The difference between the male and female stress response. How to help your partner when they are depressed.

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This is Mark Gungor and he is very funny.  He is summing up a big difference between the male and female brain – and that is that due to the structure of the brain, females remember details and the emotions whereas males remember the overall event, the facts of it.  This can lead to communication problems between the sexes.  The female also has a very different stress response to the male which boils down to needing to communicate and build bonds whereas the male wants to be doing something about it ie fighting or walking away.  Understanding these differences can help us understand ourselves better – and understand how to help our partners if times are rough.  Why am I writing about this?  Well, the 2 great killers in the western world are stress and toxicity1.  So anything we can do to reduce stress levels will not only make us happier and slimmer but also healthier.

A prime difference between the male and female brain is the connection between the two halves of the brain.  The brain is divided into two, a left and right hemisphere and in females, the connections between the hemispheres are much thicker and stronger, so she processes things like speech on both sides of her brain, whereas the male only uses the left hand side, for example.  This is partly why women can talk the hind leg off a donkey.  And this is why Mark Gungor refers to women having ‘more RAM in their brains’ than men; due to these stronger connections women’s brains really are more powerful and, for the same reason, less single minded.  Mark Gungor says there are 2 things that men think about, but I have heard there are actually 3: sleeping, eating and sex.  And that, apparently, is it.  I can assure you it is much noisier in a woman’s brain.

When a stressor happens men produce adrenalin, leading to the fight or flight response.  Women produce cortisol which leads them to tend and befriend.  This has been linked back to prehistoric days when women were looking after the children so her best chance of survival was as part of a group of females rather than alone with her offspring.  When faced with stress, she would seek to increase the bonding to her group.  This stress response difference partly explains the difference in the illness resulting from too much stress; he suffers from heart attacks, she suffers from depression.

Following a difficult day, men and women react quite differently.  When men talk about a hard day at work, their cortisol rises.  When women talk about a hard day at work, their cortisol drops.  So she needs to talk about it and he needs to be quiet.  Because his brain is simpler and action orientated he finds her endless nattering on about her difficulties boring, repetitive and non sequential.  Because he won’t talk about his emotions, she finds him cold, plodding and one dimensional.  It can be constructed as not loving her.

So what to do?  Taking a typical scenario: he has been out at work all day, possibly with his job under threat plus a row with his boss.  She maybe has a part time job plus looking after the children who’s behaviour was  particularly gruesome that day.   He comes home, she leaps on him going on and on about how the smalls were fighting, the son has lost his left school shoe,  the queue at the supermarket was eternal, her friend, Sarah, is thinking of splitting up with her husband plus asking how his day was.  He is just overwhelmed by all this, stressed and unhappy.  He just wants to be quiet for a bit.  And, in fact, that is the best thing to let him be.  Just give him 20 minutes of doing whatever he wants – playing on the computer, reading the paper, staring into space.  Then he will be sufficiently recovered to come and help with the children.

After his oasis of peace, when he re enters the fray, to help her become less stressed it is very good to cuddle her, as the blog on oxytocin said.  Oxytocin is the hormone of calm, love and relaxation.  It is raised by stroking and cuddling, particularly the back of the neck, the hands or the back.   To reduce her stress levels further, she needs to talk and he just needs to listen.  It is good to ask for more detail but it is not good to offer solutions, which is the natural male response – unless she specifically asks, ‘What shall I do?’, of course.  As a male, it is very important to hear the difference between ‘What shall I do?’ and ‘I don’t know what to do!’.  The latter is not a plea for advice.  If in doubt, stick to the cuddling.

For the singletons, understanding our personal needs to reduce stress can help.  If male, it is good to noodle – to spend time doing whatever we like before getting stuck into chores.  If female, we do need to communicate and we do need to nurture or be nurtured.  So if female, it is not wise to bottle it all up and stick a brave face on.  Females are more prone to depression, as the next blog on male/female differences will go into, and we must do everything we can to avoid that.

  1. Stress and toxicity are common root causes of heart attacks and cancer []

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