Understanding Stress In Men
Stress In Men
Stress does not discriminate, but how we react to and manage stress is inextricably related to gender. It is astounding that a lot of men are not vocal about their struggles unlike women due to stigma and cultural beliefs that men are stronger than women. Men thus tend to suppress their emotions resulting in ineffective coping, anger issues, and substance abuse. They tend to convert stereotypically female emotions of feeling sadness and fear into more masculine emotions of anger and rage.
As men are less likely to report emotional and physical symptoms of stress, they find it more difficult to manage stress than women, taking a more masked approach. Men don’t show when they are feeling stressed, but their stress-activated hormones spikes higher than women’s. As men are more prone to bottling their emotions, hidden stress might reveal itself in the form of anger and violence, as anger helps them cope with the unprecedented situation. Men tend to adopt a “fight or flight response”, where they ignore the perspective of others, while women try to reason out why they are feeling stressed. The year 2020 began as any other new year would: with our celebrations, resolutions…but as we are halfway into 2020, we all know for now that it is far from a normal year. What began with reports of some strange cases of viral pneumonia in China, rapidly spread all over the world, completely altering the way we led our lives. We are seeing derailing careers, shattering finances, and upending social lives which along with the fear of contracting the virus is giving rise to an equally deadly but silent pandemic: stress and depression.
Humans are social creatures, and we crave to stay connected with others. We have been evolved to feel safest in groups and as a result, physical isolation is comprehended by our mind as a physical state of emergency. Social distancing and stay at home orders have snatched our sense of belonging and love, and both physical and mental well being get seriously compromised in such an uncertain and ambiguous situation, especially in those who have existing psychological conditions. Social isolation and loneliness can lead to an increase in stress, depression and substance abuse, which can have profound effects on physical and psychological health.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a normal physiological response to an abnormal situation. It enables our body to adapt and equip ourselves to the difficult and unprecedented situations when we sense danger, which triggers the body’s defence system into a stress response. This stress response keeps us stay focussed and energetic and helps us rise to meet challenges. But beyond a certain level, stress can start having numerous negative impacts on health, mood, relationships, performance and wellbeing.The situations which lead to stress are called stressors, which can be internal or external factors. The current stressor which has engulfed the world is COVID-19, Economic recession & Rapid changes which seems to have turned our life upside down affecting every aspect of it.
Current Situation Of The World
Living through the lockdown, physical isolation from loved ones, contemplating the future seems like a fool’s errand as the economy is dwindling and mortality seems like only one risk of this crisis. While some have lost their jobs, others are working for longer hours, some have been separated from their loved ones; our life has been disrupted in fundamental ways. A pandemic of this intensity is once in a lifetime event, and it is affecting every aspect of our lives and will continue to do so. It will be stressful; it will be depressing and it will be traumatic. A new study has found that quarantine is linked with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms which can have long-lasting effects on psychology.
How Can Stress Affect Health ?
Stress can make us physically sick, increasing the chance to develop cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. Those who get stressed frequently and for a longer duration of time can experience disruption in every system of the body leading to serious health complications.
- Stress releases the chemical noradrenaline, which triggers cancer stimulating responses.
- Stress can lead to erectile dysfunction in men, also impairing testosterone production leading to impotence. This can affect sperm production and quality, increasing the risk for infertility.
- Stress increases blood pressure and cholesterol, along with inflammation of coronary arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack.
- Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems, depression, and anxiety.
- Brief episodes of stress can cause a stomach upset, while chronic stress can lead to conditions like acid reflux, stomach ulcers, and heartburns.
- Stress also increases pain sensitivity, acting as a migraine trigger or leading to tensed muscles. This pain again increases stress and anxiety, leading to a vicious cycle.
Men react to stress by producing adrenaline and cortisol, which creates the impulse to either fight or escape a troublesome situation. While women’s bodies produce oxytocin in addition to adrenalin and cortisol, that is a hormone that promotes bonding, as a result of which women tend to reach out more for social connect and support than men.
How Covid-19 Is Affecting Men ?
The highest stress factor among men appears to be either catching COVID-19 or becoming seriously ill from it or losing jobs. Even those who have secure jobs and have the much-touted benefits of working from home might get stressed due to the sudden isolation and lack of interaction with their co-workers. Flexible working hours can become too long working hours, and distractions might affect schedules, leading to a feeling of being out of control.Social media distancing also means people are spending a lot more time online and watching television. Such compulsive media usage can cause distraction and loneliness leading to elevated levels of anxiety and fatigue. It also promotes sedentary life and causes disturbed sleep.
Spending more time with your partner in this tense atmosphere can cause strain in relationships, as men are relying more and more on our partner who might themselves be stressed, along with balancing work, childcare, and housekeeping. The major factor which can cause stress in men thinking about the post-COVID-19 scenario is fear of going jobless or financial instability. Men feel greater pressure due to the traditional stereotype that man is the breadwinner.
