“The female brain can be a messy place.” – Dr. Liz
[See the very end of this article for a note from me added after I wrote this article.]
I know you do in fact know someone who owns a female brain – it’s either you or you are a man reading this and you can hopefully think of at least one woman you care about. But did you know that in the female brain, the area that WORRIES about possible negative outcomes is, on average, LARGER than in the male brain?
This is an awesome adaptation for caring for babies: if you are dealing with a little being who cannot identify what is the matter, it’s good for the person caring for said being to be able to imagine ALL the possible things that could be wrong.
HOWEVER. On a day to day basis, this aspect of the female brain can be a real challenge.
The Female Brain
I first learned about this anatomical brain difference between men and women when I read The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine. The scientific term for this area is the (get ready for it) anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). It is larger on average in women than in men and is also more easily activated in women than in men.
The ACC, according to Dr. Brizendine, is “a critical area for anticipating, judging, controlling, and integrating negative emotions.” It signals the body – heart rate may go up, she might feel knots in her stomach – based on the emotional interpretation of the moment.
In other words, the ACC is part of the “fear-alert system” of the brain (along with the amygdala – this is a fun area of the brain we will talk about another time). The ACC literally generates negative thoughts.
What calms this area of the brain down?
That’s the simple answer.
(For the full answer, where you learn about many areas of the brain and the emotional chemicals that comprise the full symphony of female chemistry, I highly recommend The Female Brain.)
The more our love circuits are activated, the more it calms down the worry and criticism-generating center of our female brains.
As we have learned in previous articles (and will see again in articles and blogs to come), love is enhanced by excellent hormone balance – estrogen elevating our mood, progesterone calming anxiety, oxytocin working best with estrogen around, and so on.
It’s Not Personal
Men often wonder why women get so “worked up” about things, and “worry” as much as we do about things we have no control over. Isn’t it good to learn that it’s part of how we are made? It’s not personal – often when I talk with a woman in my office, she thinks she is personally the biggest worrier on the planet.
I think it’s a relief to know that it is how women’s brains are built.
Women worrying about stuff = factory-installed. Give yourself and the women you care about the gift of understanding how our brains work, and of forgiving yourself (and your mom) for being a worry-wort.
[P.S. It is probably not as much the female or male genes that determine brain structure and function as much as the effect of estrogen or testosterone (and many other hormones) on the brain. I think science will have much more to say on this in the coming years.]