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Stress is normal. It is what we feel when a situation is hard to handle.
Adrenaline rushes through the body, increasing heart rate and boosting mental and physical alertness. We feel sweaty, tingly and get butterflies. This ‘fight or flight’ response was very useful to our ancestors coping with physical threats such as a marauding mammoth or sabre-toothed tiger.
Today’s ‘threats’ are often far less serious but far more frequent. The trouble is that stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are harmful when we don’t actually need them. Over time, they can damage the immune system and the heart and reduce both physical and mental well-being.
This means it’s not healthy - or practical - to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode every five minutes. It’s much easier - and healthier - to respond in a less stressful way. But how do you do that? If we can figure out how we feel and what has caused it, we can respond more smartly.
Too much stress can:
Stress causes mental health problems.
One in four of us will have a mental health problem this year. They’re responsible for half of all long-term absences from work.
Unchecked mental health problems can be very serious indeed. About three-quarters of the people treated for depression are women but about three quarters of the people who commit suicide are men. Since depression is a major cause of suicide, something doesn’t add up. Is it us?
Talking about stress is not a sign of weakness. It takes balls.
Here are some of the common causes of stress today. Which of them push your buttons?
Short-term ups and downs are normal but when you start having long-term problems in one or more of these areas, the stress will mount. That’s not because you’re weak; that’s because you’re normal.
You may react by getting out of a situation - the ‘flight’ response - and in some cases a new start might be what you need.
But if you keep changing jobs, partners or moving home, it may be that it’s not the situation that needs to change but your reaction to it.
A relentless build-up of pressure, without the opportunity to recover, can lead to harmful stress. The important thing is to recognise the warning signs while you can do something about it. Common signs are:
We all know how good it is to talk when you really connect with someone. For some of us, social media can only go so far. Indeed, research suggests social media can make some of us miserable.
‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ is a cliché because it’s true. It’s not about other people telling us what to do or being needy. It is simply that talking often lets us see the solution for ourselves in a way thinking alone can’t. We’re not alone - we often share the same problems.
Having a chat about something doesn’t have to be a big deal. Share an activity with the person you want to chat to and talk while you’re doing it: washing-up, cleaning the car, painting a fence, playing a computer game.
Even if it barely involves talking, connecting with others and feeling part of something in whatever setting feels good: playing five-a-side, going to the pub or underwater basket-weaving. Meet new people through a local club, group or internet meet-up - especially if social media are dominating your life.
Be honest with yourself, especially if you’re often angry or feel disrespected. Then, if you can, find someone else you can be honest with. It doesn’t have to be a mate or family member.
Feeling uncomfortable in your own skin won’t get better with time. Most likely it will get worse. Old-fashioned ideas of what it means to be a man can make it difficult for us to talk honestly. Some of us can’t even ask for directions in the street because we don’t want to look vulnerable. But silence isn’t a sign of strength. Silence is easy: you just keep your mouth shut. Being honest is the real strength. Accept yourself as you are and be fine with it.
If you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, what’s wrong with being yourself? (Even if that is different from what you think society and other people want.)
If you think a mate is bottling something up, there’s a simple way to make a difference: do something together. Get him to give you a hand. Feeling wanted makes us all feel better. You don’t have to talk but if you want to, doing something together makes it easier. Open up yourself - if you think he has work issues, perhaps talk about your work. Try to:
If symptoms are making you unwell it would be advisable to seek help without delay. You could speak to your GP, the practice nurse at the surgery, the occupational health nurse at your workplace (if there is one) or a stress counsellor. You should certainly consult a health professional if you are depressed because of stress, or if stress is causing you anxiety or leading to panic attacks.
See the Depression FAQs for more on treatments for stress, depression and anxiety.
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|This content is wholly based on the Men's Health Forum's man manual Beat Stress, Feel Better which was prepared in line with the NHS England Information Standard of which the MHF is a member. Follow the links to buy copies.|
Date of last review 01/08/14
Date of next review 01/08/17