More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Women?s brains wired for worrying, research suggests
Sunday, January 29, 2006
by Connie Lauerman, Chicago Tribune

"You worry too much" is a refrain that women often hear more than men ? evidence of a common belief that women are the chief worrywarts.

Some research seems to support that belief.

In surveys about the frequency of worry, women score higher than men, says Holly Hazlett-Stevens, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, who has conducted research on the topic.

But in recent years, scientists, using new imaging techniques, have been able to compare brain activity by gender. And what they have seen shows not that women worry more but that women think ? and likely worry ? differently than men do.

Women?s brains show more communication between the hemispheres than men?s brains, says Dr. Vesna Pirec, a psychiatrist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

In men?s brains, the left hemisphere ? often considered the analytical part of the brain ? is more active, she says.

"With both hemispheres activated in women, there are many more different types of emotional reactions," she says. "And women, in times of stress, also tend to remember many more details than men would."

The differences can be attributed to gender roles through the centuries and brain evolution, Pirec says. Women juggled child care, cooking and protecting the family, she says.

"Men in those times had mostly one task: to go hunting and provide food," Pirec says. "So their brains developed differently."

Women also might express their worries in a different way than men do.

"Women have a greater tendency to brood, with a lot of . . . (emotion) engaged in it," says Dr. Joan Lang, chairwoman of the department of psychiatry at St. Louis University School of Medicine.

"Men have a tendency to be a little bit more obsessive, concentrating on ?What should I do?? rather than ?What am I feeling?? "

Hazlett-Stevens says: "We also know that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder that is associated with chronic and problematic worry."

Women seem to experience negative emotions such as fear and anxiety more intensely and easily than men do, says Hazlett-Stevens, author of Women Who Worry Too Much.

But men?s tendency to keep quiet about their concerns for fear of appearing weak often leads to physical problems, says Cliff Saper, a clinical psychologist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Joan Borysenko, psychologist and author of Mending the Body, Mending the Mind, describes unexpressed worry as "an evil genie in your mind. If you get control of that genie, you can do a lot with it, but if the genie turns on you and gets control of you, you?re in trouble."

Chicagoan Heather Parish, a consultant to nonprofit organizations, says she controls worrying through meditation.

"When an event triggers my worry," she says, "I try to become reflective, to sit down and be still. You can?t control events, but you can control your reaction.

"I?m not perfect, but I try to tap into my inner self and trust in divine order."

How to fight it
In Women Who Worry Too Much: How To Stop Worry & Anxiety From Ruining Relationships, Work & Fun, Hazlett-Stevens offers strategies to combat chronic worry. She recommends five steps:

? Identify exactly what you?re saying to yourself.
? Generate alternatives. Brainstorm other outcomes and interpretations.
? Examine the likelihood of each possibility.
? Suppose the worst did happen; follow your worry to conclusion.
? Explore new perspectives. Summarize to create a more balanced perspective.

Hazlett-Stevens also lays out strategies for specific categories of worry, such as work and achievement. Some of her recommendations:

? Don?t assume all aspects of your work situation will stay fixed forever.
? Give up perfectionistic checking and time-urgency behaviors.
? Stop overcommitting.
? Take little breaks throughout your day to apply relaxation skills.

just mary

You know, I was thinking about brain imaging this morning as I took a shower. It all seems like so mush bs. Give it a break. Oh, women must be different, look this part of their brain lights up more than mens'. Not all women though, just the majority. We won't take into account some of the women whose brains don't "light up" like other womens. The human race is going to hell.

I gotta go for a walk.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I don't know if it's "wiring" or socialization (I suspect that a lot of it is the latter) but I do think it tends to be true that on the whole women do tend to be more nurturing than men and to be more integrated cognitively in terms of the capacoity to merge feelings with thinking/logic. I don't think that either of those is a negative statement about women, however - if anything, it tells us that a lot of men have a lot to learn.

It's also true that, like any generalization, there are many exceptions to the "rule"... for both men and women.

just mary

I just feel so lost. I don't know what to do anymore. I think about killing myself all the time. I won't though, I just think about it. I just don't see any point to anything.

just mary

I Just wanted to apologize for my post, not the one above but for the first one I wrote in this topic. I was feeling a little low and my feelings felt out of control. Anyways, just wanted to say I'm sorry as I was very rude.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
No need to apologize, Mary. I can see how the article might be taken as one of those "women are just hysterical emotional wrecks" kind of things. That's why I posted my clarification.
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