Stress: Men and Women Handle It Differently

Stress. Everyone deals with it on almost daily basis. Often, we don’t even notice it. Stress helps people function when faced with a situation that threatens to disrupt their perceived balance. It is also a psychobiological mechanism that helps individuals function and interact with others in positive ways. Yes, stress can be positive, in small amounts. Too much stress, however, not only negatively affects personal health, but also can negatively influence relationships with others, especially for men.

It turns out that men and women handle stress very differently. Researchers were surprised to learn that when stressed, males were less able to distinguish their emotions and intentions from those of others, tending to be ego centered and less social, while women were the opposite and pro-social. The original hypothesis was that participants would be egocentric and less empathic, despite gender.

The study was recently published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. Researcher Giorgia Silani from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste, Italy, explains:

“There’s a subtle boundary between the ability to identify with others and take on their perspective – and therefore be empathetic – and the inability to distinguish between self and other, thus acting egocentrically. To be truly empathetic and behave more prosocial is important to maintain the ability to distinguish between self and other, and stress appears to play an important role in this.”

The research involved participants divided into two equal groups of men and women who were exposed to stress in a laboratory setting. Motor, emotional, and cognitive skills were measured.

“What we observed was that stress worsens the performance of men in all three types of tasks. The opposite is true for women,” explains Silani. 

The gender difference might be physiologically explained by previous studies that found women under stress had higher levels of oxytocin than men under similar stress condition. Social behavior has a strong connection to the hormone oxytocin. Women may also be able to apply social strategies better under stress than men do.

Stress can ruin lives by causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and quality of life. Discuss your concerns and symptoms with your medical practitioner to find positive answers to relieving stress.



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