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How women react to stress seems to be different from the way men to - The 'tend and befriend' response seems to work positively for them
Picking up from an earlier post of mine, ‘Indian Women Are The Most Stressed’, I began to wonder how women cope with stress. I know for sure that men have a ‘fight or flight’ response to stressful situations, but do women react the same way?
In seeking that answer I found a new paradigm for fighting stress. It is called the ‘tend and befriend’ model, one which adds a new dimension to the study of responses to stress. It was developed by a University of California, LA, psychologist Shelley Taylor, and her colleagues.
Taylor and her team have proposed “that females respond to stressful situations by protecting themselves and their young through nurturing behaviors–the “tend” part of the model–and forming alliances with a larger social group, particularly among women–the “befriend” part of the model.” (Males show less of a tendency toward tending and befriending, sticking usually to the fight or flight response).
Women exchanging flowers in Northern Thailand
During stress, women tend to care for their children and find support from their female friends. This is probably due to the release of a chemical called oxytocin (the effect of which is enhanced in women because of the hormone estrogen), which has a calming effect during stress. It is also released during childbirth and found at higher levels in breastfeeding mothers, who are supposedly calmer and more social than women who don’t breastfeed. (Men have high levels of testosterone during stress, which blocks the calming effects of oxytocin and causes hostility, withdrawal, and anger).
According to Taylor, “Mainstream stress researchers have been very quick to study behaviors like aggression and withdrawal and have failed to notice very important behaviors like affiliation. We think it’s cute when women call up their sisters when they’re under stress. But no one has realized that that is a contemporaneous manifestation of one of the oldest biological systems. Our focus on fight-or-flight has kept us from recognizing that there are systems that are as old as fight-or-flight that are tremendously important.”
The differences in responses to stress may explain the fact that women have a lower incidence of stress-related disorders such as hypertension, aggressive behavior, or drug and alcohol abuse. The “tend-and-befriend” reaction to stress possibly protects women against stress, and this perhaps explains why women on average (internationally) live about seven and half years longer than men.
[Do check your stress level through the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale]
Pic credit: Fernando Martin (Used under a creative commons license)
I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management and good governance. I am also the proud father of two lovely daughters. read more...
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Rajshri Deshpande, who played the fiery protagonist in Trial by Fire along with Abhay Deol speaks of her journey and her social work.
Rajshri Deshpande as the protagonist in ‘Trial by Fire’, the recent Netflix show has received raving reviews along with the show itself for its sensitive portrayal of the Uphaar Cinema Hall fire tragedy, 1997 and its aftermath.
The limited series is based on the book by the same name written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost both their children in the tragedy. We got an opportunity to interview Rajshri Deshpande who played Neelam Krishnamoorthy, the woman who has been relentlessly crusading in the court for holding the owners responsible for the sheer negligence.
Rajshri Deshpande is more than an actor. She is also a social warrior, the rare celebrity from the film industry who has also gone back to her roots to give to poverty struck farming villages in her native Marathwada, with her NGO Nabhangan Foundation. Of course a chance to speak with her one on one was a must!
“What is a woman’s job, Ramesh? Taking care of parents-in-law, husband, children, home and things at work—all at the same time? She isn’t God or a superhuman."
The arrays of workstations were occupied by people peering into their computer screens. The clicks of keyboard keys were punctuated by the occasional footsteps moving around to brainstorm or collaborate with colleagues in their cubicles. Most employees went about their tasks without looking at the person seated on either side of their workstation. Meenakshi was one of them.
The thirty-one-year-old marketing manager in a leading eCommerce company in India sat straight in her seat, her eyes on the screen, her fingers punching furiously into the keys. She was in a flow and wanted to finish the report while the thoughts and words were coming effortlessly into her mind.
Natu-Natu. The mellifluous ringtone interrupted her thoughts. She frowned at her mobile phone with half a mind to keep it ringing until she noticed the caller’s name on the screen, making her pick up the phone immediately.
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