Do women handle stress better? I realize that this could be open to fiery debate, but recent research suggests that women do in fact cope with stress better than men (it’s not just an “old wive’s tale”!).
A common stress response is the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome – where you either stay and deal with it or try to avoid the issue altogether. Studies have found that whereas men are prone to either ‘fight or flight’, women are more prone to a different response altogether – “tend and befriend”. This means that women are more likely to seek out social support to help them get through stressful times.
While studies have shown that women tend to respond better to chronic stress overall, a recent finding from researchers at the University of Buffalo reveals a reason why: estrogen. In lab research they found key differences in how male and female rats responded to stress, and these differences were reversed when estrogen levels were manipulated so that females had the amount of a normal male and males had the amount of a normal female.
They found that lower estrogen levels correlated with memory impairment as a result of stress whereas the higher levels showed memory retention. The higher levels of estrogen effectively block much of the negative impacts of stress.
This study has implications both for the treatment of stress overall and for the understanding of gender differences in mental health problems. It has been suggested that, if scientists are able to produce a compound that could mimic estrogen without having hormonal side-effects, this could be used in treatment.
It is worth remembering though, whilst this study shows that women may be better equipped to cope with stress from a hormonal function point of view, other studies have shown that women are more prone than men to internalizing stress, therefore they are more likely to develop anxiety or depression as a result.
Practicing of stress management techniques is still highly recommended, indeed a necessity for both genders…