He really doesn’t think like you and he can’t understand why you don’t think as he does.
This quandary between men and women has been causing problems since we came out of the caves, and there is a very good reason why.
Using SPECT (single-photon emission computerized tomography) scans to study brain activity has revealed that out of 80 areas of brain activity, women display much more activity than men in 70. These differences can help you understand your unique strengths but also your vulnerabilities and the strengths and vulnerabilities of the men in your life.
Women Use Their Brains Differently
Women have stronger activity in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is that part of the brain involved with planning, judgment, empathy, and self-control. It helps keep you on track and stops you from saying or doing stupid things.
When the prefrontal cortex is low in activity (which it usually is in men), you can struggle with short attention span, distractibility, and problems with impulse control. However, when it works too hard, as it usually does in women, it’s like trying to drive with the parking brake always on. And it is this that can cause you to get stuck on certain thoughts or behaviors, such as worrying, anticipatory anxiety, jealousy, or holding grudges.
In addition, an area deep in the prefrontal cortex called the anterior cingulate gyrus (involved with error detection) is also more active in women than in men. This is one reason why you sometimes focus too much on what is wrong instead of what is right in your life. What you perceive is wrong with your body, your children, or your husband.
A study from Canada showed that women produce 52% less serotonin than men. Serotonin helps calm and relax the prefrontal cortex keeping it from being too active. This is why most men do not focus on whether their jeans make them look fat and you do.
When serotonin levels are too low, you can struggle with anxiety, depression, pain syndromes, trouble sleeping because of an inability to let go of negative thoughts, obsessive worry, and carbohydrate cravings. This is one of the reasons why women suffer from anxiety, depression, and eating disorders twice as frequently as men. You need to balance worry with taking care of yourself.
Some anxiety is good if it keeps you on track, but too much is not only painful, it is dangerous to your health causing the adrenal glands to release glucocorticoids (steroid hormones) in response to the stress. These hormones impair memory and cognitive processing causing even more stress.
To help keep your anxiety and stress under control look for natural ways to support healthy serotonin levels. Exercise, yoga, meditation, and hypnosis can do it, as well as certain supplements, like 5HTP (also known as oxitriptan), B6, and saffron.
Does this mean that we as women are all just doomed to unhappiness?
That is much too simplistic and pessimistic; but it does tell us that agitation, anger, and fear are easier for most of us to access and sustain than peace, happiness, and fulfillment and that a genuinely happy life doesn’t just happen, not without deliberate effort.
There are two findings in neuroscience that suggest that you can be optimistic about changing your happiness levels. The first is the principle of neuroplasticity. Throughout our lives, the way we use our brain actually alters its physical structure.
The second is the discovery that the higher regions of the brain (attention) can modify the way the lower regions function. In practical terms, what this means is that if you are serious about striving for happiness you need to devote regular attention to the positive events in your life. This is easier for men than for women, but it can be done.
“There is no strategy more beneficial to society than the ones in which women play a central role.” Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General. There is a reason why women are so beneficial to society other than the fact that we actually give birth, and this is one of our strengths. Because of the way our brains function, women admit problems and reach out for help faster than men.
If a couple is experiencing trouble nearly 8 out of 10 times it will be the woman who calls for help. It may be that the female ability to admit problems and get help is not only a good lesson for society as a whole, but one of the contributing factors to women typically living 7 years longer than men. Daniel G. Amen, MD, author of Unleash the Power of the Female Brain.
The bottom line is: if you want a happier life you cannot just let your mind wander and do whatever it is used to doing and go wherever it wants to go. You need to focus on and practice some positive thinking and living a mindful life.
With just a bit of discipline, you can counter your brain’s negative bias. You can use neuroplasticity to your advantage. And, I can promise that not only does it get easier with practice, it allows you to reduce your stress levels and live a much happier and relaxed life.