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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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It is easy to give in to patriarchal expectations from a married woman and lose your self in a marriage, but the path to happiness is in keeping your independence.
Marriage is often described as the joining of two individuals’ bodies, minds, and souls. Upon getting married, you are expected to share everything with your partner, including time, money, and all other aspects of life. Your life should revolve around your spouse from beginning to end.
But is it necessary to spend every waking moment with the spouse? Are you not supposed to have a life apart from your spouse? And do these rules apply only to women or men as well?
Although both men and women may face this situation, women are generally expected to give up everything once they get married. Despite progress in several areas, expecting women to abandon their interests, passions, and friendships to align their lives with those of their spouses is still considered the norm.
The rising numbers of single women choosing this life shout out clear and loud that patriarchy and sexism will no longer break or chain us.
Another book on singlehood? It seems to be the season for books on the joys and freedom of being single. But Demystifying and Dignifying Singlehood: Life Journeys of Single Women Across the Globe by Uma Jain is different. The book does not glorify or glamourise the lives of single women in any way. These are real stories – with the good, the bad and the ugly, all there.
The book tells the stories of 15 single women across the world. A feeling of deep understanding and empathy fills you as you read the book and understand the challenges faced by the women who are single – by choice or chance. Some of the women chose to be single because they faced discrimination and even abuse as girl children. Some others had abusive marriages and sought divorce.
The tag line ‘Crafting pathways on rough terrains’ on the cover page is enough to tell you that this is a serious take on the issue of singlehood. If it focuses more on the rough than the smooth, that has been the reality for the 15 women.
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