Ever wonder why men need so much “space” while women seem to need just the opposite when under stress? The answer may be found in recent UCLA studies, in which researchers found that women respond to stress somewhat differently from men. The well known fight/flight response to stress may be more male than female. While men’s default position stays at fight/flight, women under stress seem to eventually want to engage in what researchers call a tend and befriend response. Here’s roughly how it goes:
When first under stress both men and women initially go into fight/flight (as do animals and reptiles, for that matter)
Then oxytocin, aka the “touch chemical” is released in both men and women. However, and this is where the parting of the ways comes along, the testosterone in men tends to override the effects of oxitocin while the estrogen in women enhances those “let’s chat and get cozy” oxytocin type effects. This means that men under stress have always wanted to fight or flee while women under stress have, through the ages, wanted to gather together, grab the children and run for safety. And the more they gather the more they want to gather as oxytocin output increases through continued physical closeness and touching. Thus women under stress may exhibit different behaviors from men, that is, under stress as men take off or get into a conflict, women may connect or even cling.
Understanding the difference between how men and women respond to stress might save a lot of people from…well….more stress. Fight/flight chemicals can translate into fight= aggression, flight= avoidance….recognize any familiar patterns here, ladies? Men aren’t kidding when they say they need to take a breather and cool down or go for a run to get rid of those built up stress chemicals (those racket sports aren’t so popular for nothing!). Men really do need to “take a break”, “have some space” or even “get aggressive” through a sport to calm down so they don’t get into unnecessary fights or take off.
And from the female end oxytocin can translate into touch= talk, cuddle/huddle. Seem familiar to anyone? Women aren’t kidding when they say they need to talk, and talk and talk some more to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Women need to gather together for reassurance and a sense of safety which can mean anything from “meet me in the ladies room” to “let’s have coffee” to texts, calls or emails just to feel connected and supported. When it comes to working through stressful moments, men and women may not pair up so well because our ways of calming down when stressed are so sort of ….incompatible. However, just knowing this might help. If women can let men take a break or if men can give that little bit of extra talking, cuddling or reassurance we might have a lot fewer fights or emotional disconnects. Stressful moments might even lead to feeling understood rather than misunderstood, who knows?
I will be starting an “Ask Dr. Dayton column, please send any questions you’d like me to answer to askdardayton@tiandayton.com.

In short these books will help you: