debilitating anxiety disorder and frequently associated with panic
states, are discussed in the next section.
Humans may be biologically "destined" (or should I say inclined?)
to have certain social fears, e.g. of strangers at 18 months or so.
Some overcome this "shyness" within a few months and others never
do. Most of us also become afraid of the dark at age 3 or 4, and
gradually overcome it to varying degrees. Animals too seem to have
inborn tendencies to fear certain things. Many humans fear snakes,
rats, speaking, making mistakes, and other things. It is interesting
that strong human phobias tend to be directed towards relatively
harmless objects or vague, general situations--strangers, darkness,
heights, insects, mice, meeting people, etc.--and not towards specific
objects or situations that have actually hurt us or are serious physical
dangers--electrical outlets, cars, mowers, bicycles, broken glass, rough
walks, tools, such as saws, knives, or hammers, etc. Perhaps vague
situations, like being in the dark, make solutions more difficult to see,
make us feel less able to be in control, and also make it easier to
imagine awful things happening.
Recently, some interesting physiological findings about gender
differences (both in animals and humans) in response to stress have
been reported (Taylor, Klein, Gruenwald, Gurung & Updrgraff, 2001).
It seems that under stress females produce, along with many other
stress-related reactions, a lot more of a hormone called oxytocin than
men who, of course, produce more testosterone. The significance of
this is that oxytocin has also been associated with relaxation and social
interaction. Many studies of anxiety and many clinical observations
report that women often respond to stress by "tending" to others, such
as children or family, and by "befriending," such as getting together
and talking with friends. Both of these responses would not only divert
attention from the threat but also usually place her in a safer situation.
Thus, in men, on whom most of the research has been done,
stress has been described for decades by authorities and science as
definitely leading to "fight or flight" responses (a tendency which is,
one would suppose, augmented by testosterone). Observations also
suggest that men prefer to handle stress by themselves. In women,
we are lucky to have a new theory about stress possibly leading to
"tend and befriend" responses, both because those are the roles
prescribed by our culture for women and because women's bodies may
have learned or grown to respond to stresses with different juices than
men. Debates about these gender differences will hopefully lead to
gathering more data and better understanding. At least, we are now
free to consider optional additional reactions to stress beyond just
fight and flight.
Surely it would be wise to develop a repertoire of responses to
stress, depending on the circumstances. Choices would certainly
include attacking the threat in assorted ways, fleeing in a variety of
ways, diverting attention via TV, reading, journaling, distracting one's
attention by socializing, engaging in tending chores, such as child care,