If you’ve ever been frustrated with the way the opposite sex reacts to a problem you have shared with them, it helps to know there are innate differences in the way men and women handle stress.
Stress then, stress now
To understand these differences, we have to first examine the initial purpose of stress. Whatever benefit stress may once have offered has mostly disappeared. Primitive man relied on his body’s system to gear-up for flight or fight. When he was threatened, his adrenal system started pumping furiously and he used every bit of the magical substance to save his hide.
But today anxieties are different: modern man deals mostly with emotional stresses instead of physical ones, though his body cannot discern the difference. Modern social protocol makes it inappropriate for us to fight or run away from worrisome circumstances. So while the adrenal system keeps on pumping for our lives, our minds instruct us to keep cool.
Three stress hormones are involved in the flight or fight syndrome: Cortisol, Epinephrine, and Oxytocin. Cortisol and Epinephrine lower immunities and raise blood pressure. Oxytocin softens the reaction of Cortisol and Epinephrine by relaxing the emotions. Men release less Oxytocin than women, and therefore, have a stronger reaction from both Cortisol and Epinephrine.
Because of the increase of Oxytocin and the reproductive hormones, such as Estrogen, women are tenderized to nurture and reach out to others in an effort to both protect themselves and their young. Women are about relationships. In fact, their self-esteem and identity are both dependent upon their feelings of adequacy in relationships.
Men, on the other hand, are problem solvers. They compartmentalize and repress their emotions to either fight or run away. Males are invested in performance and competition. They instinctively don’t pick up many social cues and innately view eye contact as a challenge. So when your male companion says, “I didn’t know you were angry,” even though you didn’t look at him all day because you were upset with him, he may be telling the truth.