It was at least two in the morning when my boyfriend called to say the engine had blown up in his brand new Maxima. He had taken what was supposed to be a quick trip out of state to visit his parents before leaving the country for the goodwill games. How does an engine catch on fire in a brand new car? I’d asked. ‘I’m a boxer, not a mechanic’ was his reply. Now, there was no way he would make it back to the gym in time, and of course, the coach was going to be furious. I have no idea how he worked it all out; but he managed somehow and I didn’t hear from him again until a week after everything was resolved.
Ironically, that same week my car broke down just a few feet from my driveway. This was not good as I was in the middle of chemistry finals. Fortunately, a classmate agreed to pick me up. As we started off to the university, her car broke down as well. While we were pushing the car out of the road, it started to rain and we were drenched in the downpour. That was the start of my day. By 7pm, I had picked up the phone and soon my three best girlfriends were in my living room helping me drown my sorrows in huge bowls of ice cream.
Studies have found that a woman’s response to stress is not the same as it is with males. Much has been made of the typical ‘fight or flight’ response. Fight or flight is an immediate response to acute (sudden and short term) stress and researchers feel the similarities with men and women both began and end there.
With episodes of acute stress both men and women release ‘stress hormones’, primarily adrenaline. This substance causes the physical responses associated with fight or flight: rapid heart beat, rapid breathing, pupil dilation, blood pressure and blood sugar elevation, and muscle tension. As long as the stressful event is resolved quickly, these symptoms subside. However, when stress is prolonged or recurrent, men tend to withdraw and women call their friends. Researcher Shelly Taylor, Ph.D. calls this stage ‘tend and befriend’ as opposed to the withdrawal so well demonstrated by my boyfriend.
Taylor’s research indicates that these responses are also hormonally controlled. However, under stress, males produce more testosterone and cortisol and have a tendency to exhibit aggression and withdrawal; while women release oxytocin, which is associated with feelings of affiliation or ‘tend and befriend’.
Tend and befriend is what makes Mom stay when Dad walks out. It’s what makes a daughter take care of a disabled parent in the home instead of a nursing home. It’s what helps a woman manage a busy household and a career. Tend and befriend is what made me call my friends and what caused them to end up coming to my rescue in my living room.
Prolonged and recurring episodes of stress do contribute to medical and emotional problems. So people, now that we have a better understanding of our differences here are some practical stress management tips designed with you in mind:
- Schedule some ‘Me’ Time
‘Me Time’ is simply a change of pace and consists of things like solitude, meditation, exercising, or reading a book. Time is a precious commodity. Toss in the schedules of your 2 children and a spouse and even your ‘To Do’ list needs a list. It never fails that one of the kids screams, cries, or skins his knee every time you’re in the shower. You must schedule time to escape. Plan when you’ll take that short trip, start a hobby, go to the movies, or the spa.
- Monitor your self-talk
Women have a little lady perched on their shoulder whispering things like: you’re neglecting your family, or you need to lose weight. When the voice becomes negative, turn off that tape and evaluate. Negative self-talk is usually a sign that you’ve got too much on your plate. Eliminate tasks that you really should have delegated to a child or spouse long ago. Are you really neglecting your family or hearing the voice of a well-meaning relative? Put your thoughts in perspective. Only wonder woman can do everything that little voice demands of you.
- Relax your mind
Keep a journal or a small tape recorder with you. In this way, you can update your ‘to do’ lists or record business strategies. Do you really want to lose weight? During your ‘Me Time’ design a realistic plan, write it in your journal and get it off your mind once and for all. Take one thing at a time, it relieves tension and replaces stressed out feelings with a feeling of accomplishment.
- Pity party networking
Call your girlfriends, get out the ice cream, order a pizza and get your talk on. Talk things over with friends who are understanding, creative problem solvers. Take time to ventilate but don’t let the party end until you and the girls have defined the problem and looked at very real solutions.
Most of us have taken some variation of the stress self-test that was developed in 1967 by Dr. Holmes and Dr. Rahe. It’s a simple test that assigns a score to a series of life events like: marriage, moving, the death of a spouse, or going back to school. Your total score indicates the potential impact stress may have on you for an extended period of time. If you would like to take the Holmes and Rahe stress test, you can take it online right here: Online stress test.
By the way Ladies, the answer to your question is: Yes. I dumped the boyfriend.
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