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How to Avoid Unhealthy Coping Tips for Women

Updated on April 27, 2013

Stress-Worry Trap

Worrying just leads to more stress, which leads to more worrying, which leads to more stress....
Worrying just leads to more stress, which leads to more worrying, which leads to more stress.... | Source
'Smile! You Are On!' by Raminder pal Singh, CC-BY-SA 2.0
'Smile! You Are On!' by Raminder pal Singh, CC-BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Stress - Natural Inclinations vs. the Pressure to Conform

For a long time, until relatively recently in fact, it was thought that the universal natural response to stress was the adrenaline-driven 'Fight or Flight' mechanism – that is, we confront problems head on, or we flee from danger.

But researchers at the UCLA first showed in 2000 that this response actually applies mostly to men, and that hardwired biological differences mean that for women an entirely different approach to dealing with stress is the best for health and wellbeing.

Our hormones play a large part in this. Both men and women have testosterone and oxytocin – testosterone promotes competitiveness and strength, whereas oxytocin promotes feelings of calmness and sociability. The testosterone levels in men are large enough to cancel out much of the effects of oxytocin, whereas for women, testosterone levels are relatively low – twenty times lower than those found in men - and so oxytocin has a much greater effect.

But society and life in general are fast-paced and competitive, and the pressure is on to face problems fighting and to overcome difficulties at any cost. For women, this may add even further tension to already-tense situations, since it means fighting natural inclinations, which can cause stress levels to soar.

Tend and Befriend – The Natural Sociability of Women

In men, the traditional fight-or-flight response is natural and healthy, but for women a response called tend-and-befriend is more naturally suitable.

This is of course only an idealised view. Health, diet, exercise and other factors such as lifestyle or past trauma can play a part too in our hormone levels and also in our responses to situations and events. Stress relief is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but something to tailor to your own needs.

The 'tend and befriend' response to stressful situations is the urge to nurture ('tend') someone who is hurt (emotionally or physically) or in need, and to befriend rather than confront people who pose a potential threat.

Unhealthy vs. Healthy Coping Mechanisms

A healthy coping mechanism could be said to be one that solves a problem and/or relieves the stress created by a situation.

Unhealthy ones are those that either make the stress worse or compound a bad situation. Exercise can be a good coping response because it relieves tension – going for a walk after an argument, for instance, while you gather your thoughts and work off the effects of the adrenaline.

Getting angry might be called an unhealthy coping mechanism – it gives vent to frustrations, but it is likely to make a bad argument worse and can erode trust and respect in a relationship.

Likewise, defensive or offensive responses such as sarcasm promote bad feeling; other responses, such as passive aggressive traits like refusing to engage in conversation after a quarrel; or getting locked in a stress-worry cycle, can damage your own self-esteem and make it all the more difficult to forget past hurts and deal practically with problems.

Women's Sociable Stress Response

It is not just women, of course, who sometimes use unhealthy methods of coping, but for women more than men, it seems that actively seeking out friendships old and new is one of the healthiest forms of relief – phoning relatives and engaging in conversations; getting in touch with old school pals; striking up a conversation with someone at the gym or the corner shop, will all add just that little bit to your social support network, which for women's health and happiness it seems, is vital.

Baby with Mother, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother, by Azoreg, CC-BY-SA
Baby with Mother, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother, by Azoreg, CC-BY-SA | Source

Coping With Stress - Strategies to Avoid

Although we would all like to stay away from unhealthy ways of coping, it can be difficult to spot exactly what these are when you're in a stressful situation and just trying to get through the day. But often, simply being aware of what those negative traits might be, and pulling yourself back when you recognise yourself engaging in them, can be enough to change negative reactions into positive ones and stop the endless cycle of creating even more stress in your life.

These are some of the most common destructive stress reactions. Some of them don't even seem too manacing on the face of things, but their long-term effects can be very demoralising. Replacing any of these habits with healthier alternatives mentioned above, like socialising, will help you bring tension under control and get the best of stress.

Destructive Coping Strategy
Why is it Destructive?
Passive Aggressive Behaviour - where a person who appears to be happy with a situation is hiding deep resentment inside. Aspects of this can include sarcastic responses, sulking, ignoring someone, turning up late for a work or social occassion, and many others.
It's a sign of a lack of confidence and self-respect, and worse, it demonstrates a lack of respect for others, and over time it can destroy friendships and relationships.
The worry-stress cycle
Worrying makes it feel like you are actively doing something positive about a problem, but it is really of no use at all, and its only consequence is to create more stress. One of the best ways to break out of worrying is to talk to someone - phone a friend or relative the next time you feel yourself ruminating fruitlessly.
Wishful Thinking
We all need dreams, and on the bad days, they can be all that keeps us sane. But wishful thinking and daydreaming can easily keep us so preoccupied that we forget to tend to the real world. It also tends to give us unrealistic expectations, which invariably leads to a cycle of disappointment and can erode our happiness.
Comfort eating, alcohol, or other over-indulgences
A glass or two of wine, a couple of luxury chocolates and watching your favourite TV programme is a great way to find some relaxation and stress relief. But if that starts to turn into several boxes of chocolate, a large tub of ice cream, or a couple of bottles of wine every night then the treats are turning into an addiction.

Lifestyle Factors that will Affect Stress Levels

There are times when women feel stress much more keenly than other times. Menstruation and pregnancy for instance, when hormones are fluctuating and causing mood swings and physical symptoms like achiness and cramps. But whilst we can't do a great deal about these natural ups and downs, there are other things that might be increasing or even causing some unneccessary chronic stress that can be solved with a little lifestyle twesk or two.

These are the usual suspects that you might want to consider:

What To Do About It
Lack of vitamin C
Vitamin C has been shown to relieve feelings of stress, and conversely stress has been shown to deplete a person's vitamin C levels. If you are deficient in this, then the chances are good that you might be short of one or two other nutrients in your diet, so don't just take supplements (which are potentially harmful at high doses), but eat a few pieces of fruit and have a couple of portions of vegetables each mealtime.
Iron deficiency or low ferritin (stored iron)
Women of childbearing age are most at risk, but the syptoms come on slowly. Iron is essential for immune system function and healthy blood. Symptoms can include angular cheilitis (lesions or splits at the corners of the mouth that won't heal), chronic fatigue, air hunger (feeling like you can't take a deep breath), confusion and many others. Feelings of stress can seem hugely magnified if you're suffering from an iron deficiency, and getting the possibility checked by your doctor is a very quick test.
Lack of (moderate) exercise
Stress and depression are common in people who aren't active; and walking just for twenty minutes every day may solve your problem and relieve some of your stressed-out feelings.
Alcohol consumption
In men, alcohol consumption lowers testosterone levels, but in women it raises it, and binge drinking can very often lead to aggressive and stressed behaviour in women, thought to be at least in part because of the raised levels of this hormone. So if you want to lower your stress levels, drink moderately.


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    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 4 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      You have lots of great information here. I didn't realize that men and women were so different when it came to stress.

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 4 years ago

      cheers, justateacher :) I thought the research was really fascinating

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 4 years ago

      Well I love reading about women and what makes them 'tick' although to tell you the truth I have a hard enough time figuring out what makes 'us men tick' lol - so it's interesting to note the differences but also the similarities too. You write here like a world class journalist and I am sending to you warm wishes and good thoughts from snowy lake erie time ontario canada 8:50 am from Colin and his cats Mister Gabriel and Little Miss Tiffy

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