Men and women's average stress levels may be roughly on par with each other, but the physical and psychological toll of long-term stress on men and women is quite different.
In addition to the numerous health impacts of stress experienced by both sexes, tension and anxiety can also take a unique toll on the male mind and body, starting with the immediate stress response. While stress tends to activate the "tend and befriend" response in women, men have been found to react to stress more with the aggressive "fight or flight" response, according to one study.
"When the fight or flight response is activated [in both sexes], our bodies go into emergency mode and take care of immediate and acute needs, focusing on getting energy to the muscles, and we don't take care of the longer-term needs of the body," Christy Matta, MA, author of "The Stress Response," tells the Huffington Post. "We shut down things like our immune systems, reproductive systems ... It does suppress the release of testosterone and it suppresses other reproductive systems. The wear and tear on the body is severe from repeated stress."
Chronic stress is hazardous to health and can lead to early death from heart disease, cancer and of other health problems. But it turns out it doesn't matter whether the stress comes from major events in life or from minor problems. Both can be deadly.
And it may be that it's not the stress from major life events like divorce, illness and job loss trickled down to everyday life that gets you; it's how you react to the smaller, everyday stress.
The most stressed-out people have the highest risk of premature death, according to one study that followed 1,293 men for years.
Older men who lead high-stress lives, either from chronic everyday hassles or because of a series of significant life events, are likely to die earlier than the average for their peers.
"We're looking at long-term patterns of stress - if your stress level is chronically high, it could impact your mortality, or if you have a series of stressful life events, that could affect your mortality," said Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.
Her study looked at two types of stress: the everyday hassles of such things as commuting, job stress or arguments with family and friends; and significant life events, such as job loss or the death of a spouse.
Both types appear to be harmful to men's health, but each type of stress appears to have an independent effect on mortality. Someone experiencing several stressful life events does not necessarily have high levels of stress from everyday hassles, Aldwin said. That is determined more by how a person reacts to the stress.
"It's not the number of hassles that does you in, it's the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems," Aldwin said. "Taking things in stride may protect you."
Aldwin's latest research on long-term patterns of stress in men was published recently in the journal "Experimental Gerontology." Co-authors of the study were Yu-Jin Jeong of Chonbuk National University in Korea; Heidi Igarashi and Soyoung Choun of OSU; and Avron Spiro III of Boston University. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The researchers used data from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. They studied stressful life events and everyday hassles for 1,293 men between 1989 and 2005 then followed the men until 2010. About 43 percent of the men had died by the end of the study period.
About a third of the men who reported having few stressful life events had died, while closer to half of the men reporting moderate or high numbers of stressful events had died by the end of the study.
Men who reported few everyday hassles had the lowest mortality rate, at 28.7 percent. Just under half of the men reporting a mid-range number of hassles had died by the end of the study, while 64.3 percent of the men reporting a high number of hassles had died.
Stressful life events are hard to avoid, but men may live longer if they're able to control their attitudes about everyday hassles, such as long lines at the store or traffic jams on the drive home, Aldwin said.
"Don't make mountains out of molehills," she said. "Coping skills are very important."
The study gives a snapshot of the effects of stress on men's lives and the findings are not a long-term predictor of health, she said. Stress and other health issues can develop over a long period of time.
Aldwin said future research will look more closely at the different stressors' effects on health to see if the two types of stress have similar or different impacts on the body's physiology. Understanding how stress affects health.

Some people get frantic sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, worried about being late or not being able to do what they hoped in a timely manner. Others simply take the time to sit back, listen to music and appreciate the break as some quiet time.
Now, getting upset in traffic once is no big deal. But if things like that happen all the time and the response is always getting really upset, then the harmful effects of stress can become toxic.
"There are a number of ways chronic stress can kill you," says Aldwin. That includes increased levels of cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, and increase blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease.
Another option would be to add meditation to your daily routine. For many people, that can make a big difference, Waldinger says, "because what you do is watch your mind spin out anxiously over trivia, and eventually it settles down and you begin to have more perspective."
Breathing may be the simplest and most immediate fix, Aldwin says. "Take a step back when you feel yourself getting upset, step back psychologically and even physically," she recommends. "And then watch your breathing; people who get upset a lot breathe very rapidly and shallowly, and it creates more anxiety." Breathing slowly from the abdomen helps slow the stress response, she says.
And finally, Waldinger says here's something not to do: Don't overdo alcohol. "It feels in the moment like having that extra drink at night eliminates stress because it relaxes you, but it turns out that alcohol disturbs sleep." And it also acts as a depressant.
Some stress is inevitable for everyone, Waldinger says. But stress-related disease doesn't have to be.

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