Everyone has encountered stress at one point in their lives and responded in different ways. However, research shows men are less likely than women to turn to loved ones, friends or professionals to help themselves manage stress.
According to Dr. Hans Crumpler, a board-certified family medicine physician affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, there is still a preconceived notion that “being a man” means being silent and strong. But struggling to manage emotions can take its toll on both the physical and mental health of men.
“To talk about behavioral health issues can give the perception of weakness or a diminished character,” says Dr. Crumpler. “It makes it difficult at times for men to feel free and honest about their emotions and let somebody know they actually need to talk to get the proper guidance.”
Understanding the stress men encounter
Regardless of gender, the COVID-19 pandemic increased stress for everyone. Men faced increased stress related to the role they play within their household. Issues surrounding their employment, security and difficulty managing financial constraints have been challenging.
The assumed role that men play within society, the home and the workplace often makes them feel that financial responsibilities sit squarely on their shoulders, Dr. Crumpler says. “When stress hits, who do they turn to and confide in? The fear of being judged and criticized is so great, they just do not want to bring it up,” he says.
How men respond to stress vs. women
There is a distinct difference in the way men respond to stress. In general, it comes down to their degree of trust and their desire to not be judged negatively for showing emotions. However, women are more able to talk about their personal issues without fear of retribution or judgment.
According to one report, the male stress response can be characterized as “fight-or-flight.” When men are faced with a stressful situation, their bodies release hormones that prompt them to either stay and confront the problem, or to run away and avoid it. Women, on the other hand, approach stressful situations with a “tend-and-befriend” approach, where they seek support from their social group.
“Most women are more in tune with each other and are able to confide in one another and speak about personal experiences,” says Dr. Crumpler. “Not in every situation, but it is sufficient to say that there is a shared enough experience that is very unique to the female body that allows that openness to take place.”
The impact of stress on men’s health
Complications from stress can make people sick. According to one study, 60% to 80% of visits to primary care doctors may have a stress-related component.
Chronic illnesses connected to stress in men include:
- Prostate cancer
- Erectile dysfunction
- Male infertility
- Cardiovascular disease
- Risk of stroke and heart attack
- Kidney failure
“It is important that men recognize the negative factors affecting their health,” adds Dr. Crumpler. “The mind is a very powerful organ that can direct in a positive and negative way.”
How to manage stress
Managing stress can help relieve symptoms of chronic illnesses and lower the risk for stress-related complications. To reduce stress, Dr. Crumpler recommends both men and women:
- Maintain a positive attitude
- Find support through their primary care provider
- Cut back on stressors
- Spend time with others
- Stay active
- Set aside time to relax and practice mindfulness
“The solutions to most of life's problems can be found directly within our path,” Dr. Crumpler says. “There are some situations that can seem insurmountable, but with the right guidance and with the right support, we can find the solutions ourselves.”