I imagine you’ve heard of the acute stress response and figured out it’s probably not good for you. You might know it’s the biological translation of a perceived threat into a series of hormones that plunge the body into fight or flight mode… Through the action of adrenaline and cortisol, physically we are getting ready to do battle or to fight for our lives. But as a woman, you might find you do something different…
Work is busy, there’s a deadline at the end of the week and everyone is pulling out all the stops when Sonja goes off sick – she can’t help it but it’s hardly convenient and we have to cover that gap too.
And it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the stuff at home, getting ready for the school trips, trying to plan a schedule for next year’s activities but the brochure isn’t out yet (delayed due to a glitch in their online booking system apparently) and why did toothache have to strike now, I’ve not got time to take you to the dentist! Yes, we might snap, even shout, lose some sleep. But as a woman we often choose not to fight.
So, I know what I’ll do…
I’ll clean the kitchen/tidy the airing cupboard/weed the garden instead!
For the best part of a hundred years scientists have been uncovering details of the biologically very important stress response. It did evolve to keep us alive and it did a pretty good job. It’s just in the last 50 years or so, it seems to be killing us too.
Most of the early studies were conducted on men which led to them overlooking the effects of stress on women.
Simple observations of women under stress – and some very puzzled reflections on my own behaviour – have revealed that a different outcome is available to women.
Frequently when stressed we seek company (whereas often, men choose to withdraw). Women chat, we make tea, we compare notes, at least in the early stages of the onset of stress. Frequently we tidy-up our environment.
Researchers have called this the tend and befriend response. Apparently it’s a result of the production of a third hormone, oxytocin, that women produce in much higher quantities than men. It’s a very useful hormone, produced by new mothers it allows them to bond very effectively with new babies, it allows couples to form stable attractions, it increases our level of trust. Oxytocin is produced as part of a female response to stress and it means we don’t have to fight our way out of a stressful situation, we can work it out over a cup of tea.
So next time you find yourself doing something so apparently odd as cleaning or tidying in a potentially stressful situation, you’re not going mad, it’s your oxytocin at work.
And you can get your daily dose by sharing a hug!
How do you know that you’re starting to get stressed?