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The Impact of Biological Sex on Stress Levels

Do stress levels differ according to biological sex? Do the different sexes cope with stress differently? Numerous studies show that the answer to these two questions is yes. This is because of the way the stress hormone reacts with the differing levels of hormones in the male and female bodies.

Women scored significantly higher than men on daily and chronic stresses. In fact, stress levels are on the rise for females. Additionally, although there wasn’t any significant difference in their life experiences, women tend to view their life events as more negative and less within their control than men did. Women think of health-related incidents, money, and the economy as more stressful while men listed relationships, finance, and work-related events as their principal stresses. Women also rated higher than men on emotional or avoidance coping styles and lower on rational and detachment coping methods. Women additionally rated significantly higher than men in physical and psychological distress. Overall, women suffered from more stress than men and reported a more emotion-focused coping style.

The methods to deal with stress also differ. Men are categorized by “fight or flight,” while women are classified by “friend and befriend.” The psychological stress response activates the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in both men and women. However, for women, the stress response also builds on the attachment caregiving process, which acts as a buffer for the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA axis. For men, the rostral prefrontal cortex (RPFC) is activated, and the left orbitofrontal cortex (LOrF) is repressed. RPFC manages negative emotion or vigilance systems while LOrF controls positive goals and hedonic goals. This results in the activation of “fight or flight.”

Both genders cite lack of willpower as the number one impediment to change. When asked what they would need to change to increase willpower, women mentioned needing more energy, time and confidence in their abilities. Men were more likely to cite lack of money as an impediment.

“Gender and Stress.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2010/gender-stress.aspx

Matud, Pilar M. “Gender Differences in Stress and Coping Styles.” Personality and Individual Differences, Pergamon, 11 Mar. 2004, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886904000200.

Verma, Rohit, et al. “Gender Differences in Stress Response: Role of Developmental and Biological Determinants.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 20 Jan. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3425245/.

Edited by: Ruby Halfacre and Kaylynn Crawford