A Happiness Journey

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – and the difference is….HORMONES

I was listening to a podcast last year and the guest speaker was the famous author John Gray who wrote the classic best seller ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’. Given that my previous encounter with his book was in my early 20’s I hadn’t really thought about it in a long time and but I found what he had to say absolutely fascinating. Whilst I’m not going to go into his relationship advice today, what I did think was incredibly valuable, was the information he gave on hormones and how they intrinsically affect our lives from a male and female perspective. Our limited knowledge on hormones and how they affect men and women very differently, I believe, is incredibly detrimental to our mental wellbeing.

 

There are far too many important hormones to talk about them all in any great detail in one blog post, so here is some basic information about a couple of the main hormones that we have the greatest external control over. When I use the terms male and female (or man and woman) I am referring to the biology of the body you were born in, not what you identify with. Quite simply put, our biochemical make up is not the same, and one of the biggest mistakes we consistently make, it is treating the opposite sex like it is.

 

Hormones

There is no such thing as a bad hormone; they’re all essential to our survival, however balance is key. Too little of one causes one set of problems and too much of another causes another set of problems. Our mind affects our hormones which regulate our body and in turn hormones powerfully affect what we think and feel. It’s a complicated cycle that shouldn’t be underappreciated. Whilst it may seem very ‘chicken and egg’ it is possible to consciously have an effect of any point of that cycle. For example, women have been taking birth control pills for years, and many women take them for the majority of their adult life. What most of don’t really pay enough attention to is that they make us infertile by manipulating our hormones. This can have such a huge effect on our mental health and many women just grow up believing they’re prone to depression or anxiety. It doesn’t even occur to them that the pill they take every day is making them that way. So in this instance we are making changes to our hormones and that is affecting our thoughts, moods and emotions. The flip side to that is that we can consciously manipulate our thoughts, moods and emotions and this in turn will up or down regulate the production of certain hormones which is something I’ve spoken about at length in previous blogs.

 

 

Stress

Whilst no hormone is ‘bad’, one hormone that is causing the most harm in our present day, due to its continuous abundance, is Cortisol, the stress hormone. I talk about stress a lot, and that’s because the way we experience it today is so key to our wellbeing. They say that we experience as much sensory input in one day now as someone in William Shakespear’s time would have received in an entire year. Cortisol was super useful for our ancestors, helping them to outrun the bear or giving them superhuman strength when in danger, but you would have to presume they weren’t outrunning 20 bears a day, every day. This massive cortisol producing event would have been sporadic and infrequent, allowing them enough time after the event to get back to their rest and reset state. These days, due to a constant barrage of stress inducing events, we struggle to switch off the cortisol response. As cortisol is a lifesaving hormone, the adrenal glands prioritise it over other health producing hormones and stop releasing them until the cortisol has stopped. That’s why it’s so crucial to find ways of reducing stress. Our adrenal glands are so overtaxed, so by lowering cortisol levels we are supporting the endocrine system and allowing the body to return to producing an abundance of all the right hormones.

 

The two main stress reducers that we can consciously affect are Testosterone for men and Oxytocin for women, and there are many misconceptions around both.

 

Testosterone

Many people think that an abundance of Testosterone is what makes men aggressive, but actually the opposite is true. Men are supposed to have high levels of Testosterone, it’s when those levels start to drop that men become stressed, irritable and tired. Testosterone is so misunderstood. For men it’s the giving hormone, the focus hormone. Men who are underappreciated become underconfident and emotional, as Estrogen rises and Testosterone drops. In order to handle stress effectively men are drawn to tasks that either release or rebuild their Testosterone stores. Tasks that require problem solving, release testosterone, which make him feel powerful and competent, whereas rest, relaxation and recreation is how he rebuilds his Testosterone levels. Males need to feel valued and appreciated and be able to say, “I got this!”. Honouring both parts of this cycle is essential to the mental health of a man.

