Other posts in this series: depression, anxiety, and PTSD
This is third in our series of four posts for Men’s Health Month, focusing on improving men’s health and wellness. In our last post, we considered some aspects of anxiety, which often goes hand in hand with depression. In this post, we will help you understand the role chronic stress in men plays in worsening their mental health, list some symptoms, and some tips for coping with stress as it relates to men’s health.
What is stress?
Stress is neither anxiety nor depression, but when it becomes “chronic stress—the type of stress that seems to be constant and psychologically or emotionally draining,” writes Jerry Kennard, a psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, is when it is “most harmful to our health and wellbeing.” Kennard explains that “chronic stress can trigger the stress response and keep it triggered for long periods of time, leaving us exhausted and close to burnout.”
Stress, however, is part of the human experience. In a dangerous situation, it gives us the rush of adrenaline we need to deal with threats, often called the “fight or flight” response. It helps us win races, ace exams, solve tough problems and make important changes Kennard says. But then he warns, “Sometimes, though, you become overloaded with life’s pressures and the stress never shuts off. When that happens, you may develop any number of physical or psychological symptoms.”1
Symptoms of Stress for Men
|• Chest pain|
• Pounding heart
• High blood pressure
• Shortness of breath
• Diminished or increased sex drive
• Muscle aches, like back and neck pain
• Clenched jaws and grinding teeth
• Tightness, dryness in your throat
• Constipation or diarrhea
• Increased perspiration
• Stomach cramps
• Weight gain or loss
• Skin problems
• Withdrawal or isolation
• Mood swings
• Restless anxiety
• anger/decreased anger control
• Overeating or anorexia
• Feelings of insecurity
• Decreased productivity
• Job dissatisfaction
• Changes in close relationships
• Increased smoking
• Increased use of alcohol/drugs
Kennard concludes by writing, “Signs of disease should not be ignored just because you believe they are stress-related. You must get more serious symptoms checked by your doctor.”
Stress Relief—Ten Tips from Healthline
- Exercise—exercise is job one in relieving mental stress. A good run or bike ride lowers stress hormones like such as cortisol and at the same time releases endorphins, that help with mood and act as natural painkillers. Exercise also improves your sleep quality which lowers stress. It also leaves you feeling more competent and confident, promoting mental wellbeing.
- Take Supplements—some supplements promote stress reduction. Healthline suggests considering these:
- “Lemon balm: Lemon balm is a member of the mint family that has been studied for its anti-anxiety effects.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: One study showed that medical students who received omega-3 supplements experienced a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms.
- Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat stress and anxiety. Several studies suggest that it’s effective.
- Green tea: Green tea contains many polyphenol antioxidants which provide health benefits. It may lower stress and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels.
- Valerian: Valerian root is a popular sleep aid due to its tranquilizing effect. It contains valerenic acid, which alters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to lower anxiety.
- Kava kava: is a psychoactive member of the pepper family. Long used as a sedative in the South Pacific, it is increasingly used in Europe and the US to treat mild stress and anxiety ”2
- Reduce Caffeine Intake—for some folks caffeine promotes anxious feelings and stress. If you feel ” jittery or anxious, consider cutting back,” they suggest.
- Chew Gum—one study at Cardiff University “showed that chewing gum reduced stress (both at work and outside work), reduced fatigue, reduced anxiety and depression and led to a more positive mood. Chewing gum was also associated with perceptions of better performance (both at work and outside),” they reported.3
- Spend More Time With Family and Friends—Healthline wrote, “Having strong social ties may help you get through stressful times.” They reminded, “Keep in mind that both men and women benefit from friendship. Another study found that men and women with the fewest social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.”4
- Put Some Humor in Your Life—New research shows that “humor that promotes laughter has both psychological and physiological effects. It not only reduces levels of stress hormones but lessens depression and improves mood.”5
- Learn to Say No—the writers at Healthline remind us, “Try not to take on more than you can handle. Saying no is one way to control your stressors.”
- Stop Procrastinating—”Prioritize what needs to get done and make time for it. Staying on top of your to-do list can help ward off procrastination-related stress.” also from Healthline.
- Spend Time With Your Pet—animal companionship is a relaxing and enjoyable way to reduce stress.
- Cuddle, Kiss, Hug, and Enjoy Sex—Healthline reports, “Positive physical contact can help release oxytocin and lower cortisol. This can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are physical symptoms of stress.”
Since stress is part of life, we all have to find ways to cope with it. Share your best ideas in the comment section below.
1 Jerry Kennard. PhD, Recognizing Stress Symptoms in Men
2 16 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Healthline
3 Smith,Chaplin, and Wadsworth, Chewing gum, occupational stress, work performance, and wellbeing. An intervention study
4 Cadzow and Servoss. “The association between perceived social support and health among patients at a free urban clinic“
5 Zand, Spreen, & LaValle, (1999). Smart medicine for healthier living, Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing.