Men and anxiety
As a man, I can tell you that discussing the topic of anxiety with other guys makes you about as popular as a skunk at a picnic.
But here’s the thing – something like 10% of men in the United States struggle with this mental health issue per the American Psychological Association (APA, 2015).
While there’s no way to know, it’s safe bet those numbers are much higher.
Why might this be? It’s simple. Most men would rather talk about anything other than their feelings. If you are a guy reading this, you know exactly what I mean.
Hey, I’m not saying this is the case for all males. It’s not. But in my experience as a counselor specializing in guy topics, it’s true for many.
Below are 10 things men do that make their anxiety worse. It’s important to state some of these also apply to women. But given the focus of this site, I’m focusing in on the guys.
Read all of them to fully absorb their deeper meaning. Try not to judge yourself but instead, reflect on what speaks to your inner truth.
Let’s jump right in!
If you pretend anxiety isn’t part of your life, you engage in the cognitive distortion called denial. Typically, this one is manifested through self-talk and it goes like this:
I can handle this on my own.
Here’s the real deal guys: most of us can’t.
Men who grapple with self-esteem or body shame need to be super mindful of this point.
2. Reaching for 420
Occasional use of marijuana isn’t a big deal. We all have our vices. But if the norm for you is to reach for weed to chill your nerves, understand that the benefits are temporary.
Here’s why: If you toke 420 too much, it can paradoxically worsen anxiety and cause paranoia. For many people, this ignites a never-ending cycle of lighting up when coming down.
3. Soothing nerves with alcohol
Tossing back a few may offer a quick escape from your anxiety but at the end of the day, alcohol can make your anxiety worse.
As time goes on, using alcohol can become habitual. This is particularly true if you have a family history of alcoholism. Don’t believe me? Check out this NIH publication.
4. Relying on meds
A lot of guys think popping pills (Klonopin) is all that’s needed to treat anxiety. While anxiolytics are helpful, they usually aren’t enough.
Research dating back to the 80’s tells us the most effective approach includes a mix of talk therapy, physical activity, and yep – meds (Taylor, Sallis, & Needle, 1985).
5. Believing men don’t get anxious
If I had a buck for every time a guy told me in therapy, “Strong men don’t have anxiety,” I’d be rich.
Here’s the truth – we do.
Moreover, we’re excellent at masking it! That said, anxiety is gender neutral. It also has zip to do with strength. Just because you get anxious doesn’t make you less manly.
If you are looking for a tool to help with some of what you are feeling, I highly recommend the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Dr. Edmund Borne (See Amazon for price).
In my experience, people are born with certain traits. For example, some folks are born with green eyes. Others, brown.
And some come out of the womb with anxiety.
It just happens that way. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Yet a lot of guys feel just that. And you know what else? It makes anxiety worse.
The healthier approach is to acknowledge the presence of anxiety in your life through integration. To accomplish this, consider learning about ACT, the acronym for acceptance and commitment therapy.
7. Shutting down
One way anxiety becomes worse is by going into shut-down mode. Here’s how the guy mind works for this one:
If nobody sees me, they won’t know I’m anxious.
I’m here to tell you that subscribing to this line of thinking will make things worse. Look, I get it. It sucks being around people when want to jump out of your skin. Obviously, don’t force it.
That said, if you isolate too much, you run the risk of making that anxiety flip into depression. When that happens, you can enter a very bad place.
Didn’t you know? Anxiety and depression are best buds.
8. Buying into learned helplessness
Do you feel there’s nothing you can do about your anxiety because “I’m just a messed up!” If the answer is yes, you are buying into learned helplessness.
What does that mean?
In simple speak, it means you believe you are a victim of the fates. In turn, you use it as an excuse for inaction.
Ask yourself: Am I really a victim?
9. Blaming others
A lot of people, including men, make their anxiety worse by playing the blame game. You know what I’m talking about, right?
That’s where you lash out at your spouse, child or friend because you think they are to blame for feeling crappy.
With anxiety, you need to know they aren’t to blame. And neither are you.
No doubt – certain situations can contribute to a disparate mood. But the research tells us anxiety is more likely linked to organic and/or hereditary origins.
Remember, the folks you are getting angry with are your support systems. Do you really want to alienate them?
10. Magical thinking
The final one I’ll list is magical thinking. With this one, you may believe something like: It will eventually go away.
That’s true – it absolutely might! But what if it doesn’t? Moreover, what if it comes back with greater intensity?
If you can relate, chalk it up to magical thinking; a belief that can make anxiety worse.
Bringing it all together
Anxiety doesn’t operate like a switch that can be turned off and on at will. Man, I wish that were the case.
But here is what you can do. Rethink the relationship with your feelings. Formulate a realistic strategy for health. Over time, you can do a lot to create positive change.
To my mind, real men face their anxiety head-on. That includes you.
APA. (2015, December). By the numbers. Retrieved from American Psychological Association : http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers.aspx
Taylor, C. B., Sallis, J. F., & Needle, R. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Retrieved from U.S. National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1424736/
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