The social definition of what it means to be a man can be incredibly daunting. Men are often expected to weather the challenges of life while remaining calm, stoic, and completely in control. Showing signs of sadness, stress, or fear is frequently frowned upon. In fact, these emotions are often seen as undermining a man’s masculinity.
According to some social dictates, “real men” aren’t supposed to be anxious or intimidated by their circumstances, or by the obstacles that they face. They’re expected to be fearless, courageous, and capable of enduring just about everything. Surprisingly, even when these expectations don’t actually exist among their family members, friends, or peers, many men still feel responsible for living up to them. As such, most men wind up internalizing their angst and pain.
Unfortunately, anxiety is just as real for men as it is for women. Of the estimated 40 million adults in the United States who experience anxiety, men represent about 20 percent. Although physical anxiety symptoms are similar among men and women, men tend to respond to being anxious quite differently. Even as their anxiety spirals out of control, many men don’t feel comfortable acknowledging it, seeking help for it, or even simply talking about it.
Sadly, this creates the perfect conditions for addiction. With no viable outlets for their feelings of anxiety and no reliable ways to alleviate their discomfort, many men turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. Understanding how anxiety affects men is often an important part of finding the right forms of addiction treatment and support.
Anxiety in Men
Pipes under pressure burst. In plumbing, manufacturing, and many other industries, professionals work constantly to limit pressure by releasing it. Men who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and don’t talk about it have virtually no release. For fear of revealing themselves as less than men, many often remain “bottled up”.
Men with undiagnosed and untreated anxiety disorders typically lash out in anger. As such, some of the most common symptoms of anxiety in men aren’t always easy to associate with angst. Men who are easily frustrated, overly aggressive, or quickly agitated are often dealing with overwhelming pressure that they don’t know how to resolve.
Both anxiety itself and the emotional responses that it triggers can lead to relationship issues, struggles at work, and violent encounters that might otherwise be avoided. The consequences of untreated anxiety disorders can be especially extreme when these disorders are paired with alcohol or drug addiction.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Men
Not every man is guaranteed to respond to anxiety with aggression or anger. Just as with women, certain forms of anxiety can make men retreat. They may spend more time in isolation, or they may make active efforts to self-medicate themselves.
Using substances that force their fears out of their minds or that make them feel numb, euphoric, or confident could be their primary coping mechanism. What remains true of anxiety for all men and women is that it’s guaranteed to have a significant impact on physical health if it’s left unchecked.
Stress and some forms of anxiety are natural, built-in responses to the world around us. The hormones that drive these reactions are intended to protect people from potentially dangerous circumstances and environments. They are tied directly to the “fight or flight” response. However, when people feel anxious all of the time, the same naturally occurring chemicals that exist for their well-being will begin to take a toll.
Chronic, untreated anxiety can cause:
- Elevated cortisol levels and increased weight gain
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Decreased immune functioning
- Digestive disorders
Even with extreme, short-term anxiety, people can contend with:
- Stomach pain and nausea
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of focus
- Persistent feelings of restlessness
- Elevated heart rates
- Difficulty breathing
The symptoms of anxiety in men and women are sometimes severe enough to compound the problem that has caused them. After all, it’s hard to stop feeling nervous when you’re gasping for breath, dizzy, and feeling generally ill. If you constantly feel worried and on edge, often deal with sudden attacks of overwhelming panic, or regularly avoid social interactions or essential, everyday activities because they make you feel uncomfortable, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Different Types of Anxiety
Not all anxiety is the same. Some forms of anxiety have very specific triggers. Others exist nearly all of the time and have no known cause. What’s certain is that with normal, natural anxiety, there’s always a reason for it, and there are usually a variety of practical, feasible ways to mitigate the problems that have triggered it.
Although many people think of anxiety as a basic emotion or emotional state that sometimes occurs too often or is sometimes way too intense, there are actually five distinct anxiety types that are currently medically recognized. These are:
- Panic disorder
- General anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
People with panic disorder are plagued by sudden panic attacks. During these events, they often have a hard time breathing, focusing, and identifying the source of their fear. General anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent, excessive worrying or fears even when there is no justifiable cause for emotional distress.
Much like its name implies, social anxiety disorder causes people to experience high levels of self-consciousness in nearly all social settings. Post-traumatic stress disorder is anxiety resulting from past, traumatic events that can be easily triggered by loud sounds and other forms of outside stimulation.
Finally, obsessive compulsive disorder is anxiety that’s fueled by persistent, unwanted thoughts, and that often provokes people to engage in compulsive and repetitive behaviors.
Causes of Male Anxiety
The common causes of male anxiety don’t differ much from the common causes of anxiety in women. Like women, men can become anxious when dealing with:
- Work-related problems
- Relationship troubles
- Financial difficulties
- Divorce or other changes in living arrangements or family dynamics
- Physical health issues
and more. The primary difference between men and women with anxiety lies in how they respond to it. Because men don’t generally talk about their anxiousness, and sometimes don’t know how to relieve it in other ways, anxiety-inducing experiences leave them more vulnerable to substance use, substance abuse, and eventually addiction.
This is all the more true when anxiety is chronic, easily triggered, or especially extreme. Not surprisingly, sometimes anxiety in men can be caused or heightened by addiction. As men move increasingly closer to full-blown addiction, the physical and social consequences of drug or alcohol abuse can increase their anxiety and cause other mood balance issues.
Treatment for Anxiety in Men
Men with anxiety disorders have a very high likelihood of developing co-occurring substance use disorder or co-occurring alcohol use disorder. To ensure the success of addiction treatment, both problems must be addressed at once. Quality rehab programs offer dual diagnosis services that can both identify the exact type of anxiety men are dealing with, and help them find and implement effective plans for safely managing it.
In addiction treatment for men also suffering from anxiety, significant time is spent learning new, healthier coping techniques. Some men may take part in immersion therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), or other forms of talk therapy. There are even times when anxiety can be medically managed. Men must learn how to acknowledge, release, and otherwise alleviate their stress, and without turning to drugs or alcohol for short-term relief.
If you’ve been dealing with overwhelming anxiety and want to find a safe, effective, and sustainable way of managing it, we can help. Get in touch with Recovery Bay Center today to learn more about our mental health programs and our options in men’s addiction treatment.