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Men and women are biologically different in so many ways. One aspect of this reality does not get as much attention as it warrants: Men and women handle stress differently. For example, women are more likely to report feeling stressed. This includes the reporting of physical symptoms like digestive problems and/or headaches.

Part of this, of course, can be chalked up to cultural differences. However, as you are about to see, there are some clear genetic/hormonal differences that contribute — in a big way — to how the two sexes experience stress. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this important topic.

What Do Hormones Have to Do With It?

Short answer: A lot. When both men and women encounter a real or perceived threat, their bodies kick into a hard-wired stress response. Commonly called “fight or flight,” this reaction heavily involves the release of certain hormones designed to prepare us to deal with danger, e.g. cortisol, epinephrine, and oxytocin.

Cortisol and epinephrine work together to help the body prioritize systems that contribute to survival. Men and women typically release the same amount of these crucial hormones. The difference between the sexes exists when it comes to oxytocin. Women’s bodies produce much more of it in times of stress — and it combines with female reproductive hormones.

Since oxytocin modulates the impact of cortisol and epinephrine, women tend to experience emotions in a crisis that men don’t. More specifically, they ease into a more nurturing and relaxed state of mind that is more “tend and befriend” than “fight or flight.” Women seek to soothe others while looking for allies. Men ball their fists and prepare for a fight or they suppress their emotions to avoid having to deal with them.

Why Do Men and Women Handle Stress Differently?

Clearly, hormones play a role in the differences between men and women when it comes to how they get stressed. But what about how the sexes handle the post-crisis situation? Generally speaking:

  • Women seek comfort from friends, family members, or any other trusted companion. They share stories and nurture each other.
  • Men may choose to escape into competitive sports, take out their frustration in the gym, or simply deny that anything is wrong.

This stark difference can be partly explained by oxytocin levels. However, societal conditioning and expectations must be factored into the equation in a big way.

How Can Both Men and Women Manage Their Stress Levels?

A big start is to not make it a contest. Men and women are wired differently so, of course, they respond to stressful scenarios in unique ways. Accepting this reality allows them to feel more sympathy and understand why it looks and feels so different. With that as our foundation, here are some collective strategies to consider:

  • Women can be a positive influence in inspiring men to name their emotions. Getting in touch with what you feel is a giant step toward healthy stress management.
  • Men, on the other hand, can motivate the women in their life to try coping mechanisms like exercise and sports. Women tend to be less active in this way and could benefit greatly from such changes.
  • Both sexes must make daily self-care non-negotiable. Healthy eating choices, regular sleep patterns, reduced alcohol consumption and daily physical movement are simple yet effective ways to build resilience together.
When Stress Becomes Overwhelming

Each of us has our own limits when it comes to stress and anxiety. Knowing about hormones or practicing self-care is great but, sometimes, you need some help. Therapy is the ideal choice in this scenario. If your life feels like one crisis after another, let’s talk about ways to change that.

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Therapy for Men is a practice led by Dr. Rick Pomfret which offers counseling and psychotherapy services tailored to the needs of men. Their services encompass anxiety therapy, depression therapy, relationship therapy, men’s issues and support for those navigating life transitions or divorce. With offices in San Francisco and Corte Madera, Therapy4Men provides convenient access to mental health care for men in the Bay Area and online across California.