Anxiety is commonly reported as a women’s issue, with even very recent research studies suggesting that women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety as men.
However in recent years there seems to be increased discussion about male anxiety and several high profile men including Johnny Depp and Captain America star, Chris Evans, have admitted in interviews that they suffer from anxiety disorders.
So is male anxiety really on the rise or are we just more aware of it? And if so, what is the cause of this anxiety epidemic?
What is Anxiety?
Feeling anxious in everyday life is a normal response to stressful situations such as a presentation at work, or a dentist appointment for a root canal. But when these feelings emerge from irrational thoughts and start to interfere with your life to the point where you can’t perform at work, enjoy a night out with friends or get a good night’s sleep, this goes beyond the normal response to stressful situations.
Anxiety can manifest as both physical and mental symptoms:
- Feelings of stress or worry that interfere with normal life or stop you from sleeping
- Feeling constantly on edge and worried
- Problems concentrating
- Racing heart or palpitations
- Feeling sick
- Chest tightness
- Hot flushes
- Excess sweating
- Difficulty breathing
- Panic attacks
- Tingling in the face or hands and feet
- Being convinced you have a serious medical issue like cancer or heart problems
- Catastrophic thinking (imagining the worst case scenario in every situation)
- Feeling as though everyone is looking at you or judging you
- Feeling like you’re going crazy
Anxiety is caused by the body’s biological response for danger being activated inappropriately. This causes a surge of adrenaline which readies the body for “fight or flight” by increasing the heart rate and the amount of oxygen going into the blood stream. However in someone suffering from anxiety disorder, this response is triggered by everyday situations, causing them to constantly suffer the physical and mental symptoms of feeling like they are in danger.
Causes of Anxiety
Anxiety can be triggered by stressful life events or may appear gradually as the result of a build up of different factors. Common triggers include:
- Relationship problems
- Problems at work
- Physical health problems
- Becoming a father or adding another child to your family
- Financial worries
- Significant change in circumstances such as moving to a new area or starting a new job
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Genetic predisposition (if there is a history of anxiety or depression in your family you are more likely to suffer too)
It’s also thought that the economic recession has increased the number of people suffering from anxiety triggered by redundancy, money worries, and fears about the future.
The pressure on men in today’s society is more than ever before. Not only are they expected to live up to the gender stereotype of being breadwinners and mentally and physically strong; but also face increasing self-imposed pressure to replicate what they see every day in advertising, magazines and on social media.
The backlash against women’s magazines for focusing on an unattainable figure and appearance has raged for years but without anyone noticing, men have slowly started being subject to the same pressures. Men’s lifestyle magazines, fashion blogs, “menswear influencers” on Instagram and other media all present a perfect life complete with 6-pack abs, stunning girlfriend, designer home, new sports car and enviable career. While social media offers us only a carefully curated glimpse of the actual reality, it’s hard not to compare what you see on the screen to your own life and wonder why you don’t measure up.
Social media poses another problem when it comes to triggering anxious feelings. The constant stream of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, plane crashes and all manner of bad news is enough to make anyone want to curl up in a ball and hide. Of course bad things have always happened in the world but we are now instantly aware of them because they’re popping up on our friends feed every 5 minutes rather than being the ten minutes of news you might watch on TV before heading out to work in the morning before the existence of Facebook.
Fear of missing out or “FoMo” is a new term that’s sprung up in the rise of social media as we anxiously check our friends feed to make sure we don’t miss out on any updates and stay up on our phones until the early hours in case something important happens while we’re asleep.
A study by Anxiety UK found 45% of respondents felt worried or anxious when they were unable to access their email or Facebook and over half said that social media had affected their lives negatively. Another research study focusing on teenagers found that teenagers who were highly invested in social media slept worse, had lower self-esteem and had higher rates of anxiety and depression. Excessive use of social media at night affects sleep quality, which can then exacerbate anxiety and other mental health issues.
The Stigma of Male Anxiety
Research shows that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety and men make up only around a third of patients using psychological therapies available through the NHS.
However there is plenty of evidence suggesting that male mental health issues are more serious than the statistics seem to suggest. Suicide is the biggest cause of death in young men under the age of 35 and 3 out of 4 suicides in the UK are by men. Men are also three times more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol, possibly in an attempt to self-medicate for mental health issues.