Ho To Cope With Stress ?
It is normal to feel fear, anxiety, and uncertainty during a crisis like this. How we proactively tackle stress can go a long way to ensure that we are taking the right step towards our physical and psychological well being. Health workers, Police, community workers, and volunteers are on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19, ensuring timely action while putting their lives on the line. These are tough times but we are all in this together, and we will certainly overcome this pandemic. Here are some tips to reduce the stress that can arise due to the ambiguity of the situation:How to cope with uncertainty
- Minimise watching, reading and hearing news about COVID-19, that can make you feel anxious, and stressed. Seek updates only from trusted sources at specific times during the day, once or twice.
- Those who are in isolation or are quarantined should use this time as an opportunity to reconsider the way they want to lead their life after the pandemic gets over.
- Take time to do things you enjoy: reading a book, watching a movie, or making a new dish.
- Contextualize that this situation and acknowledge that we will return to our normal routine and the pandemic will soon be a memory. Focus on what you are grateful for, and make a daily “gratitude list” to build psychological resilience.
- If you are struggling to manage your stress, do not hesitate to get professional help.
Coping with loneliness ?
- Embrace the uncertainties and focus on the positive and uplifting things. Try to amplify positive stories about those who have been affected by the virus and survived. Avoid thinking too far into the future.
- Men are especially prone to withdrawing and isolating themselves further, making the condition worse. Make it a point to regularly connect with your friends and family over the phone and video call them whenever you feel anxious to share your concerns.
Taking care of yourself
- Take good care of yourself and include meditation, stretching, and exercise in your routine.
- Try to eat a healthy and nutritious meal with plenty of sleep. Limit smoking, consumption of alcohol, and sugary drinks.
- Start friendly competition among friends or family for workout sessions.
Adapting to working from home
- Even if you are stuck at home, stick to a proper routine to maintain a sense of normalcy. Get dressed like you normally do for office and set in regular working hours with breaks in between. Keep connected with your colleagues.
- Find a dedicated workspace if possible, as this helps to minimise distractions and get into a proper work rhythm. Keep in mind not to be too strict with yourself if you can’t focus though; as these are not normal times.
- Schedule lunch breaks on video conferencing with your team members.
Relationships and family
- Sit down and make a list of shared household responsibilities with your partner. Take turns to look after kids.
- If both of you are working from home, create separate workstations. As much as you need to spend quality time together discussing common interests, it is equally important to spend some alone time, and limiting interaction with each other for a specified period during the day.
- Make plans for after the crisis is over. Make a list of places you want to visit or things to do together as a family, as this can help increase positivity.
- Try planning date nights and cook an elaborate meal together.
- Appreciate the efforts of your partner and express gratitude.
What Ayurveda Has To Offer?
Ayurveda has long back mentioned the importance of manas or mind in maintaining good health, as any disturbance in psychological well being can lead to a host of diseases. Any stress can disrupt the intricate balance of tridoshas- vata, pitta and kapha, leading to ill health, as body and mind are interconnected and are reflections of each other. As Ayurveda always focusses on the preventive aspect, the best way to avoid ill effects of stress is to enhance the adaptive strength of the mind with following a proper daily regimen and appropriate diet. Stress can lead to ojokshaya or loss of immunity which can increase the susceptibility of various diseases.The two methods adopted in Ayurveda to deal with stress is avoiding the cause of stress and improving the coping capacity of mind. Avoiding the cause of stress is although the best method, in the current condition, it is inevitable. Therefore, we need to improve the coping capacity of our mind by lifestyle modifications, dietary interventions, and medicines which can improve sattvabala (strength of mind). Waking and sleeping at proper times, following regular regimens as mentioned in Ayurveda, like oil massage, exercise, Pranayama, Yoga help in de-stressing the mind. Maintaining a fixed routine is essential to develop a sense of normalcy and improve positivity.A balanced diet, according to one’s prakriti or psycho-somatic constitution and season, will ensure that you support better agni or digestive power which is an essential part of better health. This will also lead to healthy dhathus or tissues, improving ojas or immunity as well. Achara rasayana or right socio-behavioural conduct, customs and manners like honesty, truthfulness, not indulging in violence and anger, peaceful and pleasing speech, being compassionate, regular sleep, free from ego help in improving the stability of mind as it increases positivity and strong social relationships.
Be A Man, And Acknowledge The Condition Feeling sad and depressed is very normal at these times, and so men have to remind themselves, that mental health can affect anyone regardless of gender, and acknowledging the issue is the first step in tackling it. Effectively managing stress is essential for a better quality of life and positive health. Recognize, that you are important: don’t let the fact that you are a man stand between your path to a healthier, happy you.
“Because of the way men have been socialised, men generally tend to bottle emotions. But when you are experiencing fear, stress and vulnerability in this pandemic, addressing the problem, and seeking help is the most responsible thing to do.”