Stress can affect the body in a variety of different ways. Short-term stress can cause mood changes or a temporary loss of sleep. Whereas long-term stress can lead to more significant health changes. Everyone manages stress differently, but in general, studies suggest that a stressed man and a stressed woman are likely to experience the emotion differently.
When a man is stressed, it can be helpful to understand the toll it takes on his body and mind to appreciate what he is feeling and respond with sensitivity. Learning and sharing coping strategies can give both men and women tools to help communicate and manage stress more effectively.
What Is Stress?
Stress is "a feeling of emotional or physical tension." It's a bodily response that can be triggered by an action, event, or even a thought. Your body responds to stress by feeling anxious. Mental health experts explain that stress is a response to an external cause while anxiety is an internal reaction (similar to apprehension or dread).
Symptoms of Stress
According to Harvard Health, stress and anxiety may lead to emotional effects including:
- Changes in mood
- Diminished attention
- Increasing feelings of anxiety
- Poor memory
- Reduced brain activity
In some situations, however, stress can be positive. For instance, athletes may experience stress before the start of a competition. They can learn to channel their pre-competition jitters into energy to fuel their sports activities. Or you might experience stress when taking on a new job or when starting classes at a new school. While the newness may feel slightly uncomfortable, that discomfort may help you to dial in and focus with greater intention.
Stress in Men vs. Women
Many different situations can trigger stress. What triggers stress in one individual might be different than a stress-triggering situation in another. Data collected in 2010 by the American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that men and women are affected by different types of stressors.
For example, men are more likely to cite work as a source of stress. While women are more likely to cite money and the economy as primary stressors. When the APA collected data again in 2020, they found that women typically experience higher levels of stress than men and that stress in women is more likely to be triggered by social and political issues.
The data also suggested that men and women also respond to stress differently. For instance, women are more likely to experience fatigue or an upset stomach during times of stress. But when a man is stressed, he is much more likely than a woman to say that he feels no symptoms at all as a result of the situation.
How Stress Impacts the Body
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), stress is more likely to be positive in both men and women when it is experienced in short bursts. But prolonged exposure can negatively affect your health. Stress has the ability to affect all systems of the body.
When you become stressed, your body releases hormones that trigger the fight or flight response. According to the NIH, this can cause the brain to become more alert, the muscles in your body to tense, and your heart rate to increase. There are several hormones involved in stress responses, such as:
- Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)
- Thyroid hormones
The APA notes that long-term exposure to stress can negatively affect the heart and blood vessels in the body. It can cause inflammation in the circulatory system, especially in the arteries, which has been connected to heart attacks. Depending on how a person responds to stress, it can impact their cholesterol levels.
Work-related stress, in particular, has been identified as a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Researchers who conducted a research review published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who felt that they had little control over their jobs had a higher risk for newly reported coronary heart disease than those who felt that they had a high level of control. In this report, the risk level was similar for both stressed men and stressed women.
Stress can have adverse effects on the gastrointestinal system, according to the APA. Stress can affect the brain-gut connection by disrupting communication in bacteria, which causes stomach pain and bloating. The APA states that women and men who are stressed may experience changes in their eating habits, an increase in heartburn, and nausea.
According to the APA, stress can affect the male reproductive system. When a man is stressed, the amount of testosterone produced in the body can decrease, which in turn can change a man's sex drive. These changes can even cause erectile dysfunction. In addition, the APA notes that a stressed man may produce less sperm, which can make it more difficult for couples that are trying to conceive.
How Stress Affects Men
A stressed man is likely to experience stress differently than a stressed woman. Studies suggest that biological and developmental differences between the two genders may lead to differences in the way men and women respond to stress.
There have been several studies that report different physical changes in stressed men versus stressed women. These differing responses include:
- The amygdala, which detects threats, hyperactivates in men when they are stressed, but not in women.
- Women are more likely than men to ruminate on the way they responded to stress.
- Women are more likely to "tend and befriend" in response to stress, while men are more likely to have a "fight or flight" response, which can cause men to react more aggressively.
- The right prefrontal cortex in men, associated with negative emotion and vigilance, is activated when men are stressed, but not in women.
Stress reactivity is defined as "the capacity or tendency to respond to a stressor." It is measured by evaluating bodily changes, such as heart rate and blood pressure, that occur when a person responds to stress. The NIH has found that men have greater reactivity, which means:
- Men are more likely to have a physical response to stress than women.
