Stress blog

Men respond more aggressively than women to stress

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. April 4, 2012

It's obvious that men and women respond differently to stress. The roots may lie in our genes and in our past.

Historically as humans developed, the male was the hunter, often under dangerous conditions. When faced with adversity, such as a lion or a tiger, the male would experience the "fight or flight" response. The pulse quickens. The pupils dilate. The blood pressure increases and blood is forced into the muscles for strength.

On the other hand, the female was the protector who stayed with and cared for the children. Typically, the female would have a "tend and befriend" response — a less aggressive response to stress.

We now understand that a single gene, a piece of chromosome, may account for these differences. The SRY protein located on the Y chromosome, which determines maleness, seems to be a factor in regulating the release of chemicals and hormones directly related to the response to stress. So, the way we behave under stress may reflect some genetic differences.

An experience I had this morning drove the point home to me. I was caught in traffic and noticed that the two adolescent males in cars next to me were not happy campers. They looked frustrated and they were not demonstrating mature coping skills. On the other hand, the women drivers around me didn't exhibit that sort of behavior. They seemed calm and even accepting, as if acknowledging that this is just the way it is.

Perhaps this explains why women outlive men by an average of 8 to 10 years. What do you think? Are these differences real? What can we learn from them?

With

Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

Apr. 04, 2012