Why Stress Hits Women Harder

Scientific studies to date have often relied on male experimental subjects, causing us to miss out on insights specific to women. But new research has begun to explain why men and women respond differently to stress, hopefully leading the way for new techniques and treatments to deal with the ongoing stress so many of us face in our changing world.

At the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting last year, neuroscientists discussed preliminary findings based on research done using both male and female rodents (instead of just male ones, as was previously often the case). It seems at this time that the female rats are less able to adapt to chronic stress than male rats due to gender-related differences in how the stress hormones produced by their bodies ended up being processed in their brains. Females might also be more susceptible to stress because of the stress-mediating roles played by oxytocin, estrogen, and other sex hormones which obviously exist in different levels than in males.

Of course, there's no shortage of evolutionary psychological explanations for why exactly females feel stress worse, and what purpose that response could serve socially and reproductively. Women are stereotypically tasked with responding to social cues and taking care of relationships more than men, and stress supercharges this ability (indeed, female mice seem to remember an unfamiliar social situation longer than male mice).

As I'm sure you already know, stress is really bad for you. In addition to feeling unpleasant at the time, stress takes a toll on your body in both the short and long run. Reducing stress is difficult, and much of the typical de-stressing advice is superficial without addressing its root causes ("try an aromatherapy candle!"). Hopefully, new research into the gender-specific triggers and mechanisms of the human stress response will help scientists and mental health professionals to forge new evidence-based methods of dealing with this emotional scourge.

Image: kmiragaya/Fotolia, Giphy