As most couples are aware, men and women respond differently to stress. What hasn't always been clear is how or why. Our understanding of the human stress response has been based on the "fight-or-flight" model, which states that when confronted with a stressful situation, humans either will respond with aggressive behavior or will withdraw.
What's the Stress Response in Women?
One study offers clues to the biological and behavioral differences in the ways men and women cope with stress. It found that females of many species, including humans, respond to stressful situations by protecting and nurturing their young and by seeking social contact and support from others, particularly females. The study refers to this response as "tend-and-befriend."
Does Biology Favor Females?
As with the fight-or-flight response common in males, this tend-and-befriend response to stress may have a biological basis. The hormone oxytocin, which is secreted by both males and females in response to stress, is believed to play a role.
In males, the effects of oxytocin seem to be reduced by male hormones. But in females, oxytocin—along with other stress hormones—may play a key factor in reducing the female response to stress.
Men are more likely than women to respond to stressful experiences by developing certain stress-related disorders, including
, aggressive behavior, or
, while the tend-and-befriend response may protect women against stress.
Are Women Are at Higher Risk?
Doctors have recognized a condition that they have memorably called “broken heart syndrome.” In this probably rare condition, acute stress, such as news of a loved one’s death, leads to sudden onset of chest pain,
, or even sudden death. While this broken heart syndrome does occur in men, a study published by the
New England Journal of Medicine
reported that women were more likely to have this condition.
What Does This Mean for You and Your Better Half?
"For men it would suggest that reaching out is beneficial—protective, even—in times of stress," says Richard Driscoll, PhD, author of
The Stronger Sex
. "But for hundreds of thousands of years, men who revealed their weaknesses tended to be undesirable mates. Hiding weaknesses has been biologically advantageous, and men still tend to be less likely to reveal weaknesses."
This reluctance on the part of men to reach out, Dr. Driscoll believes, could help explain the difference in life expectancy between the genders.
"Women get more medical care; they consume two out of three healthcare dollars. They are more likely to seek help from
. Men don't get the healthcare; they tend not to reach out."
Is There Help for Men?
Men need to learn to deal with stress in a healthy manner, says Dr. Driscoll. He recommends a process he developed called "mental shielding" to brush off hostility. Mental shielding involves developing the ability to disengage from hostile comments and remain in control, first by achieving a calm, relaxed state, and then creating a mental shield between yourself and your partner. This deflects the hostility and allows you to better deal with the core issues.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a