical

Although the experiences of men and women may be similar, the way they process stress can be vastly different. This is not only because of social habits and the way men and women are conditioned, but it also comes down to biology. Medical science shows that men’s and women’s bodies process stress in dramatically different ways. The three hormones associated with stress are cortisol epinephrine and oxytocin. People used to think that women released large amounts of cortisol which explained perceptions of extreme emotion exhibited by women. It turns out that men and women both release the same amount of cortisol in response to stress, but women release more oxytocin. This hormone is associated with a sense of well-being, intimacy, comfort and in large doses, sexual ecstasy. The oxytocin is released as a response to the cortisol and is the body’s way of self-soothing with the onset of stress. Men release less oxytocin, which means they may feel stress more keenly and have less of a buffer against the onslaught of pressure.

Different Ways of Coping

The difference in the way men and women release stress hormones may hint at the difference in their coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. Women generally tend to seek out others to connect with when feeling stressed. This can be shown in the way women they may vent to a coworker or friends over a stressful incident. Men, on the other hand, are more given to the fight or flight response, and may react more immediately to stress. This may cause men to become aggressive or completely bottle up their feelings of anxiety and discomfort. This is consistent with the biological differences because women’s bodies release oxytocin which provides comfort, just as they may reach out to a friend as a way to deal with stress. Men, whose bodies release less oxytocin, may feel stress more intensely than women, which can push them to react or eliminate the feeling. They also tend to isolate themselves in their stress.

Flights of rage or bottled up anger, although they seem like opposite reactions to stress, can create the same effect on the body. They both can lead to hypertension which can be responsible for a host of potentially lethal health problems including heart attacks and strokes. Blood clots can develop easily in people who are chronically stressed or angry, and a constant barrage of negative emotions are sometimes blamed for tumors.

There is little doubt that stress is bad for your health, whether you are male or female. However, in general, men seem to be more affected by stress and also tend to avoid seeking help. Women often have a network of female friends they feel comfortable admitting their feelings to, even feelings of inadequacy. Women also are more likely to say they feel overwhelmed and seek outside help, whether that help is in the form of cleaning assistance or psychotherapy. Men traditionally have equated vulnerability with the lack of masculinity, and feel pressured to carry on, even in a damaging situation. Women are negatively impacted by stress because it involves often putting their own needs on hold in favor of others. The social aspect of stress affects men in a different way.

Competition creates anxiety and fear of losing, and to relax and take a time out may mean conceding victory, which can be devastating for a man. This may cause men to avoid getting proper rest and taking the time to relax because of fear that one’s opponent is wide-awake and working. Many people may remember the famous scene from the iconic 1980s film Wall Street in which Gordon Gecko, the ruthless trader, calls Charlie Sheen’s character up and says, starkly, “Money never sleeps.” In this scenario, taking a day off with the family or even getting extra sleep may spell losing a small fortune.

Signs of Stress

You may not recognize the signs that stress is taking a serious toll on your health until it is too late. That is why it is essential to pay attention to things that you might otherwise dismiss, particularly if you have high blood pressure and a family history of heart problems. If you are tired, that might be simply because you are lacking, but might be a symptom of the wear-and-tear the pressure your life is taking on you. Insomnia and excessive sleep are both signs of too much stress. And irritable mood does not let up and an inability to concentrate properly are also noticeable symptoms of excessive stress. If you feel inexplicable soreness in your muscle, especially in your back or chest, you should not only relax but visit a doctor. There are many ways to cope with stress, but don’t let drinking too much alcohol be one of them. Drinking might seem to provide temporary relief, but can make the problems worse in the long run. Getting adequate exercise, taking stress formula vitamins, meditating at least 15 to 20 minutes a day, and adopting an attitude that is not based on entirely on victory and control can help ease the effects of stress.

Everyone experiences stress, but in addition to the many differences between men and women is the difference with which they feel and cope with stress. These differences are based not only on societal roles but are connected with actual biology and how hormones are released in response to a stressful situation. It is essential to recognize the signs of stress and take proper precautions in reducing pressure.