From the evolutionary standpoint, stress was a positive thing – it activated “flight-or-fight” type of reaction that had a purpose to protect life and health in critical situations, such as running into a saber-toothed tiger.
This reaction mobilized all of the organism’s resources in order to enable an endangered individual to either run for their life, or fight for it. However, a modern man is rarely exposed to such extreme conditions; still, this intensive reaction reoccurs each time he encounters even a minor stressor. Since stress can cause harm to literally every part of one’s body and seriously jeopardize mental health, much research was done in order to fully understand it. And one of the interesting findings is that men and women react to stress very differently.
Why is Men’s Stress More Damaging?
Research on stress indicated that men have biologically different reactions to stressors that might be responsible for more damaging effects it has to their health. This fact combines with cultural demands for men to stay strong and composed in any situation (which is harmful by itself), and results in a very dangerous cocktail of pressure and strain.
Any stressful situation causes our bodies to produce several hormones that activate our ability to fight danger more effectively, such as cortisol and adrenaline. But in addition to these, one more hormone is important for our reactions to stressors – oxytocin. It has a role in mellowing the influence of cortisol and adrenaline through inducing relaxing emotions. And here is the key to the damage we are talking about – men release significantly less oxytocin. This may be biological foundation to the fact that women tend to connect with others when they are stressed, and address problems through talking about their emotions.
Men, on the other hand, tend to disengage, and literally turn off their emotion-processing centers. As a result, men might be better problem-solvers at times, but this comes with a cost. Lower levels of oxytocin allow cortisol and adrenaline to decrease one’s immune system activity and increase blood pressure in greater extent. Furthermore, not addressing our emotions, ignoring them and seeking distractions, which is something men do regularly, could lead to an accumulated frustration and disproportionately strong reactions to minor stressors (lashing out at our wives and children, overreacting when our coworkers skip a meeting, road rage…).
What Do Men Stress About?
Studies show that men tend to be far more stressed about work than women do. And this is probably no news for you. The pressures to succeed at work are manifold – in almost all societies, a man ought to be a fighter, a provider, on top of his game at all times, and his self-realization is measured by how accomplished in career he is. Women do experience severe stress due to the conflicts of their work and family-related roles, but they usually get to say: “I just can’t do it…” or “It’s so hard…” and a man still doesn’t have the luxury of complaining. For a man to be stressed, or at least admitting it, is interpreted as weakness. And this sort of thinking is what pushes men into all sorts of maladaptive reactions to stressors and leads to severe negative consequences in many areas of their lives.
How to Fight Stress
If prolonged and chronic, stress can have devastating effects on the organism. If we are constantly under pressure, adrenal glands secret too much cortisol; but over time, the body’s ability to produce it diminishes. In that way, the immune system’s efficiency is lowered, causing a variety of psychosomatic diseases. We are fairly often under chronic stress, due to school, work, or family obligations. But there are methods everyone can apply to cope with stress in a healthy way – taking mental hygiene steps (recognizing stress cycle, dealing with unhelpful automatic thoughts, practicing relaxation techniques, exercising) and life style changes (healthy diet, getting enough sleep, etc.).
Nonetheless, studies show that men rarely endeavor into addressing stress and implementing changes in their habits in order to fight it. They often don’t even realize how much they are straining their health, or mask stress by creating conflicts, engaging in risky behavior, or avoiding stressful situations all together. This is why it is of crucial importance for every man to approach a therapist as a preventative measure, even when he believes that he’s not under stress, in order to get an objective and expert advice on how to prevent serious damages to his mental and physical health.
Ready to start working on your personal stress levels?