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” ; ScienceDaily.com, 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?