The Hard Facts: Fight or Flight for Men

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“According to [100-year-old] doctrine, humans and most animal species show the ‘fight-or-flight’ response to stress. Only since the late 1990s have some scientists begun to argue that women show an alternate “tend-and-befriend” response to stress …. Men, in contrast, were still assumed to become aggressive under stress. [Researchers have] refuted this assumption, saying: ‘Apparently men also show social approach behavior as a direct consequence of stress.'” (“Stressed Men Are More Social” ;,  5/21/2012)

This is so not me. When I am stressed I curl up into a ball on the bed or, in extreme cases, on the floor. The latter usually prompts Matt to declare something like “Oh no! We have a floor situation!” as I hug the ground. Stress makes me tired, and even more inclined to zone out in front of the TV, pretending for as long as I can that the stressors on my to-do list don’t actually exist.

It’s not the most productive coping mechanism but it does the trick.

According to this research, most women deal by becoming protective and “friendship-offering.” Men, too. Basically, we are nicer, and more pro-social, when our plates are full. Is that because we are trying to put off our stress by socializing? Or because we all cope with stress better when we can talk it out with others? Maybe the company of others just makes the supposed weight of the world on our shoulders not so, well, weighty?

The researchers who did this study say it has big-time consequences: “From previous studies in our laboratory, we already knew that positive social contact with a trusted individual before a stressful situation reduces the stress response. Apparently, this coping strategy is anchored so strongly that people can also change their stress responses during or immediately after the stress through positive social behavior,” said study co-author Markus Heinrichs.

So, the lesson: If you know you are about to go into a stressful situation, have lunch with a friend first. This will help reduce your “stress response” to the situation. Translation: You might actually remain calm. If a preventative lunch isn’t an option, meet with your friend as soon as possible after the stress-inducing event. You’ll be looking for some friend-time, and your stress levels will thank you.

And next time your husband tells you he’s too stressed for a couple-date, show him this research. And tell him he’s been Friended. (Doesn’t quite have the same ring as “lawyered!” but it’ll do.)

Do you feel more social when you are stressed out? Does stress make the men in your life more social?



Filed under The Search

8 responses to “The Hard Facts: Fight or Flight for Men

  1. That is very interesting. I don’t think I am more social when I am stressed at all. In fact, just last week I had a lunch with some great women who I work with, but I was in the middle of a week from hell and I felt like I was such a Debbie Downer. And I am a pretty social person. Thanks for sharing the research. Maybe if I am more intentional about using social activity as more of an outlet to try and alleviate the stress, it would work better. I’ll give it a try when I am stressed out again tomorrow. 😉

  2. Absolute not me. Maybe it’s an introvert/extrovert thing though? As a major introvert, it takes a lot of energy for me to be social, and when I am feeling stressed, I feel sad and have a hard time gathering that energy to spend time with friends. Socializing is usually the LAST thing I want to do when I’m worried about something.

    However, i do tend to be the friend that a lot of my friends come to when they are stressed, so I can see how it would help most others.

  3. Gillian Colbert

    Interesting read. Personally, my stress response is sleep. The more stressed I get, the more I sleep. At it’s worst I’ll feel almost narcoleptic.

  4. Definately! Spending time with a friend NOT talking about what’s stressing me out is a great distraction from whatever’s stressing me out – plus, that way I get to say, “Well, as bad and stressful as this stressful thing is, at least I still have friends.”

  5. I don’t think that the study results apply to me now, but when I was younger I would have agreed wholeheartedly. I believe it’s because my tolerance is lower now for adult drama(I’m a MomME of 5) and most of my friends have drama and that I am avoiding altogether. Also, it could be that I just want to be alone to clear my mind with my own thoughts, not with everyone elses. I say that because I know that we tend to ask peoples opinions or advice about stressful situations and with age I have come to realize that I have adopted the mentality of a lot of my close friends and family in the past (recent past) versus thinking for myself.
    As far as my man, I really don’t know. I know when he is stressed, but I honestly think he uses any opportunity to be with friends. It could be a wedding or somebody’s funeral; he’s game.
    In regards, to lunching with a friend before a stressful situation, I agree almost 100%. But you must know which friend to lunch with. I like to choose an optimistic and objective friend. Lunching with a friend who agrees with you all the time could heighten the stressful situation.

  6. Usually the reason I’m more social when stressed is an act of procrastination to avoid addressing everything!

  7. As a lifelong survivor of Panic Disorder (fight or flight response inappropriately triggered), my first response to stress is to go very quiet because I am usually doing some very important self-talk to keep myself from throwing myself out the window. lol I used small letters because it’s only partially a joke. If I don’t handle stressors right away I am in for a very uncomfortable time.
    When it is not the type of stress to trigger a panic attack, I do usually seek out someone to talk to (sometimes rant) & it does make me feel better.

  8. Ok, a little late to the party here…but this is CRAZY!! I seriously recently started having HOT FLASHES when I get stressed out (prior to that, heartburn)…. I’m almost 28, but it was so frequent that I went to the doctor about it freaking out that I was having early menopause or something! My doctor said my body was getting so stressed out that it was going into “fight or flight” mode…and since I was holding in my stress/upsetness/whatever, I was breaking out in sweats (and i’m talking, sweat rolling down the back, dewy face sweat)…. I’m now taking something that helps a little with it, but I’ve always been kind of a sweaty person, but the hot flashes have stopped for the most part!

    This is really interesting, because like you, most of the time I usually want to curl up in bed and sleep my stress away, or watch a tear jerker and cry it out. I do notice at work when neither of those things are an option, I do walk over to a trusted friend and “get crazy” and vent a little, I find it helps calm me down rather than stewing at my desk. Interesting stuff.


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