Men and women react differently to stress and anxiety, pandemic study reveals

WÜRZBURG, Germany — In John Gray’s well-known book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” the relationship counselor set out to show that the most common relationship issues between men and women were a result of the psychological differences between the two. A recent German study delved into the mental pressures that the COVID-19 pandemic placed on men and women and found that the two genders have distinct reactions to stress and strain.

2020’s initial phase of the pandemic was a challenging time. Establishments like shops, restaurants, cinemas, and theaters were shut. Social gatherings were halted, and students had to adapt to home-based learning. With these changes, people faced job insecurities, concerns about sick family members, and the juggling of work-from-home and homeschooling in confined spaces.

The central theme of this study revolved around anxiety, specifically its relation to concerns about work, health, and overall quality of life during the pandemic. The research sought to determine if these experiences influenced men and women differently.

“In men, anxiety increases along with concerns about the job, an effect which does not show in women,” says study co-author Grit Hein, a professor of translational social neuroscience at the Clinic and Polyclinic for Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Würzburg, in a university release. “On the other hand, we were able to register an increase in anxiety levels in women parallel to an increase in their worries about family and friends.”

Couple stressed over money, budget, bills, debt
Couple stressed over money (© JenkoAtaman – stock.adobe.com)

Women benefit more from support

Additionally, women responded more positively to the support they received from loved ones during these times, feeling an uplift in their quality of life, a sentiment that was less prominent among men.

Researchers took their insights from a segment of the STAAB study – originally aimed at cardiovascular diseases. They adapted this study during the pandemic to gauge its psychosocial effects. In total, 2,890 participants (comprising 1,520 women and 1,370 men between 34 and 85) filled out an extensive mental health questionnaire from June to October 2020. The survey explored areas like social support, work stress, contact restrictions, and financial concerns.

To decipher this vast amount of data, researchers employed a network analysis, a technique that enables a visual representation of various factors and how they interlink. This method provides a clearer understanding of complex relationships, especially between symptoms of different mental disorders.

The research team wasn’t entirely taken aback by their findings. Hein remarked that men’s greater association with work concerns and women’s deeper connection with family and friends could be attributed to traditional gender norms. Men often face greater psychological stress from job insecurity, whereas women experience increased strain when they perceive themselves as neglecting family duties.

Support from family and friends enhancing women’s well-being aligns with the traditional female role, emphasizing close social bonds and seeking support to alleviate stress.

Despite the clear outcomes, researchers acknowledged their limitations. Given the unique context of the COVID-19 pandemic, they emphasize the need to determine whether these findings are applicable in other scenarios.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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