Who gets stressed?

People respond to different levels and specific types of stress differently. Something that may be stressful for one person may not cause problems for another. These variations in stress responses are influences by; gender, age and the social norms associated with stress.

This section will examine gender differences in both the causes of stress and differences in stress responses; it will also evaluate how the elderly and children are affected by stress.

Gender differences in stress responses

Gender differences occur in responses to stress. According to one study, men who are stressed have a heightened activation of the prefrontal cortex in the brain which is directly associated with the fight or flight response. When women are stressed, the limbic area of the brain is activated to a greater extent, this region is known to be involved with emotional responses sometimes referred to as the ‘tend-and-befriend response’.

When men are confronted with stressful situations they are more likely to respond with aggressive behaviour that can include verbal conflict and drastic actions. Research suggests the area of the brain associated with predicting and understanding another person’s feelings and emotions becomes de-activated during a man’s fight or flight response.

Conversely, when women are confronted with stressful situations they are more likely to respond by nurturing their children or themselves – the ‘tend response’. Additionally, stressed women are more likely than men to seek social contact, support and consolation from others people, particularly other women this is the ‘befriend response’.

The gender difference of stress responses has been associated with hormones. The hormone Oxytocin has been particulally implicated. Oxytocin has been studied to the greatest extent in association with childbirth, it is known to be one of the primacy hormones that promotes maternal behaviour and attachment. In animal studies, oxytocin has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase sociability, the hormone is secreted in both men and women as part of the stress
, it is understood that male hormones dull its effect, while the female hormone oestrogen amplifies it.

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