Whether it’s age, gender, neurodivergence, genetics or environments, stress affects different people differently. There are contributing factors that mean certain people are more likely to experience the effects of stress than others.


Defining Stress


Stress is not a mental illness but it can be the cause of or the symptom of a mental illness. Around the world, stress is viewed differently in different cultures. In some Eastern cultures, stress is seen as an absence of inner peace, in other more Westernised cultures, it’s the loss of control.

Biologically speaking, stress is a nervous system response to a threat. It might be physical, emotional, imagined or something we experienced in the past but haven’t fully let go of yet.

Intermittent stress is common and often manageable, sometimes with healthy or unhealthy coping strategies. Acute stress however can cause problems and even illness – both physical and mental. And subsequent coping strategies can become a chronic reliance or an addiction.

In today’s world, we face a multitude of modern stress. Learning to manage stress is a vital part of life. Additionally though, and fascinatingly, stress is felt differently for different people, according to research.


What affects our experiences of stress?


  • Gender: When it comes to gender, men and women experience stress differently due to psychobiological differences.  Vulnerability to infectious diseases, hypertension, aggression and drug abuse is more common in men. Autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, depression and anxiety disorders are more common in women. This might be due to sex hormones since these differences emerge at puberty and diminish after menopause. The observed gender-specific disease pattern may be partly attributed to the effects of sex hormones as some of these gender differences emerge during reproductive years and gradually diminish after menopause. Sex-specific stress-related changes in our brains also affect us profoundly.


  • Age: Age also affects our experience of stress, depending on how old the person is, changes in the brain and cognitive abilities as well as mental health conditions they’ve experienced. Repeated overstimulation to our stress response system can affect brain structure, cognition and mental health. High levels of stress in childhood and adulthood also decreases executive function and working memory, regardless of gender.






  • Other factors: many other things may well affect our responsiveness to stress but further research is needed to discover exactly why some of us are more easily able to handle stress without detrimental effects whilst others are affected more profoundly, obviously or immediately by stress. Research is our only way towards understanding why some of us are more susceptible to stress and what we can do to address it.


Find out more about stress in the following MQ articles:

Find out how to recognise and reduce stress.

Read more about how stress can affect mental health.

Discover why stress is not a mental illness.


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