Not everybody manages stress the same way. In fact, there are some pretty fascinating ways male and female brains react differently when they're overwhelmed. There may be a reason some people react to stress by withdrawing, while others reach out and vent to friends.
First, though, I want to be clear that this isn't some battle of the sexes over who handles stress better. For the most part, stress is rough for everybody. "Brain function in both males and females is impaired during periods of long-term or chronic exposure to stress," as Dr. Laura Schrader, a professor of cell and molecular biology who is on the faculty of Tulane Brain Institute, tells Romper. For all humans, areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus are negatively impacted by long-term stress, and this can result in issues with decision-making, emotional responses, and memory formation, as Dr. Schrader further explains. For everyone, it's a good idea to practice stress reduction techniques such as exercise or meditation. If you need some more ideas, then check out these lifestyle changes to reduce stress.
That said, there do appear to be some different ways the male and female brains respond to stress under other conditions. Read on to see how the sexes deal with feeling overwhelmed, and see whether these tendencies hold true for the people in your life.
1Resilience To Short-Term Stress
Both males and females suffer from the effects of long-term stress. "But when exposed to short-term or acute stress, female brains are more resistant than male brains," says Dr. Laura Schrader. "You typically see a larger negative response to short-term stress in males than females." In other words, the stresses that pop up in daily life, such as an unexpected traffic jam or sudden toothache, might be easier for the female brain to handle.
In general, males may be more prone to attack whatever is stressing them out. "Males who are under stress experience activation in their amygdala, which makes them want to fight with the source of their stress or else flee from it," says Jillene Grover Seiver, PhD a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Eastern Washington University. This is a helpful impulse if the source of stress is someone breaking into your house, for instance.
Many modern stresses, such as tax season or breakups, can't be handled with brute force, however. "As a result, when fighting with the source is impossible, males will often retreat – either physically (see: Man Cave) or psychologically through self medication with drugs or alcohol or through escapism such as video games," says Dr. Seiver. It's a modern interpretation of the flight response.
For females, fight or flight might not be the initial response. "Females who are under stress release the hormone oxytocin, which is known as the cuddle hormone. It motivates women to tend to loved ones, which helps the women to feel less stressed," as Dr. Seiver tells Romper. So a stressed female might spend more time hanging with her kids (or spoiling the family dog.)
Stress may encourage females to socialize. "It also motivates women to seek out support (the befriend component), which can serve as a buffer to further stress," says Dr. Seiver. Venting to friends is a pretty viable reaction to stress, in other words.
Stress may more often show up physically for females. In fact, females were more likely to report physical symptoms of stress than males, including headaches and stomach upset, according to the American Psychological Association.
7Response To Facial Expression
Stress may even affect the way males and females read other people. The brains of stressed males showed a decrease in activity to the area of the brain associated with reading facial expressions, according to the Women's Brain Health Initiative. Stressed females, meanwhile, showed increased activity in this part of the brain. It's just another way that the brains of males and females may present differences when feeling overwhelmed.