Sudden stress brings out the fight or flight syndrome in all of us. However, have you ever noticed the difference in the way males and females react to stressful life changing events that are more long term? In the past we may have chalked it up to the frequently used explanation that women are simply more emotional and men more logical in their thinking. But with the significant increase in research on brain function (now in both male and female subjects) we are beginning to understand a much deeper ‘why’ for the differences regarding long term stress. It is not simply mind over matter. At the recent annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience it was shown that “a common stress hormone triggers different responses in specific brain cells of male and female animals. The differences make females less able than males to adapt to chronic stress.”
Females, often the caregivers for the young, need a heightened stress response to protect their young. The problem, according to researcher Debra Bangasser of Temple University is when this heightened response is “responding for a really long time in a way that becomes disruptive” (and creates a state of constant hyper-readiness).
We may think to ourselves that research findings on animals are one thing but humans quite another until we further read about a series of recent studies on U.S. Adolescents and Adults where it was found that stress plays a role in many disorders that occur more often in women than men. Many of us might think to ourselves, ‘I knew that…’ but the actual extent of this difference is quite surprising. For instance, the lifetime prevalence of stress-related disorders by sex for panic disorders is 6.2% for females and only 3.1% for males. PTSD for females is 9.7% and 3.6 % for males. Females suffer migraines at 18.2% compared to males at 6.5%. Insomnia occurs in 12.9% of females and only 6.2% of males. In fact, of the 11 different areas of stress disorders measured males were higher by percentage than females in only two – alcohol and drug abuse.
The long and short of what I understand is that due to the biological/chemical differences between males and females we react differently to long term stress and that the medications that have been used up to this point to address theses conditions have basically been the same for both sexes.
According to Brain Trainor, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, “it is only a matter of time” before medications for anxiety and depression need to be formulated differently for men and women to account for biological differences.
Like everything in life, once we understand the why of a situation or condition we respond and think differently. Applause to those researchers who are working to help us reach a deeper, more humane way of understanding human needs.
Have a great few days!