Whether you’re a man or woman, operating a business often feels like a daily rollercoaster of constant stresses. And although discussions around stress management are more common, the differences in the way men and women handle and respond to stress may be worth exploring.
The Australian Psychological Society and the National Library of Medicine report that men and women have different reactions to stress, both physically and mentally. How a female responds to stress is proven to be entirely different to how a male arrives at, and handles, a stressed state.
The toxic chemicals released under stress are more potently destructive on the female nervous system and brain, explaining why women are more likely to report physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and intense emotional reactions during stressful times.
Cortisol levels tend to be higher for women and sit longer in the system – significantly fluctuating between various times of the day, and also throughout the month. One week a woman can confidently handle business demands, and the next week it can all feel too much.
So, having a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to stress management isn’t the answer – especially for women. Here are three areas you can improve for managing stress.
1. Focusing creates a hyper-stressful state
Biologically, women have more P-Ganglion Retina Cells – meaning we naturally see subtleties in our environment. By focusing on a specific task (especially for extended periods of time) we are overloading our system with large amounts of information, adding an even heavier load to our sensitive sympathetic nervous systems, causing adrenal overload.
Women can actually achieve more when they are in a peripheral state, i.e. the opposite of hyper-focused.
So, the next time you feel the stress levels raising, take a moment to become aware of the entirety of your environment – sounds, smells, different objects around you. Lift your gaze above eye-level, take some slow deep breathes and name all of the objects you become aware of helps to lower cortisol levels, thereby reducing the physiological stress response being experienced.
2. Dwelling drags you down
The larger limbic-system in our brain means that women attach emotions to events more often than men, emotions can lead to over-thinking, resulting in an even more emotional state occurring. For this reason, stressful situations can drag on far longer for women – and they affect them for longer, too.
Learning to not dwell when something goes wrong can dramatically improve the way stress affects a woman. As mentioned above, it can be tough, because women are basically wired to fret over things. Try shifting your focus to solutions that are available, not the stress. Delegate tasks, reach out for guidance, ask for or a different perspective from a colleague, or simply press pause on the task for now.
3. Helpful help
When faced with stressful situations, our brain releases cortisol and adrenaline, stimulating the ‘flight or fight’ response. However, there’s a key difference in which men and women’s brains react to stress; with the release of another hormone in female brains called oxytocin, i.e. the nurturing love hormone.
When oxytocin is released, women’s tendency is to ‘tend and befriend’ when under stress – worrying more about others’ well-being over our own. Which explains why women are more likely to turn to co-workers, friends and other intimates for guidance during stressful times.
Many women find asking for help stressful, but also being able to say no when someone asks them for help.
Our tip? Recognise when you might benefit from the assistance of others. Practice saying no to people. And, don’t try to be everything to everyone at the expense of your mental health.