 

Women need Testosterone too, but not in the same way. When a woman’s Testosterone level goes up it feel good temporarily because it gives her a sense of power and capability, but it doesn’t lower her stress level. Increased levels of Testosterone can actually cause her to become irritable and stressed, and make her prone to aggression and impulsivity. This results in detachment and over-independence (“I’ll do it myself!”, “I’ve got so much to do!”) Eventually, this will lead to exhaustion, resentment, dissatisfaction, difficulty sleeping, mental rigidity, resistance to change, low libido, and depression. A female who tries to express herself and isn’t listened to puts up walls and increases male side. In the rise of the feminist movement a lot of amazing things have happened for women. We are now being given more equality in the workplace, at home and in the social structure which is fantastic. All of the politics aside though, what this has meant for women hormonally is that we are now performing tasks and living lifestyles that see our Testosterone levels elevated. We want to do everything that men can do, and still do everything that women can do, and our bodies are cooperating by over producing the hormones that allow us to do that. The flip side is that our stress levels are elevated higher now than they ever have been. Women do not feel good when there is an abundance of Testosterone in their system. To regain balance female need to be listened to, have her needs and vulnerabilities met and honour her self care. This can come from social bonding, family time, girl talks, walks in nature, meditation, healthy eating, journaling. really anything that she does where she is honouring herself and receiving support from others.

 

For testosterone release:

Urgency and emergency

Problem solving

 

Oxytocin

Known as the Love/Bonding Hormone, women release Oxytocin to lower their stress levels. Oxytocin is released in situations that are safe, nurturing, supportive and caring. It’s abundant in females because it’s a bonding hormone and it enables us to connect to our children in such a way that we will never reject them, no matter what they do. It’s also nature’s way of allowing us to bond with our partners to keep them around whilst we raise our children. For our ancestors survival, the family unit was essential, and it’s the oxytocin that kept everyone bonded together. To facilitate the building of Oxytocin, women are drawn to nurturing situations where she can give support and feel supported in return. This cycle of nurturing and receiving support is essential to a woman’s mental wellbeing.

 

Oxytocin does feel good to a man, it increases his tendency towards trust, empathy and generosity, but like Testosterone to a woman, an abundance of Oxytocin actually raises his stress levels and lowers his Testosterone levels which is counter productive for him, as he then starts to feel very tired and cranky.

 

For oxytocin release

Safe and cooperative

Caring and supportive

Nurturing activities

 

Responses to Stress

Men and women differ greatly on how much of each hormone they need and their ability to make and store it. Needing 30 times more Testosterone than a women, without a problem to solve, a man is not building testosterone, and this makes him feel exhausted, frustrated and demoralised. When this happens he needs to build it fast. Whilst men and women have similar levels of Oxytocin, women deplete theirs faster, especially when under stress.

 

During a moderately stressful situation, tests and scans have shown that there is 8 times more blood flow to the emotional part of the brain in women than in men in a similar situation. This could be why men think that women get way too worked up over what they perceive as ‘small stuff’. It may also fuel the misperception that a lot of women have that men don’t have feelings. A male brain only registers a strong emotional response when there is an emergency, and this is when he really comes into his own, because this is when he gets to act and build more Testosterone.

 

When the brain is feeling distressed, releasing the feel-good hormone Serotonin helps to calm and sooth. For women, talking is an effective and fast way to release Serotonin. This is why women like to talk about their problems, without actually needing a solution. Just the act of talking helps a woman des-stress and calm down. A man, however, releases Serotonin primarily through exercise. So whilst she wants to sit, talk and be nurtured to released her Oxytocin and Serotonin, to relieve stress, he needs to be alone, rest, problem solve or take himself off and exercise to release his feel good hormones.

 

This is literally the tip of the hormonal iceberg, but I do honestly believe that if we all had a greater understanding of our own hormones and how to positively affect them we would be infinitely happier. If we then took the time to understand the same for other genders it would be a total gamechanger and make the whole world infinitely happier!

 

If you’re interested in going down this rabbit hole further, I highly recommend any of the podcasts or you tube videos John Gray has done. He has released tons of free content along with his amazing books you can buy.

 

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