According to a study in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, men and women exhibit different brain-pattern activities when they’re stressed. When guys are under the gun, the area in their brain that’s associated with reward and addiction is significantly more active than usual—in women, that same area is significantly less active. The researchers had both sexes play a risk-based game (under stress) with the outcome determining how much money they would walk away with—a greater risk led to a greater reward. Men tended to make decisions faster, and, on average, they walked away with more money. Their actions weren’t solely based on brain waves, though—hormonal responses also influenced their decisions.
Here’s the science: When cortisol and epinephrine (both of which are produced under stress) flood the bloodstream in a stressful situation, both sexes release oxytocin in an attempt to bring the body back to homeostasis. Estrogen tends to enhance the effects of oxytocin, whereas testosterone acts to reduce the effects. Here’s what it means: In men, the fight-or-flight response is heightened—you’re more likely to hit the gym than vent to your friends; women are more likely to nurture relationships than try to max out their deadlift.
Neither seems to be a bad idea, right? Not entirely. The unfortunate problem is that both men and women tend to take these things to the extreme—men will make rash, seat-of-their-pants decisions when they’re stressed, and women will overanalyze their next step to the point where they stop progressing at all. The trick is to move forward with a clear head. Ronald Levant, professor of psychology at Akron University, suggests the following four-step process to ensure that you don’t make a bad situation worse.
1. TYPE IT
Before you act on any impulses, type out exactly what you’re going to do. Make it as detailed as possible, and be honest about what you’re planning, not what you think you should do.
2. EMAIL IT
Then wait 30 minutes before you read it. This will give time for your noggin to return to normal so you don’t make any rash decisions about what next steps to take.
3. THINK ABOUT IT
If someone asked you what to do in this situation, would you give them this same advice?
4. DO IT
Or don’t. If you realize what you wrote down was too impulsive, you’ll be able to better evaluate the best course of action.