When it comes to handling stress, men are from Venus and women are from Mars. Why do their coping skills differ?
Men vs. Women and Hormones
One of the most important reasons why men and women react differently to stress is hormones. Three play a crucial role: cortisol, epinephrine, and oxytocin.
When stress strikes, hormones called cortisol and epinephrine together raise a person’s blood pressure and circulating blood sugar level, and cortisol alone lowers the effectiveness of the immune system.
“People used to think there was a difference in the amounts of cortisol released during a stressful situation in women,” says Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at Stanford University. “The thinking was women released more of this hormone, and that produced all sorts of nutty theories about why women are so emotional.”
But the fact of the matter, explains Sapolsky, is that there is no consistent difference in cortisol production at all between men and women. It really all comes down to the hormone called oxytocin.
In women, when cortisol and epinephrine rush through the bloodstream in a stressful situation, oxytocin comes into play. It is released from the brain, countering the production of cortisol and epinephrine, and promoting nurturing and relaxing emotions.
While men also secrete the hormone oxytocin when they’re stressed, it’s in much smaller amounts, leaving them on the short end of the stick when it comes to stress and hormones.