In the present times, everyone is speeding up to finish one deadline or another whether in the context of work, studies, household, relationships or family. This creates stress. Stress is of two varieties ‘eustress’ or the helpful stress and ‘distress’, the unhelpful or the malicious stress. While some degree of stress and tension is often desirable to push us out of the relaxed mode and get working, distress is often very malicious to our physical and psychological well-being.
We tend to experience distress when we are unable to cope effectively with the demands, expectations and pressures that we experience either from the external world or from within us. Any stress that has moderate immediate effects is usually handled by most of the people effectively. However, if the stressor persists for a long period of time, there are enduring changes in our thinking, feeling, behavior and body.
Although, each man’s experience of stress would vary from others as it depends upon his ability to cope, the current life context and also the extent of self-awareness that he has into his own inner world; what one man finds stressful at a particular time, other men may not. What one man acknowledges as stress, other men may not. But on the whole, men in particular are extremely bad at recognizing the symptoms of stress. They often deny to their own self that they are suffering from stress as they fear that it is a sign of weakness.
Men often find the awareness of stress as unwanted and project it onto others, they see everyone else as stressed but them. They go on to deny these symptoms but suffer more in the process as this denial leads to self-destructive behaviors, psychological symptoms and physical illnesses. Even when men acknowledge that they are stressed, they rarely share this feeling with others but try to undo it through various means and this reluctance on their part further aggravates the stress they are experiencing. Men are four times more likely than women to attempt suicide, use alcohol and drugs and display violence.
The following is a list of major symptoms that men in general may experience while being stressed:
1) Addictions: Men who deny their stress often find it very uncomfortable to be with sense of loss, worry, pain and weakness. In their refusal to acknowledge stress they adopt extreme measures to derive a false sense of competency, power and well-being. They may have frequent sexual encounters, display risky behaviors and use alcohol and drugs.
2) Physical problems: There is an intimate link between our mind and body, the way we feel affects our body. As men do not acknowledge and deal with the stress in their mind, they suppress it and it starts affecting their body. High levels of stress attack our body and weaken the immune system. This makes the person vulnerable to a gamut of physical ailments and bodily dysfunctions. Common physical manifestations are: chest pain, difficulty in breathing, weight gain or loss, headaches, decreased libido, body aches, indigestion, diarrhea, dizziness, constipation and stomach cramps.
3) Sleep problems: The person’s sleep gets disturbed due to stress. The person’s need for sleep may increase and he may start sleeping excessively. In contrast, there are others who start sleeping little or find it difficult to remain asleep for adequate time. Still others may sleep for the required numbers of hours but don’t feel fresh when they get up and have to drag themselves through the morning.
4) A sense of chronic fatigue: The person feels as if all energy has been drained from his body and a sense of exhaustion persists for long period of time. He feels very weak and finds it difficult to pay sustained attention at work. After performing even small routine activities he gets tired. This fatigue is not physical but derives from an emotional sense of being small and depleted. No matter what amount of rest the person takes, he fails in rejuvenating himself. Due to such multiple failures of rejuvenating oneself, the person starts feeling hopeless, helpless and miserable.
5) Irritability: The person feels stressed and extremely angry. As he either does not acknowledge this anger or cannot express it constructively in the situation where it emanates from, this usually accumulates inside as pent up rage. After a while the person develops a labile mood and gets irritated at minor provocations and tensions. He displaces his pent up fury onto weaker targets usually the family members, subordinates or children. In some cases this also contributes to the widely prevalent road rage.
6) Relationship problems: The accumulated and denied stress has the potential of spoiling the close relationships of the man. They start expecting too much from the partner, feel irritable and cannot tolerate normal day-to-day differences and conflicts. In extreme cases, they may display domestic violence and abuse.
7) Constant worrying: The person experiences intense and often excessive anxiety and often ruminates about possible future misfortunes. This can be so time consuming and draining that many men who experience this have little mental resources left to concentrate on their present.
8) Sexual dysfunctions: Stress often precipitates sexual dysfunctions in men and this builds up as a vicious cycle. Due to the experience of stress, men may experience an incident of sexual dysfunction or poor sexual performance. When men find that they are unable to perform sexually their masculinity is threatened, they feel a sense of shame and despair and this leads to further stress which aggravates the dysfunction.
9) Midlife existential crisis: Due to years of chronic experience of stress, many men in their late thirties and early forties experience a midlife existential crisis. They feel that they have missed out on many things in life and begin questioning the meaning and purpose of their life. They are unhappy due to the direction that their life has taken. They are fed up of everything: job, relationships and life in general. They may feel anxious, frustrated and depressed as a result. Some men make drastic changes in their life to escape this despair: extramarital affairs, shift in career, voluntary retirement and huge changes in lifestyle. Most of these drastic steps though seem to bestow happiness in the short run ultimately lead to further despair as men realize that time has run out and they cannot bring it back. This leads to further stress.
Therefore, apart from the usual techniques of stress management the first and foremost way to combat stress for men is to acknowledge that they are stressed and share this feeling with others in a non-defensive manner. This in itself has a considerable healing power.
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