How Men Handle Stress: New Study Results May Surprise you

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

How men handle stress vs womenIt is an age old truth that women are more stress resilient than men. Men may try and counter that but there are biological differences in how men handle stress. There can be an endless boy vs. girl debate on this context as well, but scientific studies have proven that women can handle stress better than men. There is also a biological reason why such is the case.

How Men Handle Stress vs. How Women Respond to Stress

Stress is psychological and hormonal in nature. It may be caused by physical strains or fatigue, emotional reasons, and excessive mental pressure under any circumstances. There have been numerous studies conducted across the world that looked at why women are more resilient to stress than men. The unanimous conclusion of all such studies has been that the female hormone estrogen is responsible for making women more stress resilient.

According to senior author Zhen Yan, a professor at the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the estrogen hormone estradiol is produced by the aromatase enzyme in females which actually counters stress and its effects. Her colleagues reiterate that if something similar can be induced or given to men, that doesn’t have the hormonal side effects of such enzymes or hormones, men can also be more resilient to stress.

Such a theory on how men handle stress has been long contemplated around the world and recently, experiments have been conducted to assess the realistic possibilities. According to a study that was recently published in the Molecular Journal Psychiatry, men and women were tested when stressed and the impact of estrogen was recorded.

Among stressed females, the estrogen produced after, initiated by brain signals, was manipulated and the signaling was blocked. After the signal was blocked and there was a reduction in the levels of estrogen in the female body, the adverse impacts of stress got worse. Similarly, when the blockage was removed and the brain signaled natural production of estrogen, the adverse impacts of stress didn’t affect the females.

There is clearly a correlation between estrogen and the impacts of stress and thus it is clear that how men handle stress can be more resilient if they have some means of taking estrogen. At this point in time, the quest is to find a way to induce estrogen in men which wouldn’t cause the hormonal side effect, estrogen being a female hormone but would have the positive effects of countering stress.

Ensuring A Healthy Stress Response

There is a natural mechanism in our bodies through which our bodies react to and process how men handle stress. This is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. It begins at the base of the brain in the hypothalamus, and from there it goes on to the pituitary gland and down through the adrenal glands. However, this is just the beginning of the NEM stress response. Through six different circuits, which are the hormone, bioenergetics, detoxification, inflammation, neuroaffect, and cardionomic, the whole body is controlled. This viewpoint is considered a functional medicine viewpoint because it looks at the body as an entire unit versus just one independent section (as is done in traditional medicine). If one area of the body is stressed, the NEM stress response uses multiple circuits to send help to that area.

Because so much of the NEM Stress Response is hormonal, it is essential that both men and women have relatively balanced hormone levels before stress is introduced. Stress can show up in a variety of ways. The word “stress” has different connotations for each person. Sometimes the pressure can be prolonged, exhausting days at work; your doctor may say that you are under too much stress. Physically, stress can appear as a recent illness, surgery, or a broken bone that your body is working to heal from promptly.

How men handle stress vs. how women handle stressOne of the ways that may help to balance your hormones is by incorporating physical exercise into your lifestyle routine. Exercise helps to balance levels of hormones and is known to relieve and reduce stress. Other ways would be getting eight to nine hours of sleep a night, eating healthy organic foods, and finding calmness in your stressful life. Often times, people are so busy with many responsibilities that even when they attempt to sleep at night, their mind is still racing back and forth between the previous day and future events. Meditation and mindfulness help to calm the mind and allow it to gently focus on the present. Instead of worrying about the past or the future, the mind is kindly brought to the current moment and the breath. Meditation has been shown to be very beneficial. It does not have to be a lengthy process, just five to ten minutes every day can help reduce the effects of stress.

Because women have the added benefit of estrogen to aid them in countering stress, understanding how men handle stress and the extra steps that must be taken to either control their environment better or at the very least control what is put into their bodies to properly nourish their endocrine system should be considered very seriously. When we experience heightened levels of stress, the majority of the burden for our stress response is managed by the adrenal glands. Being the workhorse of the fight and flight response, the adrenal glands can, over time, become exhausted and this is known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Understanding Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

AFS is not just one symptom that can result in this condition. It is the combination of multiple symptoms that a person may have that can alert the physicians that the body is not responding to stress as it should. The way men handle stress improperly (and how their body responds to AFS) has often widespread effects involving multiple circuits.

Some of these symptoms for men can include

  • Inability to sleep
  • Heart palpitations and lightheadedness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Depression that is not assisted by medication
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Dependence on high caffeine drinks (multiple cups of coffee or shots of espresso)
  • Increased abdominal fat accumulation even with a controlled diet
  • Joint pain that has no notable cause
  • Increased illness

Each of these symptoms can cause many emotions and uncomfortable feelings in a man. Even for someone who is normally calm and centered, he may be increasingly uneasy and unable to emotionally handle new stressors when AFS begins to appear.

Once proper understanding of what is happening to each individual is achieved, the focus can be turned towards recovery. During the process of adrenal recovery, it is prudent to note that each experience is individual. This is especially true when considering the difference between men and women, namely the level of estrogen that is produced. As part of the NEM stress response, the adrenal gland, which produces estrogen, is very active and helps to mitigate or exacerbate stress symptoms depending on its level of proper function.

Ways to Treat AFS are Often Misunderstood

One of the misconceptions of healing is just to take more supplements. The body is in a very fragile state when AFS is present, and adding the right supplements in the wrong amounts is just as bad as adding the wrong supplements. It is imperative only to take the supplements that your physician wants you to take in the correct amounts.

Another difficulty in recovering from AFS is the lack of conventional physicians’ understanding. This condition is not recognized by most insurance companies or diagnostic codes. Modern medicine relies heavily upon diagnostic labs to determine a condition, but AFS shows up through many symptoms that are not seen on paper and may not initially appear to be connected.

Overuse of prescription medications, even when done with the best intentions, may cause harm to the healing process of AFS. Heavy reliance upon antibiotics, steroids, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants can delay the healing time. The medicine treats the symptoms that are being experienced instead of the root cause.


Understanding how women and men handle stress is crucial to recognizing the signs and signals of your particular experience of a healthily regulated stress response. Healing and better health begin with knowledge, and though women may have a biological advantage in dealing with stress, men still can decrease their stress through sleep, proper supplementation, exercise, and meditation. There is hope for men to heal from AFS and revitalize the NEM stress response.

© Copyright 2013 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

It is best to learn to find calmness and centering before times of anger happen. This way you have tools in your toolbox ready to help you remain calm to find workable solutions during difficult times. Men handle stress differently than women but they still can overcome it.

how men handle stress
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