A different stress response that you might not have heard of could be at play when people experience feeling nervous or apprehensive. In the workplace that may be before a meeting or a presentation, for example.
Until relatively recently nearly all animal stress response research was conducted on male animals. This changed in 2000 when Shelley Taylor observed a different stress response was happening in female humans and animals. She dubbed this response, “tend and befriend”, and it has been referred to by others as “appease”.
Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process.
– Shelley Taylor
The observed stress response in men involves a release of the stress hormones, noradrenaline (or norepinephrine) and cortisol – we’ve all heard of an “adrenaline rush” or an “adrenaline junkie”.
Taylor observed that, conversely, female subjects produced oestrogen and oxytocin. Oxytocin is generally associated with love and social bonding. Taylor’s findings tied in with observations of female primates who, in the face of danger, would rely on social networks and nurture their young.
Handling a different stress response in the workplace
Taylor and other researchers identified this “tend and befriend” behaviour in women. However, in practice, it seems to us that this response can be experienced across the gender spectrum. For example, on our presentation skills and assertiveness courses, we find there are some men who definitely relate to “tend and befriend” and, of course, some women who don’t at all.
But whatever your sex or gender, (especially if you experience the need to “tend and befriend” when you are nervous), here is one thing we recommend.
Imagine you’re hosting a party
That’s right, we’d like you to imagine you’re hosting a party and take your attention off yourself and onto your guests.
If you are delivering a presentation then your guests are your audience. Try to focus on what they need. What can you do to help them get the most out of the presentation?
Perhaps you are nervous to have a difficult conversation at work. Try focusing on how this conversation could best serve the person you are talking to or your team as a whole? What do you want them to walk away thinking and feeling?
Moving from an inward focus to an outward focus can help appease your need to appease!
For more tips on handling presentation nerves, we have a whole blog on it here.
Whether you experience fight, flight, freeze, appease, or a different stress response – the key is to give your body what it wants in a productive way.
You got this!