Women are much more likely to report anxiety and seek treatment so it’s probable that anxiety in men is vastly underestimated. According to research compiled be the Mens Health Forum fewer than 1 in 5 men questioned would take time off work to seek help for anxiety issues despite the majority admitting they would do so for a physical health problem.
Most men have been taught to act tough since they were kids and told, “boys don’t cry” at any sign of weakness. It’s not surprising therefore that many men are so reluctant to admit to feelings of anxiety.
Rather than seeking professional help, men are more likely to deal with depression and anxiety by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol or distracting themselves through increased aggression and other unhealthy behaviours such as gambling. These behaviours often make the anxiety worse, developing a viscous circle, which can feel impossible to escape from.
Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic published a book in 2014 chronicling his own battle with crippling anxiety, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread and the Search for Peace of Mind, which spent six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. After its publication his colleagues were shocked to read the contents as Stossel had so successfully hidden his problem that they had no idea he had struggled with anxiety since childhood.
Stossel is certainly not the only one to hide his anxiety from the rest of the world so in all likelihood, the number of men suffering is much higher than reported. Removing some of the stigma through biographies such as Stossel’s and mental health campaigns aimed at men may be helping more men to come forward and admit their problem, in turn making it appear as if cases of male anxiety are on the rise.
Self Help for Anxiety Disorder
While having an initial chat with your GP is always recommended if you think you may be suffering from anxiety or any other mental health issue, there are a number of steps you can take to try and improve your state of mind before resorting to professional help.
An excellent treatment for all kinds of mental health and works great for anxiety too. Exercise releases serotonin, the chemical targeted by antidepressant medications that is responsible for your mood. It also is the only way to burn off excess adrenaline, which will eliminate any symptoms of anxiety you may be feeling.
Exercise can also improve factors that may make anxiety worse such as poor quality sleep. A study by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that people who regularly take part in vigorous exercise are 25% less likely to develop an anxiety disorder within the next 5 years. Even a 10-minute daily walk will do wonders for relieving stress and reducing the symptoms of anxiety but for best results, aim for 30 minutes of vigorous exercise each day.
Another self-care technique that many people have used to successfully treat their anxiety. Learning to control your mind and breathe deeply can help you to calm down when you feel anxious and regular meditation sessions can even eliminate anxiety permanently. The practice of gratitude can also have a similar effect.
Naturally diffuses anxiety so try injecting some humour into your daily life by watching funny movies or anything else that makes you laugh (a browse through Damn You Autocorrect! is a pretty safe bet). You could even try laughter yoga, which works on the principle that the physical action of laughing produces feelings of happiness and wellbeing, even if you don’t feel like smiling in the first place.
Can have a big effect on your daily mental state so aim for a varied healthy diet and drink lots of water. Avoid caffeine and sugar as they can make you feel jittery and alcohol as it works as a depressant.
Can be very helpful in showing you that you’re not alone and sharing experiences and coping techniques. They are particularly helpful for men who tend to be more reluctant to share problems with friends than women and are very accessible online through websites and forums.
Reduce the time you spend on social media
If you feel that it is affecting your sleep or having a negative impact on your life. If you feel like you’re addicted to Facebook or other social networks and can’t easily limit your time on them, there are browser plugins such as StayFocusd, which will block your access either entirely or for previously set times each day.
Medical treatment for Anxiety
Medication is available for anxiety with common treatments including SSRIs such as paroxetine, escitalopram and sertraline or SNRIs such as duloxetine or venlafaxine. These medications are also commonly used to treat depression, which often goes hand in hand with anxiety.
To treat the symptoms of acute crippling anxiety you may be prescribed a sedative to take on a short-term basis only such as diazepam.
All medications have potential side-effects and some can be addictive, so many doctors prefer to try self-help or therapy such as CBT before trying medication.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) aims to change the thought patterns that lead to anxious feelings by breaking the vicious cycle of negative thoughts feeding into your anxiety.
In a session you’ll work with a therapist to break down issues into your thoughts, physical feelings and actions. You’ll then decide which of these are helpful and which make you feel worse and go on to develop coping strategies for dealing with different situations and changing your negative thought patterns and reactions.
CBT is considered to be one of the most successful treatments for anxiety currently, with around 80% of sufferers noting improvement in their anxiety after finishing the course of treatment.
– Beast Hacker