Women’s Unique Stress Response: Key to Change

You have probably heard of the survival instinct labeled “Fight-or-Flight.” It’s a natural, biological response for humans and animals in the face of danger. What if I told you, however, that women also have another innate biological response to danger that is not so well known?

According to a study from the University of California, Los Angeles, led by Shelley E. Taylor and published in the Psychological Review, women respond much differently than men in high-stress situations (411). This uniquely feminine response may explain a lot of our daily dealings with our children and others, and it is what Mothering Humanity believes positions women as the perfect change-makers in an imperfect world.

Our natural response, as women, to stressful situations is not to put up our dukes or run away scared. Women are not initially concerned with self-preservation. This may not be a surprise to many of you. So what is our response? What does our biology tell us to do?

Taylor and her colleagues say, women “Tend-and-Befriend.” (Click the link to see the full scholarly article, courtesy of Harvard University’s online archives.)

At first glance, you might notice the word ‘and’ in our natural response versus the ‘or’ in fight-or-flight. As women, our response to stress is two-fold.

Not only does our mothering instinct kick in and we tend to those around us, but we seek to befriend in an effort to reduce risk.

Instead of battle, women look to peace. Instead of creating enemies and opposite sides, women seek alliances and nurture interconnectedness. Pointing to this distinct biological difference as part of the backbone of Mothering Humanity may seem divisive or counterintuitive (women vs. men)—the exact opposite of tend-and-befriend—but I whole-heartedly believe in you.

As the founder of Mothering Humanity, I believe women can bring out the best in all those around us and raise the next generation of peacemakers. This is an opportunity to embrace our biological difference and harness it to build a better tomorrow.

In addition to creating a beautiful and powerful web of women alliances, let us extend our tending and befriending tendencies to our partners, co-workers, community members, and online connections. Together, we can become the change!

In the true spirit of tending, I will continue to post helpful content here at Mothering Humanity, including more on this very important study, where I will break down both aspects of this theory and discuss how we can and are putting it to work in the world.

I hope that befriending all of you will be a natural result of our time spent together here and on Facebook, cultivating relationships and creating change within our own spheres of influence.

If you can’t wait to continue this discussion with Mothering Humanity and your curiosity is begging you to dive deeper into this topic right this instant, here are some helpful links:

Check Out Mothering Humanity

As I launch this blog, I’m very hesitant to shout from the rooftops and direct people I know to the site. Why? You might wonder. Well, I’m not sure I’m living the kind of life I hope to promote here. It is, however, what I aspire to.

So, if it’s ok with you, I’d like to embark on this journey together. I want to be the kind of change I wish to see in the world, but I’m not there yet. If you like the kinds of changes I promote here, than hang around. Maybe, we can make the world a better place a little at a time, or as they say here in Spain, “poco a poco.”

Today, at the grocery store, I practiced the kind of humanity I hope to promote. I’ll explain….

As I approached the checkout aisles, I noticed a handful of people hovering between two registers. One aisle had two people unloading small baskets onto the belt. The other aisle had a haggard-looking mom carefully unloading a basketful of groceries. Her purchase, which was quite large, was being dutifully loaded into bags at the other end of the checkout by, presumably, her husband while two children between the ages of six and ten ran back and forth. In time, the shoppers slowly gravitated to the faster moving checkout.

I had very few items, but I happily moved in line behind the mother and her now half-full cart. I purposely caught her eye, smiled, and said hello. She graciously smiled back and returned the salutation. She ended up having two separate purchases to boot: all the family’s groceries, and then a large stack of coffee packets. I silently wondered if she kept her “mom fuel” on a separate budget. The cashier gave me an apologetic look. I just smiled at him, too.

I’m a smiley person, but I’m not a patient person. Today, I practiced patience.

I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through this same exact grocery store extremely hurried, been impatient with the person before me or the cashier, and rushed off without being courteous to anyone. I’ve also been in this mother’s shoes. Trying my best to organize the items I place on the belt, so they can go into the bags a certain way, in order to facilitate storage later at home. I’ve been haggard. I’ve been pressed for time, energy, sleep, etc…. Today, I just waited – happily.

When the cashier again gave me a look as he finished ringing up the second purchase and motioned towards the family – now, moving their large load from the counter into their cart or arms – I verbally let him know that I was in no hurry. Then, even louder, I corrected myself.

“Well, we’re all in a hurry, aren’t we? That doesn’t mean I have to make this mother feel guilty and try to rush her. I can wait,” I said, and I shot another smile at the struggling mother.

I decided to share this story with you, because this blog is already heightening my own awareness of how I move through this world. I’m so glad you’ve decided to take some of your precious time and read my story. Stick around, this is only the beginning of Mothering Humanity.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kris*