Men: Recognize and Address Stress Now

Contributed by Dr. Amy Goetzinger, of Lewis Consulting Services in Cary

Having a good stress management plan in place can be important for optimizing and improving your physical and emotional health. It can also be a great way to approach and start off the new year. Men need not feel stressed or overwhelmed to spend some time thinking about and developing a personal coping plan. Spending some time thinking about how you recognize and address stress now can help you plan for critical times in the future. Moreover, developing a good stress management plan can help ward off chronic stress and protect your health.

Chronic stress contributes to many physical and psychological illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression and anxiety disorders. However, it is important to recognize that not all stress is necessarily harmful. In fact, stress can provide positive benefits by helping us mobilize resources.

For example, most people are more effective at solving problems in the midst of experiencing a low to moderate level of stress. Deadlines and productivity goals can help workers be more productive, and the presence of spectators can help athletes perform better. Thus, in some ways stress is natural and can help us improve ourselves.

However, typically when speaking about stress, most people are referring to the negative effects of stress, or distress. High levels of stress and chronic stress can be exceptionably damaging to a man’s physical and psychological health. In fact, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization, stress is expected to be the second leading cause of mortality worldwide during the next 20 years. When not recognized and addressed, stress can negatively impact one’s quality of life and overall well-being.

Broadly speaking, stress is experienced in two ways — physically and psychologically. Although the signs and symptoms of stress may vary, the underlying physiological processes are interrelated. Whereas one individual may report feeling anxious as a result of heightened stress, another person may experience chronic neck and back tension and pain. Importantly, it is likely that both individuals are experiencing similar (and negative) physiological reactions to stress, which could include neurochemical, vascular and hormonal changes. Chronic stress also leads to decreased immune function, increased risk of infection and decreased ability to fight infection or repair tissue.

Evidence suggests that women and men may experience and exhibit symptoms of stress differently. Men are not always good at recognizing stress in themselves, and part of this distinction could be attributed to how men experience stress. Men may be more likely to experience physical symptoms as a result of chronic stress, and physical reactions to stress may be less obvious compared to psychological symptoms.

Physical signs and symptoms of stress can include muscle tension, changes in sleep, neck and back pain, fatigue, chest pain and heart palpitations, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, changes in appetite, weight gain or loss, sexual problems, gastrointestinal symptoms and skin problems. It is important to remember that stress is an individual experience as are the symptoms related to stress, and any significant change is worth investigating. The signs and symptoms listed above may be indicative of an underlying disease and should not be disregarded just because a person might believe the symptoms are stress related. Regardless of the cause, it is important to follow up with your doctor to rule out a serious medical condition.

In addition to the physical symptoms, stress can be experienced psychologically and emotionally. Psychological signs and symptoms of stress can include sadness, depression, tearfulness, withdrawal or isolation, insomnia, mood swings, worry, restless anxiety, irritability, anger and decreased anger control. Additional symptoms can include overeating or anorexia, feelings of insecurity, decreased productivity, job dissatisfaction, relationship problems, increased smoking and increased use of alcohol and drugs.

Whether symptoms of stress are physical or psychological, a good stress management plan can help one recognize and address stress, and it is applicable to both men and women. As an initial self-assessment task, review the signs and symptoms listed above and make a list of ones that pertain to you. Although this list is not comprehensive, it may help you identify problems and see a link between physical and psychological symptoms.

It may also be helpful to ask a close friend or family member if he or she has observed any changes in your mood, energy level or activities. After compiling a list of symptoms, start to develop a list of activities or plans to help address each symptom. Successful coping activities and skills developed as a result of dealing with prior life challenges are a great way to start.

Dr. Amy Goetzinger is a clinical psychologist and behavioral health researcher. She provides psychological counseling, assessment and consultation services with Lewis Consulting Services in Cary. Dr. Goetzinger also works as a cancer researcher at Duke University Medical Center. For more information, visit

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