As a kid, I remember my father stepping on a board with a nail through it. It pierced his foot all the way through. He pulled it out, washed it off, wrapped a bandage around it, and kept working. In fact, during my childhood, I can only remember my father visiting a doctor one time. He had sprained his ankle badly playing golf. I can remember the tough guys he worked with making fun of him for spraining his ankle during such an activity.
Traditionally, it was always seen as manly to tough it out. Think of the cliché of the gym teacher telling a kid with a broken arm to walk it off. I don’t think men still take care of themselves as well as women do. It may be a stereotype, but spas, yoga classes, and salons tend to be full of women with very few men. Men stereotypically blow off steam or dissociate with sports and alcohol to take their minds off stress, without being mindful of relieving that stress.
Health Effects of Stress on Men
Men throughout the world live shorter lives than women. In the US, that gap is a little over five years. But that’s not the whole picture. Men are far more prone to living their lives in sickness than women.
There are some reasons for this. Some of them are biological. Men and women, for example, have different hormonal profiles. However, research has shown that much of this difference can be attributed to behavioral and social differences.
Some of these factors include work stress, lack of social support, aggression and violence, diet, lack of exercise, and lack of routine medical care. Men, for example, are 2 1/2 times more likely to be missing active social networks than women. Social support reduces the risk of many health conditions including colds, depression, heart attacks, and strokes.
The way we manage stress is critical to our health, relationships, even the way we look. The stress hormone cortisol makes us pile on abdominal fat and may make us more prone to things like diabetes and heart disease. Chronic stress has been shown to be a contributing factor to sexual dysfunction, depression, digestive problems, migraines; youIf name it.
Social and Mental Effects of Chronic Stress on Men
Socially, chronic stress affects our relationships, from romantic to how we parent. Stress is linked to workplace violence, depression, even suicide.
We can tell when our friends are stressed. In a study conducted by the Wall Street Journal, 91% of children said that they were able to tell when their parents were stressed out. I have seen this in my kids. When my stress level rises, so does theirs.
Research suggests that chronic stress can or make some mood disorders worse. These disorders include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder. Chronic stress can cause cognitive problems, personality changes, etc. It’s not doing your social life any favors.
How can men better manage stress?
I see a lot of idioms about managing stress that I think are misleading. I have noticed articles on how to get rid of stress, combat stress, fight stress. I understand these are common terms when talking about dealing with something undesirable. However, they missed the mark when it comes to talking about stress.
First, you’re not going to get rid of stress. You will always have stress. You will have cortisol. Your sympathetic nervous system will always exist, and it’s important. So let’s get rid of the idea that one can be stress-free. Unless you are the Buddha or something, it’s just not realistic.
I think it’s better to talk about managing stress. We can actively reduce stress. We can understand it. We can avoid it. We can reduce its impact on us.
We know that stressful situations will always come along. Unexpected things happen. The holidays are sometimes stressful for people. Even vacations can bring stressful situations.
My naturopathic doctor gave me an excellent analogy. We all have a stress cup. This cup fills up daily. From time to time, we have to be mindful and empty the cup or the cup will spill over. Spilling over, in this case, means symptoms. It might be muscle tension, headaches, irritability, high blood pressure. Over time, this spillage creates chronic health conditions.
As men, how do we manage our stress?
Focused daily activity
One of the things my naturopathic doctor gave me to manage stress, is to do some activity every single day that is specifically to reduce stress. The choice of activity was mine. This could be yoga, or meditation, creating some artwork, something that emptied the cup.
The important thing is that the intention is to reduce stress. It also needs to be an activity. Zoning out on the couch watching Netflix doesn’t count. It doesn’t count because you’re not engaged. Meditation, however, does because it’s engaging.
OK, you know this already. You know you need to exercise regularly. You need to do something every single day. Move your body. This is one of the best and most meaningful ways to relieve stress.
A lot of people struggle to begin exercise. I think in the US, especially that we are too focused on going to a gym. Gyms are great if you enjoy them. Many people do not, and yet they force themselves to get their exercise there. If this is you, my advice is to find an activity that involves exercise that you love. Maybe you jog, play kickball, take up hiking, paddleboard, swim, study martial arts. Find something that moves you to move.
There is research that shows that simply being in nature can reduce stress hormones. In fact, a recent study at a university in Amsterdam showed that just looking at pictures of green spaces created parasympathetic responses like lowering the heart rate.
It makes sense. Zoos today make a lot of effort to reproduce animals’ natural habitat. This is better for animal welfare. The animals are less stressed, healthier, happier.
What is our natural habitat? I can assure you it’s not a cubicle. It’s not even a house. It’s not the inside of a subway. Being indoors, except in caves, is a pretty new development in human history.
Go for a walk. Go camping or hiking. Spend time in nature.
Take a lesson from women and focus on self-care.
You don’t have to spend all day at the salon or getting your nails done if you feel that’s going to bruise your manhood. But certainly, we can learn a lesson from women who are better at self-care.
Self-care means doing specific activities to take care of the body, mind, and spirit. And you need to find your own thing. Personally, I like massage, acupuncture, meditation, hanging from my inversion table. I like cuddling with my wife and kids. I like spending time engaged in reading spiritually uplifting books.
Ask yourself what works for you. What nourishes you? What makes you feel renewed?
For me, it’s high time we man up and take stress seriously. We owe it to ourselves and to our families to get healthy and stay healthy. I want to be around an active with my children and eventually my grandchildren for a long time. I want to be active and enjoy my life long into my twilight.
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