Heart racing. Sweaty palms. Busy mind. We all get stressed sometimes.

Discover why it’s important to keep stress levels under control and how to spot your stress signals. Plus, learn how you can respond to stress in healthier, more practical ways.

Is stress different for men?

Some studies indicate that there could be a hormonal difference between how men and women experience stress. Men and women’s bodies both release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline when stressed. However, men are more likely to produce a “fight or flight” response when stressed than women. This is due to men typically having higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of oxytocin (the so-called “happy hormone”).

Experts also believe that men and women deal with stress differently. This is because men can feel more pressure to bottle up how they’re feeling. Not feeling able to open up when you’re stressed can mean it goes unaddressed for longer.

What causes stress?

Plenty of things can make us feel stressed in the short term – running late, a meeting with your boss, or trying something out for the first time. Once you’re out of the short-term stressful situation, you tend to feel much better.

Long-term or chronic stress, on the other hand, is a prolonged feeling of stress. It can wear us down.

Some of the most common causes of long-term stress include:

  • Work.
  • Money.
  • Bereavement.
  • Relationship issues.
  • Life events, for example moving house, having a baby, or retirement.
  • Health.
  • Discrimination.
  • Abuse.

What are the health risks of stress?

Stress doesn’t just impact your mental health – it affects your physical health too. When your stress response is continuously firing, triggering “fight-or-flight”, it puts both your mind and body under strain.

The potential risks of chronic stress include:

  • Heart disease.
  • Risk of heart attack.
  • Depression.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Lower sex drive and erectile dysfunction.
  • Weight changes
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Poorer sleep.
  • Weakened immune system.

Spotting the signs of stress

These symptoms can vary from person to person. You don’t need to be experiencing all of them to be struggling with stress.

The most common symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Decreased energy.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Headaches.
  • Irritability.
  • Feeling tense or anxious.
  • Withdrawing from friends or family.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Aches and pains.
  • Mood swings.
  • Losing interest in things you usually enjoy.

Being able to identify your stress signals is the first step to tackling stress.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms – is “manning up” hurting men?

More than 60% of young British men feel society expects them to “man up” in the face of stress and other challenges. This could mean that men are more likely to suppress emotion and avoid asking for help. This could have severe repercussions on men’s wellbeing.

If you feel you can’t speak openly about how you’re feeling, you might try to cope with stress by distracting yourself.

Some unhelpful strategies people use to distract themselves from stress include:

  • Drinking.
  • Smoking.
  • Recreational drugs.
  • Gambling.
  • Excessive gaming or internet use.
  • Withdrawing from friends and loved ones.
  • Acting out aggressively/violently.

Research from UK mental health charity Mind found that men are more likely to use unhealthy coping mechanisms than women.

If you’ve noticed you’re relying on these things to cope with stress, you can speak to your GP. There’s also advice online to help you get back on track.

Healthy coping mechanisms – how you can tackle stressful situations

If you notice your stress signals flaring up, try these techniques to keep a stressful situation under control:

  • Slow down. Take a moment to think about how you’re going to react.
  • Take a deep breath. Focusing on your breathing can help to calm you down, as well as giving you time to reflect.
  • Consider the big picture. Ask yourself “Will this matter in the long run?”. This can help you to put things into perspective.
  • Step away. If you feel out of control, take a break from the conversation if possible. You can pick it back up when you’ve had some time to relax.

If this isn’t what you’re used to, it might feel odd to use these techniques. With practice, they’ll feel more natural and will help you to keep calm.

Healthy coping mechanisms – proactive stress management

As well as addressing stress in the moment, there are things you can proactively do to keep stress in check in the long term:

  • Know your triggers. This can help you to avoid situations or people that cause you stress, or help you deal with them if you can’t avoid them.
  • Healthy lifestyle. Diet, exercise, sleep. These three things can help you to cope with stress in the long run (as well as all the other benefits that come with moving more and eating healthily)
  • Making time for yourself. This is probably the nicest way to deal with stress.
  • Find solutions. Is there something causing long term stress that you can solve? For example, if you’re worried about a lump on your body, you could book an appointment to speak to your GP.
  • Talk. Describing what you’re going through can be very helpful. If you find it challenging to talk, share an activity with the person you want to chat to (for example, DIY, going for a jog, or gaming together). This can make your conversation feel more natural.
    • Being honest might feel uncomfortable at first. Try to think of it as a strength you can improve with time and practice, like lifting weights at the gym. It’ll help you feel better in the long run.
    • Remember to ask how they’re doing as well. You might be surprised that your mate’s going through the same thing you are.
    • You can also speak to your GP or a mental health charity. Sometimes it can easier to talk to a stranger.
    • If you don’t feel you have anyone to speak to, try writing down your thoughts.
  • Focus on what you can control. You might not be able to change the things that are stressing you out, but you can control who you choose to react.

How to deal with stress at work

Work can be a major stressor for many of us. Here’s how you can keep things calm at work:

  • Don’t ignore your stress signals. If you’re in a stressful situation, use the techniques above to stay in control.
  • Make time for healthy lifestyle choices. Regularly going for a walk at lunchtime or going to sleep instead of staying up working can have a massive impact on your ability to cope with stress.
  • Talk to your manager. If work stress is becoming too much, your manager might be able to help ease the pressure.
  • Role model ‘good behaviour’ – especially if you’re in a position of authority. If others see you taking care of yourself, it could help them to do the same.

Source: Benenden Health