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Women Versus Men: Why Do They Deal With Stress Differently?

By HERWriter
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Stress related image via Fotolia

Men and women alike deal with stress. That overwhelming feeling where our central nervous system runs amok is a part of life. Research suggests, however, that the sexes deal with stress in different ways.

One reason for this involves three hormones which play crucial roles: cortisol, epinephrine and oxytocin.

Huffington Post wrote that "cortisol and epinephrine lower immunities and raise blood pressure. Oxytocin reduces cortisol and epinephrine’s reactions by relaxing emotions."

"People used to think there was a difference in the amounts of cortisol released during a stressful situation in women," Robert Sapolsky, PhD, professor of neurobiology at Stanford University told WebMD.com.

"The thinking was women released more of this hormone, and that produced all sorts of nutty theories about why women are so emotional."

Not true. There is no consistent difference in cortisol production between men and women.

The difference is oxytocin.

When women are stressed, cortisol and epinephrine first rush through the bloodstream. Then oxytocin enters the picture. Released by the brain, it counters cortisol and epinephrine production, and promotes nurturing and relaxing emotions.

Men release less oxytocin, and therefore suffer more from the effects of cortisol and epinephrine.

Backing that is a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. It reported that women tend to deal with stress by nurturing and reaching out to others. That’s due to an increase of oxytocin and reproductive hormones, like estrogen.

Men, with smaller amounts of oxytocin, repress their emotions to either fight or run away, explained HuffPost.

In another study, scientists from several international universities found that men under stress typically become more self-centered. Women often become more compassionate.

"Our starting hypothesis was that stressed individuals tend to become more egocentric,” co-author Claus Lamm, from the University of Vienna told MedicalDaily.com. “Taking a self-centered perspective in fact reduces the emotional/cognitive load. We therefore expected that in the experimental conditions people would be less empathic."

Previous research found that lower empathy and higher anxiety are linked. Because of this, researchers predicted that the more tense study participants got, the more self-centered they would become.

Study participants — with elevated stress levels — were asked to copy movements, identify another person’s emotions, and follow directions from someone else’s point of view.

Stress worsened men’s performances in all the tasks. It was the opposite for women. Men became self-centered, women became more social and empathetic.

Hormones once again came into play. The scientists attributed this to the oxytocin differences in men and women.

Giorgia Silani, from the International School for Advanced Studies of Trieste said, “Oxytocin is a hormone connected with social behaviors, and previous research found that in conditions of stress women had higher physiological levels of oxytocin than men," as reported by MedicalDaily.com.

Men and women manage stress differently as well.

While under stress, women reach out to others. They want help lowering their anxiety and finding solutions to their stress. Men often seek an escape activity, like golf, for stress relief.


Dr. Gross, Gail. "How Men Handle Stress Differently." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Goldman, Alison. "Study: Men and Women React to Stress in Totally Different Ways." Women's Health. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

"How Men and Women Deal With Stress Differently." WebMD. WebMD. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Weller, Chris. "How Men And Women Respond Differently To Stress." Medical Daily. 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.

Reviewed December 21, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.