March 15, 2006
Stress, Women and Men: The Effects of Stress Are Not Quite the Same
David Prescott, Ph.D.
Nearly half (47%) of Americans reported that they are concerned about the effects of stress in their lives. While this may hardly be surprising, the survey, conducted in January 2006, also revealed differences in the way that women and men experience stress. The results suggest that certain ways of coping with stress can actually lead to higher stress levels in the long run.
GENDER DIFFERENCES IN EFFECT OF STRESS: Women are more likely than men to report that stress affects their lives in a significant way. Fifty-one percent of women report that stress significantly affects them, compared to 43% of men. Men report fewer things “stress them out” compared to women. Women are generally more worried about the impact of stress on their lives.
HOW DO WOMEN AND MEN EXPERIENCE STRESS? While people experience stress in lots of ways, there are some general differences between men and women.
Feel Like Crying
Have Trouble Sleeping
Become More Irritable
Express More Anger
WHERE DOES ALL THE STRESS COME FROM? Much of our day to day stress appears to come from the roles and responsibilities we take on in our work and families. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be the “health care decision maker” for their families, and this role causes significant increases in stress level. Family members with primary responsibility for household decisions report higher stress levels and more concern about stress. One possible reason for higher stress levels in women is that women are more likely to be the “Chief Operating Officer” for the family.
Consistent with this, men who are single parents are more likely to cope with stress in problematic ways, like smoking. Forty-nine percent of single dads reported frequent smoking compared with 31% of single moms.
OTHER COMMON SOURCES OF STRESS: Specific sources of stress are probably familiar to most of us. People identify the most common sources of stress as including:
• Health of a spouse or child
• Care of children
WATCH OUT FOR NEGATIVE STRESS CYCLES: Nearly one in four people report that they cope with stress and problems with food. Comfort eaters report higher levels of stress and are more likely to be nervous, tired, and irritable. Other problematic ways of coping with stress are smoking and inactivity.
Sadly, these types of stress coping often lead to more problems in the long run! Overeating, smoking, and inactivity are often associated with health problems like hypertension, obesity, and high cholesterol. And, these health problems typically lead to more stress. Thus, people often find themselves in a cycle where their ways of coping often make their stress problem worse.