We need to talk about anxiety in men

Do you think we need to talk about anxiety in men?

Are you about to explode? You may suffer from anxiety.
Anxiety in men is real — Image from Irishtimes.com

An article by Madeline R. Vann, MPH caught my eye recently. She wrote: “Anxiety disorder in men is real and treatable through therapy and medication.” She’d written about a young man who, although aware he’d had anxiety since childhood, he never actually tackled it until well into his twenties. I just thought, what a long time to suffer. This, and the fact that it’s Men’s Mental Health Week, is why I think we need to talk about anxiety in men.

So what is anxiety?

Are you aware of the effect stress has on your body, mind and spirit?
What do you know about anxiety?

Anxiety is a type of fear usually associated with the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future, but can also arise from something happening right now.

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe, according to the NHS. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel anxious about sitting an exam or a job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal but some people find it harder to control their anxieties. Their anxiety is more constant and can often affect their daily lives.

Anxiety is a feeling that lets us know when we might be in danger, at risk or under threat. However, anxiety disorders occur when our fears and perceptions of danger are greater than they need to be.

The following information from the NHS is about one specific condition called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue.

Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in men

GAD can cause both psychological and physical symptoms. These can also occur in other anxiety disorders but for brevity, we’ll just talk about GAD. These symptoms vary from person to person, but can include:

This guy is about to have a nervous breakdown
Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder
  • feeling restless or worried
  • having lots of negative thoughts, feeling guilty, angry or shame
  • having trouble concentrating or sleeping
  • dizziness or heart palpitations
  • feeling like you’re having a heart attack – if you suspect heart attack, seek urgent help
  • sweating, sticky palms
  • shaking
  • fidgeting or pacing
  • feeling faint
  • feeling like you can’t breather, choking
  • fingers or toes tingling (this happens when the blood runs from your extremities to your heart and muscles, where it’s needed to prepare for fight or flight

What causes anxiety disorder in men?

The jury’s out on this one. The exact cause is not fully understood, tho’ it’s likely that a combination of several factors plays a role. Research has suggested that these may include:

When stressed out your brain activity increases
Does over-activity in the brain cause anxiety
  • over-activity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour
  • an imbalance of the brain chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline, which are involved in the control and regulation of mood
  • hereditary – you’re more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if you have a close blood relative with the condition
  • having a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying
  • a painful long-term health condition, such as arthritis
  • having a history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • but many people develop anxiety disorders for no apparent reason.

Who is affected by anxiety?

Absolutely anyone. You might’ve noticed someone constantly drumming their fingers or tapping their foot annoyingly? Maybe you’ve seen that irritating colleague who constantly fidgets during meetings or spits out the nails she’s chewed for the last half hour?

Anxiety in me

Swimming helps reduce anxiety in men
Anxiety in men — image by featurepics.com

I’ve experienced mental health problems, including anxiety and I know how horrendous it feels (you can read it here). The dread when going to watch my sons swimming because of the steep seating area. I hated all those stairs looking over the pool and had a terrible fear of tumbling down them all. I’d start to sweat in fear, and my heart would be pounding through my heart and in my ears. It was the same in the cinema, those damn stairs, and in the dark!

Tube stations soon became a problem too, the further down the escalator went, the more anxious I got. (Hence my love of driving and the famous London black taxis.)

Vicious circle of stress and anxiety
Vicious circle of anxiety

See, the thing with an anxiety disorder is that once you’ve had a panic attack, you get anxious about being anxious. You only have to think about, let’s say, the tube station, and your anxiety levels shoot through the roof. And then it becomes a vicious circle of thoughts, feelings, behaviours.

Take a look at the diagram. You might have the thought “I’m dreading the tube station,” and you begin to feel anxious, so you avoid the tube (behaviour). After this, you might think “I’m so weak,” and feel sad, alone, angry…….. and so on…….

Anxiety in men close to home

Black belt anxiety management
Black belts can have anxiety – Image by jahir-martinez-unsplash

My two adult sons experienced anxiety and panic attacks in the past. They’re both black belts in Karate, they’re club swimmers and play football each week.

So, although they both claim to be geeky in a science-type way, they’re not weedy or wussie; nor do they come across as lads who’d have anxiety.

Some family and friends have been shocked, like “Wow, I didn’t think they’d have mental health problems.” and “Never? I’m really surprised.”

Several younger male family members were encouraged by this and sought support themselves, with some having gone into talking therapy. They’ve all said they’re so glad they did.

So, what I’m really saying here guys is, it doesn’t mean you’re a weak person, anyone can experience anxiety. It doesn’t care where you’re from, what class, faith, creed, race, gender you belong to or what job you do.

Anxiety statistics

Biting nails can be a sign of anxiety
The anxious and pacing nail biter
  • In 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK.
  • In England women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men.
  • the condition is more common in people from the ages of 35 to 59.
  • 5.9% of people suffer with a generalised anxiety disorder.
  • mixed anxiety & depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with 7.8% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis.
  • 7.2% of people aged 5 – 19 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder
  • In 2017 13.1% of people aged 17 – 19 had an anxiety disorder

As you’ll have noticed, anxiety and depression are closely linked so if you have one, you’re more likely to be experiencing the other. You might also find that some form of agoraphobia, a fear of doing certain things, or going to certain places quite often occurs with anxiety.

