Who Handles Stress Better—Men or Women?
Change in employment, personal loss, or financial struggles are incredibly stressful situations for everyone. Have you ever wondered who handles these types of events better—men or women?
For example, let’s take a look at the past year: a global pandemic threw everyone into a panic. The APA (American Psychological Association) expressed health concerns after reporting that eating disorders and weight gain hit an all-time high, with 42% of U.S. adults gaining an average of nearly 30 pounds. It is entirely understandable how and why this happened, since many men and women became less active, turned to food to alleviate stress, and experienced changes in sleeping patterns as their regular routines were basically cancelled. Sadly, even children fell victim to this, as pediatric obesity climbed from its pre-pandemic rate of 13.7% to 15.4%.
External stressors are to blame for this weight gain—yet, by understanding men and women’s differing responses, this unfortunate outcome can be avoided.
Surprise, surprise… I’m about to talk about hormones (be sure to read to the end for a twist!). Three particular hormones are involved when stress comes into play: cortisol, epinephrine, and oxytocin. Both men and women react equally to the onset of stress through a raise in blood pressure, brought on by cortisol and epinephrine. Where the genders differ lies in the amount of oxytocin released from the brain that acts to relax and soothe anxious emotions. Men release far less oxytocin.
What does this mean? This is best explained using the “fight or flight” theory regarding one’s natural response to stress. Men tend to follow this two-choice rule due to their reduced oxytocin levels, by either fleeing or fighting back. However, women have a more complicated way to deal with stress. They may, at times, follow the previous theory but have also been shown to “tend and befriend,” choosing to alleviate their discomfort by nurturing those around them, thanks to the blend of hormones released during stress and those of the female reproductive system.
So, who handles stress better? There is no good answer, the important take-away is that knowing the difference between how men and women react to stressful situations will help us better understand and support one another during difficult times.
Women self-sacrifice in relationships to show love, whereas men can be driven by achievement to solve their problems and contribute to the solution by throwing themselves into their work.
The sexes also manage stress in vastly different ways, but both can be challenged into physical activity to promote wellness and movement to combat negative side effects of stress. Generally speaking, women seek companionship through supportive environments, so they could look for a yoga class where they can connect with others. Men may look for distraction and competition, perhaps by playing (sometimes that’s a loose term) a round of golf with friends.
It is extremely important to search for a healthy way to cope with stress, as it is simply an unavoidable component of life. If you need help, speak with your doctor, or reach out to someone you trust, to help you establish a nutritious diet and exercise regime that is manageable and aids you in working through difficult times.
Coach Julie Germaine is an NFLA-certified fitness expert and prenatal trainer, and an NASM-certified nutrition specialist. She is also a fit mom to an active toddler and a 2x world-class fitness champion who has been featured in and contributed to numerous fitness, fashion, and lifestyle magazines and other media. She has loved helping men and women lose belly fat and maintain their incredible body transformations as a virtual coach since 2005.