stress management

Why Do Men and Women Handle Stress Differently? 5 Reasons!

stress management

Money worries, family crises, job pressure, health issues, and major life changes: These are just some of the common causes of stress. Stress can take a toll on your emotional and physical health. It can make you feel fatigued, overwhelmed, sad, and nervous. Stress can also cause headaches, weight loss or weight gain, and changes to your eating and sleeping habits. If it is prolonged, it increases the risk of anxiety, depression, diabetes, and heart disease.

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However, not everyone experiences stress the same way. How stress affects you and how you handle it depends on whether you’re a man or a woman. Men and women report different physical and mental reactions to stress. They also attempt to manage stress and perceive their ability to do so in markedly different ways. Why do their coping skills differ?

In this article, we look at 5 reasons why do men and women handle stress differently.  

1. Hormonal Differences

The production of stress hormones is one of the most important reasons for disparities in stress response. When stress strikes, three hormones are produced [1*] : epinephrine, cortisol, and Oxytocin. Cortisol and epinephrine raise blood pressure and blood sugar level. Cortisol also lowers the body’s immunity. Oxytocin, on the other hand, relaxes emotions by countering the reaction of Epinephrine and Cortisol.

In the past, people thought that women release more cortisol [2*] , and that produced many theories about why women are so emotional. However, there’s no significant difference in the production of cortisol between men and women. Men release less Oxytocin when they’re stressed, leaving them on the short end of the stick.


3 Unknown Facts About Stress

2. Women Tend and Befriend

Women are more likely to “tend and befriend” when dealing with stress. In other words, they reach out and talk to others about their stressful issues and also nurture those around them. Tending involves activities meant to protect the self and offspring to reduce distress and promote safety. Befriending involves the creation and maintenance of personal connections that may help in this process.

Why do women tend and befriend? The reason, in large part, is due to the secretion of the hormone Oxytocin, and this is strengthened by the presence of estrogen. Oxytocin can produce anti-stress-like effects, including lowering blood pressure and Cortisol levels. This helps balance the body’s biological systems and improve relaxation. In sum, social networks are a big part of female stress management.

3. Men Escape or Fight Back

When it comes to stress, men tend to lean toward the tried and true “fight or flight” [3*] response – either staying and fighting or bottling it up and escaping. Researchers hypothesize that these responses evolved as a survival mechanism helping people fight danger or flee to safety as a reaction to threatening situations. This response is most prominently triggered in men. When faced with a stressful incident, men compartmentalize and repress their feelings to avoid the situation.

Some men get angry or argumentative. Others flood emotionally with feelings of frustration, anxiety, or helplessness, motivating to change the subject through diversions, such as sports or music. Men do not emote or discuss their feelings. They are more likely to externalize stress and even take their frustrations out on others, making them more vulnerable to alcohol/drug abuse and acts of violence.

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4. Demand vs. Energy

The management of demand and maintenance of energy is one of the major sex differences when it comes to stress. Because female self-esteem is built around adequacy of relationships, [4*] and male self-esteem is built around performance adequacy, insufficient self-maintenance and overdemand tend to be different for men and women.

As such, women are more likely to self-sacrifice in relationships, exposing them to stressful incidents. Men are often at risk of letting competition and challenges set the pace. The level of demand is set by the employers or rival’s efforts, shifting the focus to winning or achieving an extrinsic objective. This is how many men enter stress.


Different Ways of Handling Stress

5. Emotion-Focused vs. Problem-Focused Coping

Women tend to use emotion-focused coping strategies when handling stressful experiences. Men, on the other hand, use problem-focused strategies. Emotion-focused coping is a type of stress management strategy that is aimed at changing emotional responses to stressors. It attempts to reduce negative emotional responses such as fear, excitement, embarrassment, frustrations, anxiety, or depression. Examples of emotion-focused coping include self-blame, venting, rumination, and positive reappraisal.

In contrast, problem-focused coping involves behavioral or cognitive effort to alter or get rid of the stressor. It tackles the problem or stressful situation, directly reducing the stress. Examples of problem-focused strategies include time management and problem-solving. Emotion-focused strategies are less effective than problem-focused strategies. Women are more likely to internalize the stress and beat themselves up mentally. This sex difference in handling stressful situations partly explains why females are more stressed than males.

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Bottom Line

Stress is a normal part of life, but too much of it can be harmful to your mental and physical wellbeing. If you face day-to-day stress, anxiety, depression, or any unusual distressful feeling, treatment from a mental health professional may help alleviate symptoms and restore normalcy to your life. Visit EZCare clinic or contact us today to book an appointment with our medical and psychological experts.


+4 sources
  1. Stress and hormones. (2011)
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  2. Sex and stress: Men and women show different cortisol responses to psychological stress induced by the Trier Social Stress Test and the Iowa Singing Social Stress Test. (2017)
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  3. Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: Tend-and-Befriend, Not Fight-or-Flight
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  4. Relationships Between Self-Efficacy, Self-Esteem and Procrastination in Undergraduate Psychology Students. (2014)
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This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.