Anxiety in men is real and impacts life substantially. However, it often goes unnoticed, by both the man and those who care about him. When the “a” word is used, the response is immediate, “No, I am not anxious!” The old saying is true: a man isn’t afraid, he’s just concerned. As a therapist who specializes in working with men, there are common warning signs of anxiety I look for. A man won’t use words like anxiety or fear, but he may identify as:
- Feeling overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities and expectations.
- Having limited patience and being irritable.
- Being easily fatigued.
- Restlessness and inability to relax.
- Feeling unable to control or manage his worry.
- Becoming less effective/productive in work and home responsibilities.
*See below to learn more about each of the seven warning signs of anxiety in men.
- Feeling overburdened by life’s responsibilities and expectations. Men are like pick-up trucks. They are built to work and haul loads (life responsibilities). In fact, just like a pick-up, if there’s no load in the back, their handling can get kind of wild (think of the way many young, single men live and behave). While it’s good for him to carry a load, sometimes life’s load gets imbalanced or he is not effective in carrying it. Generally, instead of recognizing this and communicating a need for help, he will struggle silently, growing more frustrated.
- Having limited patience and being irritable. Like it or not, most men anxiety/fear with weakness. Weakness is not something he is comfortable with, at least his own weakness. Men will often make flippant comments about the box of tissues in my office, trying to joke with me about needing it. Anger, in the form of irritability, frustration, being demanding/controlling, is a safe way for a man to express fear. Anger gives the illusion of power and mastery. However, it is ineffective in solving the real problem. Think of it another way. If a child is afraid or overwhelmed emotionally, they will often react with anger. They feel powerless, and to deal with this, they are using angry outbursts to demand control. It’s as if they are saying, “If I get angry, I won’t have to feel afraid anymore/If I have a choice between anger and fear, I choose anger.”
- Being easily fatigued. If a man loses the “zip” in his step or enthusiasm for life, it can be a sign he is struggling. Anxiety is one of the most energy zapping emotions. It has the effect of causing a man to expend several times the usual amount of energy to accomplish the same tasks. I use the following example with men:
There are two points above, A & B. The line takes me from A to B in the simplest, most efficient way possible – in a straight line. Only the necessary amount of energy is expended in this example, but what happens if we add anxiety?
Anxiety makes a big difference, taking our once straight line and turning it into a phone cord. Yes, the man is still able to get from A to B, but if we stretch out the line, it’s clear he has had to go farther and expend more energy to get there. No wonder he is so tired.
- Restlessness and inability to relax. Once we realize why our guy is so fatigued, it’s clear he needs to rest. The problem is, he can’t. Strong feelings of anxiety keep causing him to feel as if rest is not a good idea. He must remain vigilant, even if he does not have a good reason to. Explaining this to loved ones is difficult. In counseling, I use the example of a fire alarm. Imagine if you are in a building and its very loud fire alarm is sounding. It causes you to feel the need to act, to get out of the building, exactly what it was designed to do. Now imagine a loved one was there in the building with you, but they could not hear the alarm. They keep telling you to lie down and rest, maybe even take a nap, but it’s impossible. You try to explain this to them, but they just don’t get it. Hunger is only a burden to those without food to eat, but for the rest of us, it’s just a cue to go to the refrigerator. Fatigue is only a burden to those who cannot rest.
- Feeling unable to control or manage his worry. Some anxiety is normal and a part of life. Too much can be an inescapable burden. Most of us are working to manage our anxiety throughout our day. It’s like we are juggling balls, and most of the time, feel pretty adept at doing so. However, the man who is anxious feels as if he has way too many balls to juggle. No matter how much he tries to manage them better he keeps dropping them. Anxiety goes from being a normal life experience to a sign that something bad is about to happen.
- Becoming less effective/productive in work and home responsibilities. Too much anxiety has the net effect of making a man less effective in important areas of his life. He is unable to concentrate his efforts and energies on the task at hand, leading to poor performance. His problems are also beginning to multiply. As his productivity lessens, his backlog increases and so does his anxiety. An insurmountable obstacle is forming, which will cause him significant problems down the road. Anxiety has worked to justify its existence by creating real, identifiable problems.
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