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Earning Power!: January 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

Women and Men Respond Differently to Stress

This little association of over 5000 members at may be a bridge between genders. It appears that grouping together helps women survive and may be a deeper social response than "fight or flight".

See the latest UCLA study:

> UCLA Study on Friendship Among Women - by Gale Berkowitz>> A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special.> They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our> tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and> help us remember who we really are.>> By the way, they may do even more. Scientists now suspect that hanging> out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of> stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A> landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a> cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain> friendships with other women. It's a stunning find that has turned> five decades of stress research--most of it on men--upside down. Until> this study was published, scientists generally believed that when> people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the> body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible, explains> Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Bio-behavioral> Health at Penn State University and one of the study's authors. It's an> ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased> across the planet by saber-toothed tigers.>> Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral> repertoire than just fight or flight; in fact, says Dr. Klein, it seems> that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress> responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and> encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead.> When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies> suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress> and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in> men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone---which men produce in high> levels when they're under stress---seems to reduce the effects of> oxytocin. Estrogen; she adds, seems to enhance it.>> The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was> made in a classic "aha" moment shared by two women scientists who were> talking one day in a lab at UCLA. There was this joke that when> the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned> the lab, had coffee, and bonded, says Dr. Klein. When the men were> stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to> fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research> is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us> knew instantly that we were onto something. The women cleared their> schedules and started meeting with one scientist after another from> various research specialties. Very quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor> discovered that by not including women in stress research, scientists> had made a huge mistake: The fact that women respond to stress> differently than men has significant implications for our health.>> It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that> oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other> women, but the "tend and befriend" notion developed by Drs. Klein and> Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after> study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering> blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.>> There's no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live> longer. In one study, for example, researchers found that people who> had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In> another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut> their risk of death by more than 60%. Friends are also helping us live> better. The Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the> more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical> impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a> joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers> concluded, that not having close friends or confidantes was as> detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight!>> When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the> death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this biggest> stressor of all, those women who had a close friend and confidante were> more likely to survive the experience without any new physical> impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were> not always so fortunate. Yet if friends counter the stress that seems> to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy> and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be> with them?>> That's a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson,> Ph.D., co-author of "Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls'> and Women's Friendships" (Three Rivers Press, 1998). Every time we get> overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of> friendships with other women, explains Dr. Josselson. We push them> right to the back burner.>> That's really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to> each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured> space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when> they're with other women. It's a very healing experience.>> UCLA Study on Friendship Among Women> Nancy K. Montagna, Ph.D.> Solution-Focused Psychotherapy>> 301 587-5735> <>>