Do you think we need to talk about anxiety in men?
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?
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:
- 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
- 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:
- 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
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.)
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
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.
- 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:
- psychological therapies – you can get psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on the NHS; you do not need a referral from a GP and you can refer yourself for psychological therapies service in your area
- medicine – such as a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- lifestyle changes
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)
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
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).