My anxiety disorder made me feel I wasn’t strong enough, man enough or good enough.
Society tells me (and the collective male sex) that men must be strong and not show any signs of weakness. Terms like “suck it up, “be a man” and “don’t be a pussy” firmly support this. Our male role models have likely told us the same.
So if we have an anxiety disorder that is “in our head” we may think we need to deal with it by suppressing it. Women on the other hand tend to be more likely to get help which I think skews a universally accepted statistic: women are twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder. I think women are more likely to seek help which is why it seems more women have it. Men are not as likely to seek help therefore they are vastly underreported.
Men v Women
Men and women are different in so many ways and anxiety treatment is no different. As Anxiety Canada cites, men with anxiety feel something many women don’t—shame. “If you’re male and have been socialized to be active and controlling, anxiety is (perceived) as a sign of weakness,” said Dr. Rector. Men with anxiety berate themselves, saying “I’m vulnerable, I’m failing.” Their embarrassment prevents them from reaching out for help. This means that by the time they do get a consult, their condition is more severe than that seen in women.
Further, anxious women are more likely to turn to friends for support than substances. As well, women limit their consumption of substances because society judges this behavior more harshly in females than in their male counterparts. Men who trust that alcohol will relieve their tension are more likely than women to act on this assumption when feeling stressed.
Related Activity: If you want to see how the collective perception about anxiety is more closely associated to women do a Google search on “anxiety” and see how most images are of females, not males. By my estimation it’s at least 5:1. While women are featured more frequently in images anxiety disorders do not discriminate between men or women.
Despite the fact that our very nature as men is to fix things, we as men are less likely to get help because it means we’re admitting we are weak which is what we have told to never do.
Signs of Anxiety in Men
Below are some of the telltale signs of men struggling with anxiety according to Tonic, all of which I’ve experienced and you may have too:
While women are more likely to turn to their friends for support when they’re worried, men more often turn to a friend-in-a-bottle. It’s true that alcohol “works,” at least short term. For instance, one study found that for every drink, social anxiety declined by four percent. But long-term, alcohol enables men to avoid their anxieties instead of facing them, which just makes things worse. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball underwater—it works for a while, but eventually it pops back up as a force to be reckoned with.
Everyone has heard of the stress response of fight or flight. Flight is what comes to mind when we think of anxiety: cowering in the corner, hiding in the bathroom, or making a beeline for…anywhere but here. But then there’s fight. When feeling threatened, rather than making a break for it, men may be more likely to come out swinging. Anxiety can trigger the full range of anger, from the flash of an explosive outburst to the slow burn of constant frustration.
Grumpy, grouchy, touchy, on edge: Whatever you call it, it’s irritability, and it’s a little-known hallmark of anxiety. When your nerves are already frazzled, it’s no surprise that your office-mate’s overly-loud breathing or the driver who drills his high beams into your retinas on a country road makes some guys channel their inner grumpy old man.
In the anxiety specialty clinic where I work, I see many men who have worried themselves into a depression. Anxiety drives avoidance, which in turn constricts their lives. For instance, men who have panic attacks may avoid activities that stress their bodies, like working out. Those who fear judgment will avoid dating or turn down their buddies’ invitations to go out. Men may try to control their anxiety by becoming more rigid, but living in a constant state of “if you want it done right you have to do it yourself” leaves little time for life’s joys. Over time, avoiding life leaves life empty, which in turn is depressing. And feeling unable to turn anxiety around or a sense that things will never get better leaves many men feeling hopeless and helpless—the two pillars of depression.
Thankfully more men in the public eye have come forward to share their experiences with mental health challenges from anxiety and depression. Below are just a few who seemingly have it all yet face the same challenges we face:
- Michael Phelps, world class athlete and arguable the greatest Olympian of all time struggles with anxiety and depression. He said “…I found myself in a spot where I didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
- Johnny Depp, leading actor suffers from social anxiety. He said, “When I was in a social situation, I was nervous and uncomfortable. The only way I could get through it was to drink my guts out. I wasted a lot of years.”
- David Beckham, world-renowned soccer player suffers from anxiety for which he uses Lego models to control his anxiety.
- More celebrity stories of anxiety can be found here.
In summary, the perceived weakness caused by of our anxiety means we often do not get the help we need. I am here to tell you unequivocally that anxiety does not mean you are weak. Admitting you need help is what makes you stronger. If you or a loved one needs help with anxiety please get help from a mental health professional!