Tend and BefriendFebruary 3rd, 2013
tags: choices
Tend and Befriend

You’re late for your flight and a power-crazed TSA attendant pulls you aside for a lipgloss-nail-clipper-keychain baggage check. Are you more likely to verbally castrate him, or get intimidated and withdraw? Before you answer, read the following. Your answer could be “none of the above”.

The stress response standard for the last 70 years has been “fight-or-flight”. But health psychologist Shelly Taylor PhD. and five of her colleagues revisited research results after Taylor realized this “fight-or-flight” model didn’t fit any of the findings she’d seen in her 30 years of practice. Looking closer at the studies, they found the stress responses were identified through research based heavily on studies of male animals.

In an article for Psychology Today, Taylor and her colleagues propose that women’s coping mechanisms have evolved uniquely, within the context of the role of primary caregiver. They believe, when in danger, a woman will first consider the comfort and well-being of her child and tend to its needs. At a chemical level, the bonding hormone oxytocin reduces her fearfulness and lowers the typical fight-or-flight response.Another noted effect credited to oxytocin is the enhancement of social contact, which explains the second stress response more often shown by women - to connect with others, particularly women.Move over “fight-or-flight” and make room for “tend-and-befriend”.

As a former stressed-out single mother raising two daughters I can attest to this model. My girls will back me on this - my default stress responses were to clean and organize the house and/or call my sister and trade war stories. I have zero memories of a ‘fight’ response and if I ‘flew’, it was to the safety of my home, where I started neatening.Tending and befriending is part of my chemical make-up.

I'm happy to say that I've learned to deal differently with stress. When I get wound up these days, along with caring for others, I use my oxytocin totend and befriend myself. There’s a lot I could say about this, so maybe I'll write about it in another post.

Something to note: Taylor and the others are careful to say they aren’t trying to assign stress responses to either gender. All of us can have all of them. Good. It's nice to know we have options. It helps keep the stress down...