Bad News May Cause More Stress for Women Than Men

Reported by Norleena P. Gullett, MD:

When reading the morning paper, women may take bad news to heart more than their male counterparts, a new study found.

The Canadian study of 56 people found women who read negative news stories were more reactive to stressful situations later on.

"If you are reading the paper every morning while drinking your cup of coffee and have a stressful day ahead, it is important to learn stress management techniques to help you through the rest of the day," said author Marie-France Marin, a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal and lead author of the study, published today in the journal PLoS One.

Marin and colleagues measured salivary levels of the stress hormone cortisol while study subjects were reading the news, and then again later during stressful tasks, such as a mock job interview or a math quiz.

Women who read negative news stories had higher cortisol levels than those who read neutral stories, according to the study. They were also more likely to remember the negative details.

The finding did not hold true for men.

Dr. Redford Williams, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, N.C., said the study findings make sense.

"Women typically are more sensitive to others' emotions," he said. He suggested the stress response has evolved to ensure survival of a woman's offspring.

But Williams said women - or men, for that matter - who worry that the news is affecting their stress levels should ask themselves four simple questions:

  1. Is the news important to me?
  2. Are my feelings appropriate, and would another person be having these thoughts?
  3. Is situation modifiable and is there anything I can do to improve or change it?
  4. And is it worth it to me to get involved in this story?

If the answer is no, Williams recommends letting the negative thought go. Instead, repeat a positive thought or meditate, he said.