Study Proves Men and Women’s Brains Handle Stress Differently

(Not) Startling new news from the World of Science: Men’s Brains and Women’s Brains function differently under stress.

Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI), researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that men and women differ in response to stressful situations: Men experience increased blood flow to the left orbitofrontal cortex, suggesting activation of the “fight or flight” response; in women there is increased activation of the limbic system, which is associated with emotional responses.

The researchers studied the brains of 16 men and 16 women and were able to directly visualize – in real time – what the human brain does during stress, according to Jiongiong Wang, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of radiology and neurology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Moderate stress was induced by asking subjects to count backward by 13, starting at 1.600. researchers monitored the subject’s heart rate and blood flow to the brain; they also checked for the stress hormone cortisol. They In men, stress resulted in increased blood flow to the right prefrontal cortex, responsible for the “fight or flight” response, while will had increased blood flow in the limbic system, associated with a more nurturing and friendly response.

The researchers also found that the changes in the brain during stress response also lasted longer in women.

In stressful situations, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol, which are released into the blood stream, speaking up heart and breathing rates and increasing blood pressure and metabolism. These are all important (and advantageous) physical changes, allowing us to react quickly and effectively under pressure. However, even low levels of stress can be detrimental if they persist for too long; the nervous system will continue to be slightly activated and pump out extra stress hormones – leaving a person feeling depleted or overwhelmed, and weakening the body’s immune system.

“I’m frequently amazed by the unnecessary stressors clients create for themselves,” observes Francis J. Flynn, Psy.D., CAP, director of clinical services of the Brain Training Centers of Florida. “Often the single most controllable stressor is their calendar; they set unrealistically close or impossible-to-meet deadlines and, as those deadlines approach, their stress levels go through the roof.

“And, of course, there’s the ever-present cellphone or iPhone or Blackberry. We know that America has become addicted to these stressors when priests, ministers and rabbis must declare houses of worship ‘cellphone and text message free zones.’

“The world doesn’t come to an end when we turn off electronic devices on a plane; it won’t end if we turn them off for a couple of hours of personal down-time every day,” says Flynn.

Flynn also recommends “recognizing our own humanity, less than absolutely perfect is still pretty darn good. Always get a good night’s sleep; no matter what the problems of the day, you’ll be better able to handle them if you’re not sleep deprived. Read the great classic novels of American and world history; they take time, you have to flow down to appreciate them, and they will transport you to other times and places, giving you a different world view and allowing you to escape for brief periods of time from the stressors of your day-to-day life.”

At the Brain Training Centers of Florida, Brain Wave Optimization is being utilized everyday to assist men and women to understand the functioning of their brains and to train their brains to handle situations the way they want them to.

Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.

Posted in: Brain Wave Optimization, Stress

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