Stress doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone at any time, regardless of sex. How we react to stress — physically and mentally — and how we manage stress differs between men and women.
While most stress symptoms in men are also experienced by women, there are a few that are exclusive or more common in men. According to the American Psychological Association, men aren’t as likely to report emotional and physical symptoms of stress.
Evidence suggests that women manage stress better than men and are less likely to experience major depression brought on by work-related stress. Men are also more likely to withdraw socially when stressed. Studies have also shown that stress related to home, work, and relationships is a leading cause of psychological impotence.
Signs of stress in men and women can include physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms.
- upset stomach
- muscle tension
- neck, back, or chest pain
- rapid heart rate
- difficulty concentrating
- trouble achieving or maintaining an erection
- sadness or depression
- loss of interest in sex
- overeating or undereating
- drug or alcohol misuse
- social withdrawal or isolation
- exercising less
- clenching jaw or grinding teeth
- sleeping too much or too little
- obsessive compulsive behaviors
Several methods can measure stress. While questionnaires can be helpful, many doctors use a medical interview to diagnose stress and its effects.
In order to measure your stress and determine if it’s responsible for your symptoms, your doctor will ask you questions about any stressful events or circumstances leading up to the start of your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend some medical tests to rule out an underlying medical condition.
Some doctors rely on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale to measure stress. This scale offers a standardized measure of 50 common stressors and how they impact you. Some of these include work, living conditions, and death of a loved one. The events experienced in the past year and the number of times you’ve experienced each one factor into your total score.
Stress can actually make you sick. A U.S. national study reported that 60 to 80 percent of doctor’s visits may have a stress-related component. Stress has also been linked to a higher risk for disease, including cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
The following are complications of stress and how they affect men’s health.
Your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) regulates your body’s fight-or-flight response to stress. Your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) works to relax your body. Both play a role in prostate cancer.
Stress causes your SNS to release the chemical noradrenaline, which was found to trigger a cancer-stimulating response. PNS nerve fibers release another chemical that helps cancer cells break away and spread to other parts of the body.
Stress can cause erectile dysfunction (ED) in men of any age. Personal, professional, and relationship stress is the leading cause of ED in middle-aged men. Stress affects the brain signals to the penis that increase blood flow for an erection.
The physical and emotional effects of stress combined with stress and anxiety about ED also contributes to an ongoing cycle of ED. Chronic stress also impairs testosterone production, which can cause impotence.
The effect of chronic stress on testosterone levels, sperm production, and sperm quality increases the risk for infertility.
All types of stress have been shown to increase the risk for heart disease. Stress increases blood pressure and cholesterol, which are major risk factors in the development of heart disease. Repeated episodes of stress also cause inflammation in your coronary arteries, increasing the risk for a heart attack.
Chronic gastrointestinal problems
Ongoing stress can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal system. Even brief episodes of stress can cause stomach upset and pain, but when stress becomes chronic, you can end up with ongoing issues, including:
- chronic constipation or diarrhea
- acid reflux
- stomach ulcers
Stress has been linked to increased pain sensitivity. It causes your muscles to tense, which can lead to ongoing pain in your neck, shoulders, and back. Stress is also a common headache and migraine trigger. Living with chronic pain also increases your stress and anxiety, creating a vicious circle.
Frequent colds and infections
Chronic stress affects your immune system and interferes with your inflammatory response, making you more susceptible to colds and infections.
Managing your stress can help relieve symptoms and lower your risk for stress-related complications. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce stress. Here are a few suggestions:
- Find support. Speak to a doctor, family member, friend, or advisor. Talking about your problems can lighten the burden of stress and help you feel better.
- Cut back on stressors. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, cut back on your workload or any other commitments to give yourself some time to relax.
- Spend time with others. Men are especially prone to withdrawing socially and isolating themselves when feeling stressed and this can make you feel worse. Spend time with others to help take your mind off your problems.
- Stay active. Go for walks, a bike ride, or hit the gym. Exercise lowers stress and anxiety. It can also help you sleep better. Yoga has been shown to be especially beneficial for stress reduction.
- Set aside time for things you enjoy. Making time for your hobbies, whether that’s reading a book or watching a movie, can help you unwind in times of stress.
Stress symptoms in men can range from mild to severe and they can interfere with daily activities. Stress can be managed with self-care at home, but if you need help coping or are concerned about your symptoms, speak with your doctor.