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Do women and men respond differently to stress?

Research indicates that women's biological response to stress is to "tend and befriend" -- make sure the children are safe and then network with other women in stressful times. Men's biological reaction to stress is to go into the flight-or-fight mode. Studies indicate that the hormone oxytocin, which has a calming effect, is released during stressful times in both men and women.

Estrogen may enhance oxytocin release, while testosterone may diminish it; this may be one reason that women seem to seek social support more often then men when under stress. However, women have also been socialized from an early age to look to their social group, particularly their female friends, for support when under stress, whereas men tend to engage in activities, such as exercise or even using substances, when under stress.
As stressed as we are,women still have the advantage over men when it comes to coping. New evidence? In most parts of the world women now live about ten years longerthan men. New cause? Differences in how we respond to a brain chemicalcalled oxytocin, suggests the latest stress research. Sometimes referred to as the bonding hormone or love hormone, oxytocin makes people (animals, too) care for each other. Sex (and masturbation) will trigger its release, but it alsohas ties to stressful situations. When the going gets rough, it helps people feel more connected and less frightened.

Here is where the sexes are not created equal. While both men and women release oxytocin in some stressful situations, in men, testosterone appears to block oxytocin, so they stay in edgy fight-or-flight mode. In women, however, estrogen enhances nurturing oxytocin, so under stress wemay shift from fight or flight to a calmer state called tend and befriend. Oxytocin also tempers surges in blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels.The tend-and-befriend theory makes evolutionary sense. Eons ago, while men sprang into action to fight off a saber-toothed something, the women closed in to nurture and protect the babies, assuring survival. So, maybe it’s no surprise that today when we are stressed to the max, rather than fighting or fleeing, we often turn to each other, seeking comfort and consolation. Survival just might depend on it.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.