Stress in Men

In prehistoric times, stress was a short-term answer to a physical threat. In modern times, rather than a physical threat, the pressures of everyday life can trigger the stress response, whether that means a mountain of work or problems at home.

“Almost anything can cause stress if it makes you feel angry, tense, frustrated or unhappy” says GP Dr Sarah Brewer, author of ‘Cut Your Stress’ (Quercus £4.99). “Stress can result from work, finances, relationships, bereavement, your environment or your interaction with certain people. The common underlying theme is often change. Too much change, too quickly, is highly stressful – especially when it is imposed on you without your consent.”

Stress can become a chronic problem as a result of an inappropriate evolutionary response to modern life. Many people, men in particular, find it very difficult to switch-off from the pressures of the 21st century.

Physical and psychological signs and symptoms of stress in men

There are both long and short term implications for men suffering from stress. The short term stress response can include insomnia and irritability. In men, it can lead to anxiety and a low sex drive. Stressed men (and women) may find making decisions more difficult, often caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol are used as substitutes to sleep, a balanced diet and relaxation techniques.

Chronic stress results from stress levels being constantly high and not allowing the body to have adequate time in a ‘rest and digest’ state of being. Symptoms of stress in men can include physical signs such as digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), excessive sweating and headaches. Additionally if the body is subjected to constant stress there may be increased risks of suffering a heart attacks or strokes.

It is important to remember that male stress is an individual experience and as such, so are the symptoms. Some common symptoms are listed below.

Signs and symptoms of stress in men

Physical Psychological
High blood pressure Crying
Shortness of breath Depression
Fatigue Sadness
Chest pain Withdrawal or isolation
Headaches Mood swings
Muscle aches: back and neck pain Insomnia
Diminished or increased sex drive Overeating or anorexia
Hair loss Poor concentration
Clenched jaws and grinding teeth Feelings of insecurity
Indigestion Changes in close relationships
Dizziness Decreased productivity
Constipation or diarrhoea Job dissatisfaction
Increased perspiration Anxiety
Skin problems disorders Poor memory 
Weight gain or loss Negative thinking
Stomach cramps Distractibility
Tight, dry or a feeling of a lump in your throat Irritability, anger, decreased anger control
Feelings of insecurity and low self worth
Feeling overwhelmed or helpless
Increased smoking
Increased use of alcohol and drugs

If an individual is worried about any symptoms listed above or if they are having a significant impact on day-to-day activity they should be checked by a doctor. Some signs of stress in men may be indicators of disease and illness and therefore should not be ignored.

Stress in men can increase the instances or risk for:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Bowel and digestion disorders
  • Skin disorders including acne
  • Eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia
  • Emotional disorders including anxiety and depression
  • Asthma attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Immune system problems including colds, flu and infections
  • Cancer
  • Ulcers
  • Sexual dysfunction

Helping a man cope with stress

It is often the case that a man will not admit to being over worked, under huge amounts of strain and failing to cope.

Men on the whole need to focus on completing one problem or job at a time, getting it done to a high standard and moving on to the next task. When a man is struggling to cope, he may be stressed by a multitude of projects with numerous situations requiring time and attention. it is often the case that when a man is stressed they will not be eating a healthy balanced diet which could inhibit the body’s ability to balance and repair itself which is causing the signs of stress. Often a man’s stress is marked by hostility, irritability and anger which can cause further problems such as relationship tension.

There are a number of things that a partner can do to help relax and turn ‘distress’ into ‘eustress’ (good stress). Helping a man choose stress relieving foods, encourage relaxation techniques such as yoga, pilates, tai chi and mindfulness meditation, but most importantly giving a man support and ensuring that they are not put under any extra pressures and stress.