It’s time to talk about men and stress

Photo credit: Sharp Health News/Sharp HealthCare

Americans are stressed out. While there is healthy public discourse about stress, much of it focuses on women. But stress can have a severe impact on anyone, regardless of gender. Several studies have demonstrated that, overall, men are less likely to seek out professional help for mental health-related issues.

We live in a society where men are culturally conditioned to “be strong” and deal with stress on their own. To avoid feelings of vulnerability that may surface when discussing their emotions, many do not seek help. As they struggle to cope, they may become angry or shut down. This can take its toll on both their physical and mental health, as well as on their relationships with others.

How stress affects men

Stress tends to affect men and women differently, which plays out through behavioral, emotional and biological responses. Some men hide their emotions and may seem angry, irritable or withdrawn, while women are more likely to seem sad or express sadness. Stress also activates the adrenal cortex, resulting in increased secretion of cortisol, a “stress hormone.”

Chronic effects of stress can result in weight gain, unhealthy eating habits and depression. This predisposes men to a wide array of physical consequences, including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and increased levels of blood sugar.

Warning signs to look for

Given its potential physical and psychological effects over time, it is important to address and manage stress when it begins to impact daily life. The decision to seek help for stress-related problems is a personal and individualized one.

For those who are unsure if they are under “enough” stress to get help, here are some behaviors and physical symptoms to look out for:

  • Significant daily distress that results in a worsening of functioning at work or at home
  • Difficulties with sleep, concentration or appetite
  • Isolation, poor motivation and loss of pleasure in usually enjoyable activities

Michelle Myking-Scheufler, a therapist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, explains that there are certain things one can do to help mitigate stress levels. “Don’t bear it alone,” she says. “Speak to someone about your experience, whether it is a doctor, family member, friend or advisor. Talking about your problems can relieve stress and help you feel better.”

She suggests staying engaged in social activities, but also setting aside time for yourself and the things you enjoy. Finding ways to reduce stressors can also help. “Deal with problems that cause tension, as taking action can relieve some stress,” Myking-Scheufler says. “Also, it’s important to accept the things you cannot change in your life. Look for ways to enjoy uncontrollable circumstances or see the situation from a different perspective.”

Making the decision to seek help can be a very long and potentially painful one. Give yourself permission to ask for help. A consistent relationship with your primary care doctor is a great avenue for starting the process of getting help.

The San Diego Warm Line, at 1-800-930-9276, is also available to lend a helpful ear, support and referrals to professional assistance for callers who are not in crisis.

If you or someone you care about needs to speak to someone or is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the San Diego County Access & Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240. Trained and experienced counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This article features experts from Sharp Grossmont Hospital. For more health stories visit