How is anxiety disorder treated in men?

Anxiety disorders can have a significant effect on your daily life, but several different treatments are available that can ease your symptoms. These include:

Colour image of scrabble saying recovery
Recovery from anxiety — image from Psychcentral.com

With treatment, many people are able to control their anxiety levels and lead normal lives. But some treatments may need to be continued for a long time and there may be periods when your symptoms worsen.

Self help for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Regular exercise can keep anxiety at a distance
Exercise for anxiety – Image by Pexels at Pixabay.com

There are also many things you can do yourself to help reduce your anxiety, such as: 

  • reading a previous post 19 free mental health apps just for you here
  • or Tips to help with your anxiety and panic attacks here
  • attending a self-help course in person or online
  • exercising regularly
  • stopping smoking
  • cutting down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink
  • trying 1 of the mental health apps and tools in the NHS Apps Library

Over to you

What do you think?

When it comes to talking about mental health problems, do you think it’s necessary to separate the men from the women? Or should we just be inclusive and talk about mental illness as a whole? What about the men; should they just man up? I look forward to your thoughts and comments, and of course, I’ll answer any questions.

Related: A look at mental health during men’s health week (1). 8 symptoms of anxiety in men (2). Men and anxiety (3).

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

25 thoughts on “We need to talk about anxiety in men”

  1. I’ve never had any anxiety my whole life, but since the stroke, I assume it is anxiety because it does at least make me feel anxious. For example, on a long car journey, I am “what if we break down?” “How would I get home?”. These are all risks that have been there every other journey I’ve taken, ever, but I only worry about them post-stroke. And in fact, that is how I cope. I tell myself that that same risk existed before, I never worried about it back then, so now it is just me being silly.
    There is also another big anxiety which I guess many people share – when the mortgage is up in a few years, how the **** will I pay it off?

    1. It’s not you being silly, definitely. After all you’ve been through, anxiety would be a normal reaction. Anxiety is real and perhaps you can speak with your Stroke Nurse or Team. They might be able to help support you.

      Ah, the dreaded mortgage – maybe we all have to downsize? Caz 🙂

      1. When I say silly, I should more correctly say that knowing how it was before, that’s how I know it is all in my head, it is perception rather than something real. As for stroke nurses, once you’re stable enough to go, that’s it. There’s no such thing as a stroke nurse. At least, down here.

        Yeah there are various solutions with the mortgage, it is not particularly important that my daughter inherits anything, so equity release is not a problem. But I suspect for anybody who bought an endowment it is a common anxiety.

      2. That’s just all semantics 😉 In your head means something’s going on! I know what you mean – my mum’s stroke nurses have disappeared in Scotland.

        For me, as a single parent, all I’ve ever done is to work hard to leave for my sons – but due to various mistakes etc, there’s not much to leave now 🙁

  2. Is anxiety also stress related? I mean, can it make you HPA axis (don’t know if it is the right term in English) more vulnerable? I was very stressed and very anxious in the beginning of my burnout but now – due to the changed circumstances – find myself really anxious sometimes when I need to leave to house to see someone I don’t know (like a new doctor) or when facing a new situation. I wonder if that is ‘normal’ stress, sometimes I’m really ‘out of it’ due to the stress and that doesn’t help recovery. Or would it be more a self-esteem issue?
    Ah, I’m not a man 🙂 but this gentlemen calling people ‘weedy’ or ‘wussie’ and people you won’t expect to have mental struggles …. still a long way to go in that particular area!

    1. HPA is not something we’ve discussed much in the UK but, according to DrBrighten.com “One of the key causes of chronic anxiety is HPA dysregulation, which is more commonly called “adrenal fatigue.” HPA dysregulation is a condition in which the communication between the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary) and the adrenal glands is dysfunctional, giving way to abnormal or ineffective hormone output from the adrenal glands. https://drbrighten.com/hpa-axis-healing-anxiety/ I thought you might find this article interesting Kacha. x

      1. Thank you, red the article and learned a lot. I think I’ll maybe look deeper into this as it sounds interesting. Whatever comes my way 🙂 x

  3. Interesting. I didn’t know that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety as men. I can’t help wondering, though, how many men have anxiety disorders and don’t get diagnosed. The stigma that men who show fear aren’t “real” men may drive many to deny or attempt to cover up anxious symptoms rather than seeking treatment. Showing anxiety isn’t great for women either, but it’s more socially acceptable, so even women with milder cases may be more willing to seek out help compared to men.

    1. You hit the nail on the head there – many men won’t tell their GP’s so can go undiagnosed for long periods of time. They probably don’t talk to their pals about it either so they just go on suffering. I am so glad my sons feel able to reach out for support when they get anxious 🙂 However, they’ve been brought up (while I was studying) with mental health, mental illness, CBT etc lol 😉

  4. I don’t like the idea of “manning up,” as I am sure you don’t either. Men have mental illness, but due to evolution, are expected to “man up.” Well, I am more of man than many people asking me to “man up.” Well, Serious Mental illness is as notable of a problem in men as it is in women.

  5. Perhaps men typically (ab)use alcohol to medicate their own hyper-anxiety; that way, they can remain ‘strong and silent’?

    1. Of course, self-medicating is a huge problem when working with patients who have mental illness. They’re then classed as having a dual diagnosis and for me, it was soul destroying working in that area.

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