How Stress Affects Men and Women Differently
A busy life can be a hectic life.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re young, old, male or female. We all get stressed. Depending on how you cope with stress, it can all affect us in different ways.
But research is revealing something interesting. When it comes to stress, there is a difference between how it affects men and how it affects women. Especially when it comes to depression.
And you may be surprised at which gender is more likely to have stress induced depression.
The Gender More Likely to Be Depressed
Let’s start with a question. Between the two genders, who is more likely to have bouts of depression?
Despite depression becoming a global problem, women are more likely to be depressed than men.
The gender gap for depression isn’t small either. Some reports find that women become depressed at twice the rate of men.
There are a number of reasons why it affects women much more than men.
Some of those differences come from stronger hormonal effects. Such as postpartum depression, puberty, or pregnancy. But even genetic studies of twins have found that women have a stronger genetic disposition for depression.
These are just a few examples, but the message is clear. When it comes to battling depression, it’s tougher being a woman.
Despite this, though, there’s one situation in which this scenario is reversed for men.
Men More Likely to Become Depressed From Stress
A recent study published in Frontiers in Public Health followed men and women for over 25 years. They concluded that men are twice as likely to become depressed from stress.
The big reason why? Women are more likely to reach out to others during times of stress. Men, on the other hand, are less likely to seek social support.
The lead author on the paper, Dr. Shervin Assari, states:
“In our society, as men, we learn to see this as a weakness, as suggested by gender role identity theorists.
Hegemonic masculinity is a barrier to seek care and talk about emotions. This at least in part explains why men less frequently seek help, either professional or inside of their social networks.”
Dr. Assari says that men should take stress more seriously. Especially when over long periods of time. In fact, they need to learn from women in this respect. She states:
“Men should improve the way they cope and the way they mobilize their resources when they face stressful events.
They should learn from women on how to talk about emotions and use resources.”
The Role of Empathy
A related study may help explain why men are less likely to reach out to others during times of stress. It could be that reaching out is simply harder to do. Especially when stress is caused by social situations.
Researchers found that when men and women were given a stressful task, different coping mechanisms appeared. And those mechanisms affected each gender’s ability to empathize.
A man’s ability to empathize was hindered under stress. Instead, men exhibited more signs of the fight-or-flight response. They became more self-centered and were less able to read other people’s intentions or emotions.
For women, it was the complete opposite. Over 3 different tasks, stress increased their ability to empathize with others. This came as a surprise to the researchers, who thought stress would have the same effect for both men and women.
Experts, however, aren’t quite clear on why this happens. It may be from a psychological difference between genders, or the fact that oxytocin – a social bonding chemical – is higher in women than men during times of stress.
Dr. Giorgia Silani from the study explains:
“At a psychosocial level, women may have internalized the experience that they receive more external support when they are able to interact better with others.
This means that the more they need help — and are thus stressed — the more they apply social strategies.
At a physiological level, the gender difference might be accounted for by the oxytocin system.”
While there are both genetic and cultural reasons behind how we deal with stress, the studies can still teach us a lesson. Maybe more so for men.
While gender roles would have men believe that showing their emotions is a sign of weakness, in practice this has some negative consequences.
It doesn’t mean you have be the guy weeping in an office cubicle. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to your friends, family, or significant other and discuss your emotions.
In doing so, you may find yourself not only more resilient to stress, but also closer to your loved ones. Hiding your emotions will probably do more harm than good.