Stress is part of everyday life. It can be a positive thing, fuelling us on to reach bigger and better things. But, stress is balanced on a knife edge, it can soon tip from positive to negative, straining every fibre of the being.
How we cope with this type of negativity, varies from person to person and, it would seem, between men and women. Onsite Plus work with men and women in all kinds of corporate massage situation and understanding how men react to stress, and how women do, is an important part of ensuring that the right help is given to the right people – and at the right time!
The debate of who copes better is rather a futile one, with the question really being posed is ‘what are the differences between male and female stress coping strategies?’
Men and women react differently to stress due to the presence of three hormones: cortisol, epinephrine and oxytocin.
Cortisol and epinephrine combine to increase the blood pressure when stress strikes, and cortisol on its own starts to lower the defences by comprising the immune system. Both men and women have these two hormones (as they do oxytocin) thus, stress can make men and women ill, raise their blood pressure to hypertensive levels, and also cause issue with blood sugar levels.
The hormone oxytocin is also apparent in men and women but, studies have shown, in various levels. This hormone, when released in the body, counters the effects of cortisol and epinephrine, producing a relaxed, emotional response.
When this hormone is released in the female brain, the quantity is thought to be much more than what is released within the male bran. Hence, women will have a different emotional response to men.
- Tend & befriend, or fight & flight
The flight or fight theory is common; either run away or fight the stress head on. The tend & befriend theory has been developed specifically with the female response to stress in mind.
It was an influential study from July 2000 that relegalised women were more likely to deal with stress by nurturing those around them. On one hand, this sounds a ‘typical’ female response which it is, but the study found that it is just as much about protecting oneself, as it is about making sure everyone else is ‘UK’.
The tending part of the process is recognising the need to promote safety and decrease distress is those closest to the situation but the befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks, something that aids the ability to cope in stressful situations.
Linking this with the earlier scientific study of the 3 hormones, the reasons why women don’t tend to fight or flight, is thought to be down to the high levels of oxytocin that women secrete in the brain in stressful times. Men, with lower oxytocin levels, bottle up emotions and escape, or fight back.
- Demand and energy
Stress is over demand on a limited resource thus, managing demand and maintaining energy is important but, how we view ourselves – self-esteem – will play an important role in how we management these demands.
Stress can limit self-esteem and at the very time we need to be feeling good about ourselves, our esteem plummets. Men measure themselves on their performance, whereas women measure their performance on relationships. The fall back with this is that sometimes, the female can put the need of others before her own; ignoring her own needs can have devastating consequences.
This self-sacrificing is one way that women find themselves entering in to a stressful situation too; men on the other hand, have their limits and needs set the demands of competitors and line manager. Their attempts to outwit their ‘enemies’, is the way that many men enter in to a stressful situation.
Thus, loss of relationships tend to be the greatest stress inducing factor for women and failure of performance is the greatest for men, although this can vary.
- Managing stress
Undoubtedly, men and women handle stress differently. Women will seek out emotional support, talking their way through the process and situation. Women, in other words, like to tell their story.
Men on the other, seek escape activities that are active and physical. From a round of golf to a run in the park, men internalise the stress and set themselves physical performance targets to bolster that all important self-esteem.
And so, neither man nor woman handles stress any better than the other, but realising that we handle stressful situations in different ways can be a spring board to supporting and helping male and female colleagues.