My name is Shawn, and I struggle with Anxiety.
That is my confession.
I know what you are thinking, “Shawn? You struggle with anxiety? Really? You are like one of the most upbeat and positive people I know!”
There was a time when I would have agreed with you, and honestly, there was a time that was correct. However, anxiety isn’t just something that jumps on you, it’s a slow burn. It comes in the backdoor and sneaks into the house, slowly wearing down your defenses, until one day you collapse into your wife’s arms in your kitchen, weeping and unable to stand up.
If I am completely honest, I didn’t realize how difficult, debilitating, and scary anxiety can be. I didn’t realize that the panic attacks, confusion, fear, stress, and overwhelming flood of negative thoughts that often go along with anxiety, could paralyze me so easily. I didn’t know any of that until recently, when I descended into the dark pit of anxiety.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with anxiety, I have had a few friends walk through seasons of anxiety and depression, and I had even had a run with depression several years ago myself, in the midst of some family changes. But nothing prepared me for the gut punch I took recently when anxiety literally took over my life.
I am still walking through this.
It isn’t as severe as it was even a few short weeks ago, but my battle isn’t over. I am still walking this out every day.
The reason I am writing this post is because it’s therapeutic for me to do so (I am a writer), and I want to help other men who are walking through this. We as men, often keep our fears, stress, and anxiety to ourselves thinking we are weak for seeking help. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and it couldn’t be more dangerous to our own well being, and the well being of our families and friends.
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
- People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
- Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
- Men are less likely to discuss their feelings of anxiety or depression.
- Anxiety and Depression often go hand and hand
- Women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety because men often don’t go to the doctor for their symptoms, or they misunderstand what their symptoms mean.
- Anxiety symptoms for men are often vastly different than they are in women.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Men
Men often don’t think they are dealing with anxiety, or even depression, because they don’t understand the symptoms to look for. Most chalk up their anger, fear, stress, to things like work, bills, deadlines, etc. However, when the symptoms are known, it is easier to know what triggers your anxiety, so as to better deal with it properly. Below are several of the symptoms doctors have found in men dealing with anxiety:
Anxiety is more than having sweaty palms and butterflies in your stomach. Symptoms of anxiety can include feelings of worry, fear and impending doom that are so severe they interfere with your ability to work, maintain relationships and get a decent night’s sleep. Physical signs of anxiety may include:
- pounding or racing heart
- excessive sweating
- muscle tension
- restlessness or agitation
- dizziness and vertigo
- shortness of breath or choking sensations
- panic attacks.
Emotional signs of anxiety may include:
- constant worry about what could go wrong
- feelings of dread
- concentration problems
- catastrophic thinking
- irritability or edginess
- being overly vigilant towards danger
- fear of losing control.
- Strain between gender role expectations and performance
- Sexual issues, erection issues and/or libido issues
- Assertions of autonomy and interpersonal distance, increased conflict, and anger in relationships
- Withdrawal from and decreases in social contacts
- Perceived threats to self-esteem and self-respect, disappointment in self
- Alcohol and other drug abuse and dependence
- Inability to cry or crying more than normal
- Antisocial, narcissistic, and compulsive personality traits
- Decreases in sexual interest but not sexual activity
- Somatic complaints
- Work-related problems and conflicts
- Difficulties with concentration and motivation
- Over involvement with work activities
- Denial of pain
- Avoiding the help of others: ‘I can do it myself’
- Increase in intensity or frequency of angry outbursts
- Denial of sadness
- Harsh self-criticism
- Impulsive plans to have loved ones cared for in case of one’s death or disability
- Impulsive moods
- Concentration, sleep, weight problems
- Appetite shift
The reason we want to identify anxiety early on, is because of where it can lead. As you can see above, some of the symptoms of anxiety can be very serious, and require help. However, men often don’t think they need help, and will even reject it while inside be begging for it.
Because in our culture today, someone needing help is viewed as weak, ineffective, or less manly. This mindset could actually be the reason for many of the suicide in men, simply because they feel as if they are “less than” for seeking help. We need to change that viewpoint.
How to Cope
Guys, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression, please seek help. I had too. After having my second mental and emotional breakdown in under a month, I sought help. I talked to a trusted family member to help me, and they have been checking in on me every few days. I also reached out to a local councilor, to arrange a meeting to discuss what I have been going through.
However, you may need more than counseling sessions (and that is okay!!). Here are a few tips on coping with anxiety:
- Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
- Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
- Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
- Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
- Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
- Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
- Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
Don’t Do It Alone
Guys, do me a favor.
DON’T walk this path alone.
One of the worst things you can do when walking through anxiety, is to try to walk it out alone. It’s just not going to happen. Seek help. Seek friends, family, or others who can walk the journey out with you, talk with you, counsel you, and be a source of encouragement and help.
Too often we as men try to do things all by ourselves, thinking that because we are men, this is what we are supposed to do.
That is a lie.
The truth is that we are SUPPOSED to have others to walk through life with, not just our wives and kids. We all need a “Band of Brothers” that we can call upon in our time of need. If you don’t have one, assemble one. When you do, be real and transparent with them. Be open and honest. Because your life and future may depend upon it.
Friends, anxiety is tough. It can beat you down and steal your life. But it doesn’t have too. You can fight it. But it may not be an easy fight. Seek help, understanding, and someone to walk with you through the dark valley of anxiety, because anxiety is a secret men should never walk alone.
Until next time.