We all get stressed out from time to time. Some of us feel stressed out ALL the time. But do we all stress out the same? Obviously not. Not only do individuals stress out differently, there appears to be some significant differences between how men and women respond to stress that may explain a few things. But even though we all stress out differently, there things all of us can do to reduce some of that stress. And they’re pretty easy to do.
FEELING STRESSED OUT SUCKS
I have recently had my fair share of stress, getting injured at work, having hip surgery, medically retiring, dealing with pain. And a lot of times, it was too much for me. So I sought out some ways to get a handle on that stress. I’ve tried lots of things and I’m going to share some of the stuff that has worked for me in hopes that it will work for you, too!
I recently attended a Women’s Wellness Day event at UCSD and was fortunate to see Dr. Tahir Bhatti speak. Dr. Bhatti is the director of Integrative/Holistic services at UCSD Health System and spoke on stress, particularly how stress affects men and women differently.
This was eye opening to me!
I couldn’t believe (well, scratch that, yes I could), that up until 1995 only about 17% of stress research participants were female. So the great majority of the information we have on the stress response is heavily male biased. It’s important not to assume that men and women have the same type of response – after all we ARE different. Different hormones, different body compositions, different physiological responses.
So what are the differences when it comes to stress? While men tend to go into that “flight or fight” sympathetic response that we’ve all heard about, researchers are finding that women may have more of a “tend and befriend” response. This evolutionary adaptation, of men fighting to fend of the threat or fleeing to remove the threat from the group and the women grouping together to tend to the children, gather and share resources and responsibilities, and enhance their overall chances of survival, may have its links to a higher release of oxytocin in women during times of stress when compared to men.
Oxytocin is a sort of “feel-good” neuropeptide, also called the “love hormone”. It plays a role in intimacy, social bonding, trust, social fear reduction and has been shown to have some healing properties as well . It’s released during childbirth to facilitate maternal bonding and when we are touched (most of us have heard of oxytocin in the context of sex and cuddling!).
Testosterone tends to prohibit oxytocin release, a hormone that is in higher quantities in males. Estrogen tends to enhance oxytocin release, a hormone in higher quantities in females.
When we’re social, oxytocin is released and a calming effect takes place. That’s why cuddling feels so nice. Or laughing with friends, or even just sharing a comfortable silence with someone we care about.
That social connection and subsequent oxytocin release have immediate effects on lowering your blood pressure and mitigating some of the harmful cardiovascular responses during times of distress, cardioprotective effects that help keep your heart (and mind and body!) healthy.
So how do we get more oxytocin and more feel-goodness into our lives? There are a number of ways.
MORE OXYTOCIN PLEASE
Ways they know work:
Socialize! Hanging out with your friends is a great way to boost your oxytocin levels, but make sure they’re supportive friends and not douchebag friends. Have regular seshes with friends. Go to lunch. Meet for coffee. Have a girl’s/boy’s night out. Go for a hike together. Play on a sports team. Throw a BBQ. Go for a run or workout out at the gym together. I think you get the picture ;)
Listen to Music! Pop in that iPod and enjoy some soothing tunes. It doesn’t have to be elevator music. It just has to be calming and make you happy (but not happy in in an aggro-heavy metal, angry sort of way. That’s not relaxing and will likely INCREASE your stress response by pumping you full of testosterone and annihilating your oxytocin levels).
Touch Somebody (or better yet, Be Touched By Somebody)! This is where that cuddling comes into play :) Snuggle up with a loved one.
Get a massage.
Pet a dog (I’m sure cats, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, or anything furry will do).
Hug somebody (this is less than a snuggle so strangers may be acceptable). I encourage you to get as many hugs a day as possible!
Ways they’re pretty sure work:
So get out there and play with your friends, listen to a little music, and touch somebody :-) It’s good for your health!