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Why is Stress Different for Everyone?

November 16, 2018

Feeling stress? You’re not alone. But not everyone experiences stress the same way.

Three out of every four Americans report feeling at least one symptom of stress in the past month. And 45 percent say they lay awake at night due to stress.

But did you know that feeling stressed is a reaction that dates back to the origins of humanity? And while everybody feels stress, reactions can be different for women and men.

Women’s Health Research at Yale’s new video depicts how the earliest forms of stress were matters of life and death, triggering a response to deal with an immediate crisis. But today, many of the things that cause stress stay around longer, leading people to experience prolonged responses that can negatively impact health.

Stress has emotional consequences. It can make us feel overwhelmed, fatigued, nervous, and sad. Stress can also cause changes in eating and sleeping habits, headaches, and weight gain. Over time, stress can even increase the risk of depression, anxiety, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes.

But while everyone feels stress at times, reactions to stress can be different for women and men.

In general, women are more likely to think and talk about what is causing stress. Women also are more likely to reach out to others for support and seek to understand the sources of their stress.

Men typically respond to stress using distraction. And men often engage in physical activities that can offer an escape from thinking about a stressful situation.

Dr. Carolyn M. Mazure, the Norma Weinberg Spungen and Joan Lebson Bildner Professor in Women's Health Research and Professor of Psychiatry and of Psychology, encourages women and men to learn from each other.

“Both thinking and taking action are useful if neither is done to the exclusion of the other,” Mazure said. “And if each is used to help understand what causes your stress and how to best deal with it.”

The good news, Mazure said, is that while stress is diverse in its forms and the reactions it provokes, there are many ways that an individual can cope:

“It’s helpful to find the methods of relaxation and self-care that work best for you,” she said. “Learn what to expect when confronted with stressful circumstances. Prepare yourself so you are ready to perform when stress arrives. If possible, try to see a stressful situation as an opportunity to grow. Strengthen yourself with the help of others who have been there before and gotten through it. And learn to accept the things that you can’t control.”

Because no one can avoid stress completely.

“What we can do,” Mazure said, “is change how we respond to stress.”

Safer U Survival Guide

The research we support is helping unlock the differences inherent in our DNA. For example, women and men respond to and manage stress in different ways. And, STIs can pose different risks depending on a person's anatomy. Knowing these differences can prepare you to make healthier choices for your wellbeing. Watch our Safer U Survival Guide videos to learn even more about differences between and among women and men.

For more news from Women's Health Research at Yale, sign up for WHRY's e-blasts, like WHRY on Facebook, follow WHRY on Twitter, or visit WHRY's website.

For questions, please contact Rick Harrison, Communications Officer at or 203-764-6610.

Submitted by Carissa R Violante on November 16, 2018