Significant gender differences exist in the experience, and expectation, of stress across genders. In our country in particular, high achievement is equated with success, and many individuals are experiencing high, chronic states of stress and assuming it is normal, as they look at their neighbors.
While making broad stereotypes about gender tends to go against our treatment philosophy here at Upside Therapy, certain societal standards do exist. For women, stress tends to be internalized, while men are expected to have outlets for their stress. Men are told to “blow off steam” while women are asked to “hold it together.” Society’s pressures exist in all genders, yet women are expected to have multiple roles (job success, parenthood, relationship success, friendships) and also answer to societal judgments (children meeting developmental milestones, breast feeding versus bottle, etc.). Women have also learned implicitly that emotions equate to vulnerability, and so they may internalize and withhold their very valid stress experience. Men’s experience of stress can be more physical in nature, and often a diagnosis of stress or anxiety in a male comes from a primary care physician, as it was the physical discomfort that led to a man asking for help.
As individuals see those in their cultural or ethnic group going through traumatic experiences, they experience vicarious trauma, and stress. This may be compounded by generational and cultural expectations that therapy is not helpful, or may have stigma attached. There may be experiences of guilt associated, of a person thinking “my trauma is not as bad as the person on TV, so I must not need help.” A particular groups experience along factors such as individuality/community, rational thought/emotions, and free will/determinism will correlate with their stress experience. Even within families, the concept of acculturation can cause stress and rifts. A first generation child of immigrants may have a very different experience, and relationship, with stress than their parents and grandparents, with a very different set of stressors, as well.
It is rare to hear a 4-5 year old lament “I’m so stressed!” Yet that golden window of innocence seems to be decreasing, as greater emphasis on standardized testing and school performance trickles down as stress for 2nd graders and older. Yet as a child (and their teacher) feels this very real stress, it can be hard for their parents to empathize, as they are dealing with the very real stress of providing for the family, enriching the experiences of their loved ones, and managing their own emotions. And that child’s grandparents are even less understanding, as they are far removed from this particular experience, and instead have the stress and coping needs of changing life circumstances, loss of loved ones, and loss in independence.
What is the answer?
The answer to all of the stress, and the differences we experience with stress, is an effort to understand and show empathy. Empathy does not mean necessarily feeling the same emotions, but it does describe an effort to understand ones’ perspective and why they are feeling a certain way, and detecting the other person’s emotions. When dealing with stress, therapy techniques, particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be very helpful. Understanding that the brain sometimes magnifies a stressor, and sometimes discussing the stressors with an objective and accepting therapist can help minimize the stress to a more manageable size. For more information on how we can help with stress, contact us! We are here to help.