Stress and Gender
January 21st was the week of the Women’s March, and some may say women have nothing to march for—they’re well integrated into the workforce and pepper the U.S. ruling power structure. But studies reveal that women are still underpaid, denied advancement in the workplace, still shoulder a disproportionate share of the domestic burden, and are generally overloaded to the point where they suffer extraordinary pressure; and such overload leads to poor lifestyle habits.
A recent survey of 2000 women by Garnier Fructis (yes, the shampoo people) found that the average woman doesn’t have enough hours in a day to complete her tasks.1 In fact, she needs 82 more minutes daily than are available to get everything done. Seven in 10 women said they always feel rushed when they leave their homes. A full 38 percent said they hadn’t had an afternoon to themselves in more than a month. If they were given more time in the day, about half the women said they’d use it to sleep, indicating they aren’t getting enough z’s. Thirty-six percent would use the time to read, and about a third would use it to exercise.
Although, according to some measures, men and women report similar stress levels, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Brain & Behavior reported that two times as many women experience severe stress and anxiety compared to men.2 A 2006 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found 51 percent of women reporting high levels of stress compared to 43 percent of men, and women repeatedly score higher in annual APA stress studies.3
Some of that stress may be a result of the fact that women still do more domestic work than men, and they’re not recognized or rewarded for those efforts. A recent survey found that 83 percent of women, but only 65 percent of men, spent some time doing household activities such as housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management tasks each day.4 Another study, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that on a typical day, 49 percent of women did some housework (cleaning, laundry, etc.) versus only 19 percent of men.5 In the kitchen, 42 percent of men contributed by cooking or cleaning dishes, while 68 percent of women took that responsibility. Certainly, women bear the bulk of childcare responsibilities. While 42 percent of working mothers say they have taken time off from work at some point in their careers to care for children or other family members, only 28 percent of men report doing so.6 Also, though it seems trivial, women tend to spend more time getting ready to go out because their beauty routines take longer than do mens’. (And keep in mind, it’s not just vanity; there is an expectation that women look good when out in public.)
On the other hand, men spend an average of 53 minutes more a day at their jobs than women do. The difference is that work outside the home usually reaps a paycheck and sometimes earns recognition, power, and other rewards, so it may not lead to burnout as readily as domestic work. Also, studies show that women tend to do more “surface acting” than men even at work, displaying positive emotions they may not feel in order to garner favor professionally. This, too, is stressful.
According to research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, women react more to stress than men do. The article noted, “Although there was no difference in the number of life events experienced in the previous two years, the women rated their life events as more negative and less controllable than the men. The results of this study suggest that women suffer more stress than men... "
Women tend to get anxious and depressed when exposed to stress, whereas men tend to act out by drinking or carousing, according to one study.7 Another study found that women experience nervousness, a desire to cry, and lack of energy. Men, on the other hand, develop insomnia, irritability, and anger—once again acting out, rather than internalizing stress reactions. Perhaps because women are more likely to internalize, twice as many women suffer from depression compared to men.
Likewise, stress drives women to the doctor more than it does men, and women report higher rates of stress-related illnesses such as hypertension, depression, anxiety, and obesity. An American Psychological Association study found that 41-percent of women report stress headaches versus 30 percent of men.8 Thirty-two percent experience stress-related digestive issues, versus only 21 percent of men. But interestingly, men are more likely to die as a result of stress than women are. Dr. Beverly Thorn of the University of Alabama explains, “The really interesting gender difference is that women... present for treatment more frequently and have a greater number of stress-related disorders than men, but men die more frequently of stress-related illnesses -- heart disease, cancer, and auto-immune disease.”
Biochemical reasons underlie the gender differences in stress reactions. In women, stress causes a significant amount of the hormone oxytocin to be released in the brain, but men release much less.9 Oxytocin modulates the pinch of stress to some degree, and women tend to react by doing what experts call “tending and befriending.” In other words, they reach out to friends or care for others. Many men on the other hand, explode, get angry, irritable, or try to numb out by drinking.
As we’ve written often, stress is a precursor to numerous illnesses and must be managed. Although women may suffer more stress than men, they’re also more likely to do something about it, which may be the real reason they tend to survive stress more readily. Experts recommend combatting stress by:
- Practice Self Care. Exercise is a great stress buster, as is getting enough sleep and eating healthy food.
- Get Help. When stress becomes a problem, seek support from a professional therapist or even life coach. It’s essential to get perspective on your situation and to develop coping strategies.
- Take a Break. Even if only a long bath or a 30-minute reading respite. It might help to download an app called Sanity & Self that delivers instructions for short self-care sessions (breathing exercises, writing prompts, fitness suggestions and so on).
- Avoid Triggers. It might take working with a therapist to even figure out what the triggers are, but once you know what sets off your stress reaction, you can strategize about how to lessen contact.
- Take Stress-Busting Supplements. Natural products containing herbs such as ashwagandha, bacopa, or valerian can be extremely helpful in taking the edge off. And don’t forget to take a good immune-building formula to ensure you stay healthy during stressful times.
And if you have a chance, you might want to check out Jon Barron’s recent newsletter on stress and burnout.
- 1. Renner, Ben. “Frizzy Hair, Frazzled Nerves: Women Need an Extra 82 Minutes a Day Just to Get Everything Done!” 17 January 2019. Study Finds. 19 January 2019. https://www.studyfinds.org/frizzy-hair-frazzled-nerves-women-need-82-extra-minutes-per-day/
- 2. Wong, Kristin. “There’s a Stress Gap Between Men and Women. Here’s Why It’s Important.” 14 November 2018. The New York Times. 23 January 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/smarter-living/stress-gap-women-men.html
- 3. Herscher, Elaine. “Gender and Stress.” Health Day. 22 January 2019. https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/men-s-health-28/men-s-problems-health-news-469/gender-and-stress-645980.html
- 4. http://panthernow.com/2016/02/25/61999/
- 5. Sifferlin, Alexandria. “Women are Still Doing Most of the Housework.” 18 June 2014. Time Magazine. 20 January 2019. http://time.com/2895235/men-housework-women/
- 6. Parker, Kim. “Despite progress, women still bear a heavier burden than men in balancing work and family.” 10 March 2015. Pew Research Center FactTank. 19 January 2019. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/10/women-still-bear-heavier-load-than-men-balancing-work-family/
- 7. Grohol, John, Psych.D. “Women and Men React Differently to Stress.” 8 July 2018. PsychCentral. 22 January 2019. https://psychcentral.com/blog/women-and-men-react-differently-to-stress/
- 8. “Gender and Stress.” American Psychological Association. 22 January 2019. https://apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2010/gender-stress.aspx
- 9. “Why Men and Women Handle Stress Differently.” WebMD. 22 January 2019. https://www.webmd.com/women/features/stress-women-men-cope#1