What Makes Men Feel Anxious – Understanding How Comparison And Relevance Sabotage Our Mental Health
Every guy experiences anxiety and yet many men have no idea what anxiety feels like. Women tend to seek medical help for it more often than men, but this doesn’t mean men aren’t dealing with it on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many men don’t realize the impact anxiety has on their lives. Many go undiagnosed with anxiety disorders because they ignore their symptoms or find ways to self-medicate their issue without medical intervention.
What Does Anxiety Look Like in Men?
Many men make the mistake of dismissing anxiety because they think it’s just having “butterflies” or feeling nervous rarely paying attention to body-based symptoms unless those are extreme or acutely severe. Many guys also mis-report chronic anxiety as just ‘high levels of stress.’ Feeling situational anxiousness is not the same as having anxiety. Anxiety is a chronic issue that includes a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. It interferes with relationships, affects your ability to work, and can lead to secondary issues, including insomnia, low or, no libido, and chronic gut-based ailments like IBS.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Racing heart
- Muscle tension
- Jaw tension
- Teeth grinding
- Excessive sweating
- Abdominal cramping
- Indigestion or diarrhea
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Panic attacks
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble swallowing
- Constant worry
- Feelings of dread
- Concentration problems
- Catastrophic thinking
- Tendency to be overly vigilant (Hyper-Vigilance)
- Fear of losing control
What are Two of the Most Common Causes of Anxiety in Men?
Anxiety can be caused by a variety of things, but two of the most common include not feeling as if you measure up to your peers and feeling the need to remain relevant as things in your life change. Both of these are perceived by our minds as threats to our security and wellbeing, and our core self confidence and esteem.
The tendency to compare yourself to other men is common – after all, most boys and men are achievement-conditioned. Which means that our worth is determined by what we achieve or produce. This is especially true if you have men in your life who have achieved more than you, for whatever reason. They might be older than you or have had access to better or more resources than you.
It’s difficult to take a logical approach when you feel as if all of the men you know are more successful or happier than you. The feeling of failure or seeing yourself as less than you as you compare yourself to other men can nag at you until it develops into anxiety.
How to Manage Your Tendency to Compare Yourself to Other Men
The good news is you can manage your tendency to compare yourself to others and reduce the anxiety you feel about where you are in your own life. One of the best ways to do this is to realize that things aren’t always what they seem.
Margaret Rutherford Ph.D., psychologist and author of the book Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism that Masks Your Depression, reminds us how important it is to remember what we assume about others when making comparisons might not even be reality.
Says Rutherford, “What you assume about others can be mind-boggling. You can see others as possessing the very attributes you wish you had, and put yourself down because you don’t have those traits or that they don’t come easily. You may never realize that they have their own struggles underneath whatever they display.”
In addition to realizing that you’re likely only seeing the best of someone’s life while they hide their secret struggles, you can also:
- Recognize that someone out there admires you. You might take on the role of a mentor or participate in a group that supports men younger than you.
- Look for inspiration from those around you that you consider more successful. Instead of seeing their accomplishments in a negative light, aspire to build for yourself what they’ve achieved.
- Accept that envy is a normal part of being human and can serve to motivate you. But stop before it becomes a covetousness. This tends to develop into being unhealthy and destructive.
- Admit and accept your insecurities. Nobody is perfect and everyone feels vulnerable about certain things. Embracing these vulnerabilities and sharing them with people you trust helps you form closer and more honest relationships.
Another common cause of anxiety in men is the need to stay relevant as things in life change or as they physically age. Whether this occurs when you get older, when you change careers, or when your family changes, relevancy is important but it can trigger negative issues like anxiety.
First, recognize that these feelings are normal. Most, if not all, men need a purpose in life and when changes occur, especially big transitions in their identity like retirement, they feel that their purpose is gone. This is because so many men derive their self-concept and much of their self-worth from what they do versus who they are.
The same is true when other changes occur. For example, if you consider your primary role to be the all-providing father, once your children are grown and not relying on you to meet their needs this shift in your relationship and their independence may cause you to feel anxious about not being ‘necessary or needed’ any more. If being a husband is a major part of your identity and your marriage ends, a big part of recovering your sense of self is developing a new identity – what you believe makes you, you.
Again, as is the case with comparison, there are things you can do to reduce the anxiety caused by the need to stay relevant.
Next, to the best of your ability, try not to base your identity on what you do and the roles you have in life. These things are important, but they aren’t the bulk of who you are. Focus more on who you are: your principles, values, even your self knowledge. This is challenging for most men, but the more you work on it the more you prevent anxiety when things change.
It’s also important to not resist change. Stay open-minded about new ideas and embrace change. Taking an adventurous approach to life helps you avoid the anxiety that often accompanies change.
Finally, look for new ways to stay relevant. Just because you lose one thing doesn’t mean there aren’t an endless amount of new things in which to invest your time and energy. Staying relevant doesn’t mean you need to do the same thing throughout your life. You need to find meaning and things to fill your day that feel fulfilling.