The Physical Part of Stress

Women health

Women react differently to stress than men do.

Although female sex hormones and brain chemistry offer some protection from stress, women are more deeply affected by the physical and emotional effects of stress than men.

Women’s reactions to stress are rooted in their body chemistry. Men have higher androgen levels, while women have higher estrogen levels, says Paul J. Rosch, MD, FACP, president of the American Institute of Stress (AIS).

“Their brains are also wired differently,” says Dr. Rosch, who is also a clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College, and honorary vice president of the International Stress Management Association. “Women tend to react to stress differently than men. They don’t respond with the fight or flight response — they’re more apt to negotiate.”

Stress: How Women Are Affected
The effects of the natural anti-stress hormone oxytocin, produced during childbirth, breastfeeding, and in both sexes during orgasm, are enhanced by estrogen and reduced by testosterone.

This helps women more than men, Rosch says. And nurturing activities boost oxytocin levels in women.

The catch-22 is that women need more oxytocin than men to maintain their emotional health. For example, Rosch explains, women are more negatively affected when they’re not touched, and also feel more stress than men in relationships.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), stress is an expression of the body’s natural instinct to protect itself. While this may warn a woman of immediate danger, like a fast-approaching car, prolonged stress effects can negatively affect your physical and emotional health.

“Our stress response was exquisitely honed over millions of years as a protective mechanism,” said Rosch. “That was OK for our ancestors who ran into saber-toothed tigers. The tragedy is that today, it’s not that, but hundreds of things like getting stuck in traffic jams. Our bodies respond in the same unfortunate fashion, with hypertension, strokes, and ulcers.”

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