Internalise or reach out?
How do you handle your emotions when life gets stressful? Do you shut down and internalize, withdrawing from social circles? Do you seek solace in substances, food, or marathon runs of television shows or movies? Do shut down and forget how to function? Or do you call, text, and meet up with friends, hoping that someone—anyone—will either take the time to listen to you vent and offer some form of comfort and support or distract you from your dilemma with his or her own needs? Or do you simply find the strength within to meet whatever challenge you may face head on, determined to overcome? Stress, this enemy that haunts us every day, could be undermining not only our health but also our relationships with other people, especially if we are men. In fact, stressed women apparently become more “prosocial”, states a study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. Researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste, Italy, found that people tend to respond to stress either empathically, with an understanding that everyone goes through difficult times and needs help in their moments of distress, or egocentrically, with the inability to distinguish between “self and other.” The starting hypothesis was that stressed individuals tend to become more egocentric. The surprise was that the starting hypothesis was indeed true, but only for males. In the experiments, conditions of moderate stress were created in the laboratory (for example, the subjects had to perform public speaking or mental arithmetic tasks, etc.). The participants then had to imitate certain movements (motor condition), or recognise their own or other people’s emotions (emotional condition), or make a judgement taking on another person’s perspective (cognitive condition). Half of the study sample were men, the other half were women. What was observed was that stress worsens the performance of men in all three types of tasks. The opposite was true for women. It showed that the women were more likely to interact with others when stressed. This means that the more they need help , the more they apply social strategies. At a physiological level, the gender difference might be accounted for by the Oxytocin system. Oxytocin is a hormone connected with social behaviours and a previous study found that in conditions of stress women had higher physiological levels of the hormone than men It is also referred to as the “love molecule” & plays a huge role in pair bonding. New research is suggesting that oxytocin plays a crucial part in enabling us to not just forge and strengthen our social relations, but in helping us to stave off a number of psychological and physiological problems as well.
Reference: SISSA (2014, March 17). Male, stressed, and poorly social. Press Release. Retrieved from