- There's an errant assumption that men are stalwarts of resolve, devoid of emotion beyond anger.
- Male anxiety, depression, and suicide represent a silent crisis, but men are often difficult to reach via traditional methods.
- Improving one's mental health can begin with radically accepting life on life's terms and not resisting what one can't change.
Men don’t get a lot of compassion—not as a gender, not toward one another, and not toward ourselves. We are the more impulsive, less-refined gender that has not progressed much since our cave-dwelling days, though we've learned to use salad forks and sneeze into our arms.
Sadly, and perhaps due to our ruffian nature, men are often perceived as an expendable lot, regularly sent to do life’s dirty work like defusing IEDs or repossessing tractors. When duty calls, somewhere a willing man answers.
The standards of masculinity are making men sick
It’s our own culture that depicts men as the stronger sex. This might be true when it comes to opening new bottles of ketchup or scaling a tree to save a kitten. But when it comes to our mental health, men are subjected to a culture in which the standards of masculinity literally make us sick. Men comprise te majority suicides but the minority of mental health service users.
It’s a myth that men have only two feelings: hungry and horny. Male anxiety, depression, and suicide represent a silent crisis, and one of the biggest challenges in combating mental health disorders in men is that they are difficult to reach through traditional methods, like physicians or mental health programs. Moreover, their conditions are often masked by risky behaviors, self-harm, and substance abuse.
Anxiety and depression run feral and cloaked within many men. Most try to channel or compartmentalize it while it individually displays as forms of fatigue or apathy; insomnia or lethargy; substance abuse; irritability; conflict and anger; isolation; impulsivity and risky behaviors; mood swings; relationship and job problems; denial; self-criticism; aches, pains, or digestive problems; indecision; and suicidal thoughts. I personally distracted from my anxiety and depression with feats of athleticism and binge drinking, resulting in 13 orthopedic surgeries and countless broken bones. I had no choice but to become a writer: My hands were the only thing not in a cast or physical therapy.
Emotions have no gender
Many men are too obstinate or ashamed to seek help for anything involving their head except balding or a nail from an air gun. Sadly, men hide behind the facades they feel pressed to create. Men have come to accept many things, but being considered weak isn’t one of them. Yet forms of anxiety and PTSD are conditions of the tough-minded.
Mental disorders and illness don’t care if you’re a war vet, foreman, or florist. They're indiscriminate mind sweepers. They can happen to anyone, at any age or gender. And it’s not “all in your head"; mental illness is a medical problem that can wreak havoc 24/7 like any ailment affecting any other organ. There are tactics, however, that will can you an advantage.
8 ways to mind your manxiety
- Radical acceptance is the new denial. One option you have for any problem is radical acceptance.1 Radical acceptance is about radically accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you can't change. Radically and mindfully accept that you can’t control everything, and accept yourself, even when you feel unacceptable.
- Coffee and booze lie to you. Caffeine sets unrealistic expectations for your daily productivity and can spike anxiety. Though low doses (200 mg) are known to improve cognitive performance, studies reveal higher anxiety levels in moderate and high caffeine consumers compared to abstainers.2 Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the brain and the central nervous system’s processes and can make stress harder to deal with long-term. "Living your best life" and "liquor" are antonyms.
- Let me hear your body talk. Channel nervous energy, stress, and even depression into a regular exercise program. Physical exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression, and many researchers now believe that regular exercise is the single best way to produce BDNF to naturally alter mood and reduce anxiety.3
- Your bed is a time machine to pancakes. Sleep problems greatly exacerbate stress and anxiety, so promote good sleep hygiene: Get to bed early and at the same time each night. Turn off the electronics to turn off your thoughts and your stress. Research indicates that REM sleep may play an especially significant role in maintaining emotional well-being and psychological balance.4
- Your cheat meal shouldn’t be a month long. Some say you can’t spell “salad” without “sad," but there’s a direct correlation between a healthy diet and a positive mindset. During times of stress, we often turn to fast or processed foods which make us feel sluggish and less able to deal with stress. "Brain food," such as the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, is seen as improving cognitive function and iding with the prevention or easing of many stress-related mental disorders.5 You're doing it right if there's no food at home, but just a bunch of ingredients to make food.
- Plug your nose. Try alternate nostril breathing (aka, yogic breathing). This is a simple, natural breathing technique from Ayurvedic medicine that brings the body and mind into a state of balance and neutrality. Close one nostril by placing your thumb gently over it. Exhale; then inhale through the uncovered nostril. After each inhale/exhale (a breath cycle), switch sides. Then, leading with your out-breath, do one out-breath followed by one in-breath through each nostril. Repeat this series, alternating nostrils after each inhalation. It will likely be easier to breathe through one nostril than the other. You’re not deformed; it’s normal.
- Be a freak of nature. A Stanford study found quantifiable evidence that walking in nature can reduce stress and lead to a lower risk of depression.6 By 2050, 70 percent of people will live in urban areas. Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why. Summer in the city ain’t where the living’s so easy. Anymore.
- Get a mental spotter. Phone a Freud and get help through therapy. The easiest standard to use is that if your emotions are starting to interfere with daily life functioning, it's time to get professional help. Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health provider because you may need treatment to get better. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for anxiety. A therapist can help restore you to factory settings.
It's perfectly acceptable to be a male experiencing anxiety. Iron Man had chronic anxiety and he saved the world.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Robins, C. J., Schmidt, H. III, & Linehan, M. M. (2004). Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Synthesizing Radical Acceptance with Skillful Means. In S. C. Hayes, V. M. Follette, & M. M. Linehan (Eds.), Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive-behavioral tradition (pp. 30–44). Guilford Press.
Cappelletti, S., Piacentino, D., Sani, G., & Aromatario, M. (2015). Caffeine: cognitive and physical performance enhancer or psychoactive drug?. Current neuropharmacology, 13(1), 71–88.
Bathina, S., & Das, U. N. (2015). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications. Archives of medical science : AMS, 11(6), 1164–1178.
Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2014). The role of sleep in emotional brain function. Annual review of clinical psychology, 10, 679–708.
Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578.
Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(28), 8567–8572.