Another interesting thing about stress is that men and women deal with it differently. (Imagine that!) Studies have shown that when a husband and wife have an argument, his stress hormones decrease within the hour but hers are still high for another 12 hours. Other studies show that pregnant women who experience extreme stress have high levels of cortisol in their blood stream, possibly shutting up to 60% of the oxygen and nutrients away from the fetus. It is also believed that cortisol can cause the dendrites (the branches that contain memories) to shrink temporarily, causing memory blocks and that “going blank” experience. As cortisol levels decrease, the dendrites plump back up and your memory and thinking become clearer.
Research done at UCLA in 1998 showed that while most men and some women react to stress with the fight or flight response, women have another way to respond to stress. It is called “tend and befriend.” Women appear to be physiologically wired to reach out and communicate with each other, connecting in ways that help decrease stress and help one become calmer and less afraid. This instinctual “woman’s way” is compromised in today’s society because for almost everyone there is no time left in our 24/7 jam-packed lifestyle to have much tending and befriending.
Technology that looks like connection (cell phones, computers, computer games, tablets, etc.) is increasing our disconnection. No one can deny that we are living in challenging times, but mostly outside of our windows of stress tolerance. As a therapist, I see every day the devastation stress is causing to the human spirit and soul. Individuals and families struggle with stress escalation and become stuck in survival ego, disconnecting from the ones they love.
We can’t stay in this place and survive. Women are the nurturers. Who nurtures the nurturers? What happens when they are not?
According to some studies, women who allow themselves to connect with each other release an essential calming brain chemical called oxytocin. A great book that explains our inner calming chemistry is The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy and Love by Susan Kuchinskas . Oxytocin builds on our attachment/caregiving system. Oxytocin seems to counteract the metabolic activity associated with physiological reactivity from the stress reactions fight-or-flight like increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and increased cortisol levels (which for women seem to go to their middle?) Our present day lifestyle is not promoting us to connect at a physical or emotional level. So, what do we do?