Behaviorists have recently floated a new theory for why men and women react differently to stress.
For men, upon whom most of the research
has been done, stress is thought to stem from a privative
fight or flight responses, aggravated by testosterone.
Repeated or prolonged exposure to stress is thought to contribute to
insomnia, anxiety, burnout, phobias, drug
and alcohol abuse, depression, physical violence, and worse.
What researchers have found by studying
women's response to stress is that females produce a lot more of a
hormone called oxytocin which is associated with relaxation and
Many clinical studies of anxiety
have shown that women often respond to stress by tending to others
such as children, family members and by 'befriending' – getting
together and talking. Men on the other hand
tend to deal with stress by withdrawing and dealing with it alone.
The importance of oxytocin in the gender differences in stress reaction is not yet completely understood. Clinical observations indicate that women who tend to others and seek the comfort of friends and family are not only diverting attention from the stressors but usually also place themselves in a safer situation.
The question of whether hormones account for the differences in male and female reactions to stress or the different behavioral reactions to stress is key is still unanswered.
What is clear is that anyone wanting to reduce or cope with stress in their lives, 'tending' and 'befriending' is the way to go.