4 min|Rhiannon Lockhart

How Stress Affects Men's Health Differently

Mind Health

Stress affects us all, whether or not we like to admit it. We run businesses, have families, work multiple jobs, manage relationship stress and finances, we live through a pandemic. Stress is a major factor in many of our patients’ lives and conditions, and can affect health conditions long-term.

While stress impacts both genders, males tend to seek less help for their stress or have lower perceived levels of stress. (1) In fact, men also react differently to stress than females. When under stress, men tend toward the common “fight or flight” response that we hear about, while women often “tend and befriend”, meaning they reach out to friends and family or focus on nurturing to manage their stress. (2)

In fact, I see the effects of men’s perceived “low-stress” life in practice often. The business owner who “doesn’t feel stressed”, eats extremely well, but has major gut health issues. The busy dad who is juggling work, his diet, and three teenage daughters but can’t seem to lose weight.

Benefits of Stress

The media has painted stress to be evil, when its root is actually quite beneficial to our body. Back when humans were hunter-gatherers, our stress response kept us from being prey by helping us make quick decisions and sending energy to our extremities to flee or fight.

Cortisol, which many people refer to as our “stress hormone”, also provides an anti-inflammatory response to help us heal from injury, and balances blood sugar, which was useful if we needed to run in a state of starvation.

Downside of Stress

We’re not fighting off bears while trying to decipher which berries are food vs. poison in the 21st century. That means the beneficial acute stress response we previously experienced, looks much different in today’s society.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian’s self-rated mental health levels have declined in the last two years as a result of the pandemic. That’s not to say our stress was not high pre-pandemic, it may have just been perceived differently.

Our everyday stressors may include:

  • Finances

  • Family issues

  • Illness

  • Parenting

  • Work pressure or an unsatisfying work life

  • Poor work/life balance

  • Physical pain or injury

  • High caffeine intake

  • High alcohol intake

  • Poor diet, high-sugar diet, food sensitivities

  • Social media

  • Traffic or long commutes

  • Lack of physical activity

With so much stress in our everyday lives, we tend to experience higher levels of chronic inflammation. This increases our risk for illness, both short-term and chronic.

In men, stress can have a detrimental impact including prostate cancer, (3) male infertility, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, chronic pain, (4) anxiety and depression, and impaired sexual health.

Managing Stress

The biggest takeaway here: things need to change. If you are experiencing chronic stress, this means some area of your life needs additional support, and it might take a team to help you decide what needs to be done.

The second biggest takeaway: what you do to manage the stress, shouldn’t add additional stress! If you have been told to meditate, when your schedule barely allows you a bathroom break, we need to try something else.

Here are a few areas to consider altering if you experience chronic stress:

1. Nutrition

  • Don’t skip breakfast if you are dealing with high levels of stress (5)

  • Have your coffee after you’ve eaten something

  • Include at least 20g of protein at each meal

2. Lifestyle factors

  • Love HIIT workouts or long-distance running? Try to lower the intensity or distance and increase weights. Alternate to include some restorative exercises too.

  • Learn boundaries and how to say “no”. This one is always challenging. Work with someone like a counsellor to help you.

  • Talk it out. Letting out your frustration can help to make it feel more manageable.

  • Reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors (hormone chemicals) that can increase inflammation and stress in the body. These include cleaning products, body sprays, deodorants, and hair gels.

  • Consider your career. Are you exposed to heavy metals or pollutants on a regular basis?

3. Testing

If you’re concerned that your stress levels are impacting other areas of your life, you may want to consider testing to ensure we get to the root of the problem as quickly as possible.

Work with your Naturopathic Doctor to determine if testing like blood work or a DUTCH test might be the most applicable for you.

4. Getting support

It’s important to work with others outside of your friends or family to get to the root of your stress. Working with a counsellor online makes this more accessible. Ensure you provide your practitioners insight into your stress levels to help them better support you on your healing journey.

  1. https://www.apa.org/news/press...

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p...

  3. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1236361

  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.go...

  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.go...

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