Men and Women Stress Differently. Here’s How to Cope, from Experts
Got stress? Of course you do – you’re human, after all. Yet not all stress is created equally, and how you handle that stress may depend on your sex, as men and women have different ways of expressing and handling that stress. Below, experts weigh in on these differences and offer practical solutions for getting stress under control.
Good Stress, Bad Stress and How to Make Stress Work for You
You can’t avoid stress. But stress isn’t all the same, as there are actually good and bad types of stress, and while one will help you, the other will harm you.
Start with good stress. “Good stress can motivate you to perform at your best when needed,” says Desreen N. Dudley, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist with Teladoc, a global leader in virtual care. Plus, when you experience stress, you learn how to manage difficult situations, which is a crucial life skill.
Yet when stress becomes too much, your health can suffer. “Chronic elevations of stress hormones like cortisol and noradrenaline create the sense of fight-or-flight and make you feel overwhelmed, anxious or apathetic,” says Avantika Dixit, therapist and founder of Woke Hero, an online social therapy platform.
The ramifications on physical and mental health are extensive. Chronic stress has been associated with high blood pressure and other heart issues, decreased immune system (which means increased susceptibility to illness), gastrointestinal problems like acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome, COPD, asthma, and sexual or reproductive problems, including low fertility, erectile dysfunction, and pain associated with menstruation. Plus, the effects of stress on mental health over time can lead to problems like anxiety and depressive disorder, substance abuse, sleep difficulties, and chronic physical pain like chest pains from panic attacks and muscle tension, Dudley says.
The Connection Between Gender and Stress
Turns out, though, how you handle that stress may depend on whether you’re male or female, as the two sexes really are from different planets when it comes to stress. That’s become even more apparent during the pandemic which has impacted women more than men.
“Currently, women have been some of the hardest hit when it comes to mental health during the pandemic,” Dudley says. “Women have faced multiple stressors at once this past year, from loneliness and career burnout to, in some cases, carrying the brunt of the burden of home-schooling kids, being a caregiver for parents and grandparents and beyond.”
This may place women at an increased risk of depression, especially given that women tend to report experiencing more internalizing symptoms, such as being sensitive to interpersonal conflicts. Meanwhile, men generally report experiencing stress related to more external factors like career and life goals, Dudley says.
In fact, according to Teladoc’s stats, women aged 25 to 34 had the most stress-related visits compared to any other group. But that may be in part because one big difference in how women and men handle stress is that women are more likely than men to talk outwardly about their stressors and seek help as a result, Dudley says.
Men, on the other hand, often manage stress by avoiding the stressor, including avoiding talking about its root cause, although Dudley notes that this is starting to change. And while they’re prone to the same physical symptoms as women – increased heart rate, headaches, chest pain, muscle tension, sweating, nausea or upset stomach and diarrhea, low energy, weight gain or loss, insomnia, frequent colds and illnesses, and decrease in sexual desire and ability – men don’t discuss them, which is why these symptoms often remain unknown to others. Worse? “Men are more likely to withdraw when stressed, which can lead to relationship issues,” Dixit says. She notes that stress is a leading cause of psychological impotence.
The Stress Healthy Connection
Stress also manifests through psychological symptoms, which include a depressed mood or a general feeling of unhappiness, anxiety or nervousness, irritability, moodiness, anger, feeling overwhelmed, loneliness, and social isolation. Although both genders can suffer these woes, irritability is the most common behavioral change in men while women feel physically sick or emotional, sad and tearful, Dudley says.
Finally, studies by the American Psychological Association show that men and women use different strategies for managing stress. Women tend to read, attend religious faith-based services, overeat or socially connect with family and friends whereas men are more likely to play sports, listen to music, exercise, or just do nothing to manage those stress symptoms, Dudley says.
How to Prevent and Cope With Stress
No doubt you have your own arsenal of stress-coping strategies. But if you’re looking for more, experts offer their insight into strategies that help bust stress:
1. Watch what you watch
“Watching the news or engaging with certain social media content can lead to negativity bias, a state in which your brain perceives the world to be worse and more threatening than it actually is,” Dixit says. And because humans have a bad habit of mentally giving weight to things that go wrong than to things to go right, it’s worth keeping a check on what you’re feeding your mental thoughts to avoid damaging your work, relationships, happiness, and well-being.
2. Learn mindfulness or meditation
This strategy doesn’t work for everybody, but mindfulness or meditation can be an effective way of dealing with stress. Not only will they help you avoid focusing too much on sources of stress, but they’ll also calm and soothe you at the same time, Dudley says.
3. Stay organized and create predictable routines
By doing these two things, you can better manage the areas of your life that you have control over, which can help mitigate stress, Dixit says.
4. Invoke nature and digital fasts
Spending more time in nature and doing a digital fast for several hours every day can cut that stress, Dixit says. Bonus? Combine the two.
Don’t bottle up your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Instead, share them with family, friends, a therapist, or even a journal. “Discussing sources of stress is a good way to release them and can help you learn possible ways to resolve stressors,” Dudley says.
6. Adopt healthy coping mechanisms
Drinking more or smoking are two common ways to alleviate stress, which is why you should limit them during high-stress times, Dudley says. Instead, replace these ways of coping with healthier strategies journaling your feelings, listening to music, talking to somebody you trust, and exercising. Even eating a healthy diet, especially when you add more fruits and veggies to it, can also help. People who ate more produce had less stress than those who ate less, according to a study from Clinical Nutrition.
7. Focus on gratitude
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to focus on what’s going wrong. Yet by thinking about what you’re grateful for in life, you can alleviate the intensity of your stress, Dudley says.
8. Participate in enjoyable activities
Don’t make your life about all work and no play. “Do leisure activities that you don’t have to do, go on trips and take care of yourself,” Dudley says.
9. Seek professional help
If stress becomes too much to manage on your own, it’s time to tap a professional mental health expert. “This can help you not only recognize triggers to your stress but also help you develop effective coping strategies to deal with any stressor, whether big or small,” Dudley says.