- Cortisol, the stress hormone, has quicker feedback to the brain in men, which means they experience it more instantly.
- Men not only perceive stress sooner than women, but they also respond to stress sooner.
- Men perceive sociality, relationships, and intimacy differently than women, which affects the ways they respond to these common stressors.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Men's Health, men often experience behavior changes when they are stressed. When a man is stressed, he may:
- Belittle his accomplishments
- Engage in more conflict
- Experience a lack of self-worth
- Overextend themselves with work obligations
What to Do When a Man is Stressed
It can be difficult to try and manage your own personal feelings when you are near someone else who is experiencing high levels of stress-whether that person is a man or a woman. The situation may make you feel overwhelmed and increase your own stress levels. There are ways to respond when a man is stressed that may help reduce conflicts in your relationship.
Skip the Self-Blame
It may be easier for you to notice when a man in your life is stressed than for them to notice and be forthcoming with that vulnerable information about themselves. It's important to remember that you are most likely not the cause of stress in their life and that their stress is probably just spilling over from something else that happened during their day, such as work or finances. It can be challenging, but try to not take their reactions to stress personally.
Communicate and Express
When a man is stressed, they can become angry, start to yell, or isolate themselves from others. If you notice these behaviors, or any others that affect the way you are feeling, bring the behavior to his attention. Your loved one may not even know that they have been acting differently since their mind has been focused on the cause of his stress. Express how you feel as a result of his actions and listen to his response.
Validate His Feelings
Know that the stressed man in your life may not have noticed that his stress has started to spill over into your relationship. Ask them about how they have been feeling. They may find it difficult to express or share their emotions, and that's okay. Validate how they're feeling, and ask if there is anything you can do to help.
Take a Break
After a discussion, it may be beneficial to give yourselves some space from the situation. For instance, you might take a walk to get some air or work in a different room for a bit to help both of you take a break from the stressful environment. This reprieve doesn't have to last long. But it should give you both time to reset. You may also find it beneficial to set boundaries to look after your own mental health.
Establish a Routine
In a publication for Harvard Health, Dr. Kerry Ressler suggests "having a routine is good for development and health." Dr. Ressler notes that establishing a routine helps people feel like they have a better sense of control over their environment. This sense of control can help put your loved one at ease and makes their day seem easier to tackle. When a man in your life is stressed, you can encourage them to set a daily routine. You may even include quality time as a part of it to help strengthen your bond.
Harvard Health suggests that getting a good night's sleep can help reduce the effects of stress. There are many ways to improve sleeping habits when a man is stressed, such as going to bed and waking up at about the same time each day, avoiding caffeine after the morning, and promoting a relaxing sleep environment. Much like establishing a daytime routine, establishing a nighttime routine can also have a positive impact. Some ways to create a relaxing sleep environment may include:
- Making sure the bed is made
- Finding pillows or blankets that are comfortable
- Having the TV off while you sleep or get ready for bed
You may notice that the stressed man in your life is experiencing a heavy workload that triggers his stress. Dr. Ressler encourages those experiencing stress from work to get organized by utilizing to-do lists. Knowing what needs to be accomplished in a day/week can help people better manage their time, which can reduce their stress. You may be able to help your loved one by getting him a daily planner or suggesting they look for desk organizers to help keep everything in place.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise has been found to reduce the effects of stress. The ADAA notes that physical activity can reduce fatigue, increase alertness, and improve overall cognitive function that may be negatively affected by stress. They also state that participating in aerobic exercise helps improve sleep and boost overall mood. Some ways for you and the man in your life to exercise together include:
- Talking walks around the neighborhood
- Trying yoga
Stress can feel overwhelming at times and a man (or a woman) that is stressed may benefit from reaching out for help. There are many different ways for a person experiencing high levels of stress to find help through support groups or with a mental health professional. You can also look for therapy and support groups that are designed to counsel both of you as a couple. Some ways to seek help include:
- Attending marriage and family therapy
- Exploring art therapy
- Seeking a mental health counselor
It can feel difficult to be in a situation where a man in your life is overwhelmed with stress, especially when you care about him and want to be able to help. There are many ways for you to help when a man is experiencing stress that may also be beneficial for yourself, such as working on establishing routines and getting a good night's sleep.
Stress can cause behavior changes in your loved one that can negatively affect you if you take on their stress as well. Having a conversation with the stressed man in your life will help remind him that your feeling and stress levels are important, too, and that you can work together to find ways to manage the situation with kindness and love.