5 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
About 1 in 5 men will experience significant anxiety, but the exact number of men going through it is probably much higher.
Anxiety in men can be caused by troubles at work, relationship difficulties, traumatic experiences, health issues and many other life difficulties.
It’s important to know the symptoms of anxiety, treatment options and practical ways you can show support.
It’s widely assumed men experience anxiety less than women. But that’s nowhere near the whole story.
Men are less likely to talk about anxiety or seek help for it, meaning it often goes undiagnosed and unsupported. Men are also more likely to rely on dangerous coping mechanisms, like excessive drinking or drug use.
Around 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some point in life, and the real number is probably much higher.
Nearly half of all men in one UK survey said they’ve experienced anxiety at work so debilitating, it was difficult to function.
And that’s the key to understanding anxiety: it’s more than everyday worry or stress. Anxiety can be a normal, healthy emotional response. You should feel anxious in some situations – if you see a bear on the loose, for example. On the other hand, it becomes a problem if:
Anxiety is there when it doesn’t need to be. For example there’s no threat to your safety or wellbeing.
It’s greater than it should be for the situation you’re in (for example, giving a presentation at work).
Your anxiety is so high you find it difficult to speak or function.
So, let’s take a look at different kinds of anxiety affecting men, some of the signs and symptoms, and what you can do to help.
Anxiety can show up in a number of ways:
Generalised anxiety: where someone is worried about a lot of different things, or no one thing in particular
Social anxiety: where someone gets anxious in social situations
Panic attacks: when someone experiences sudden episodes of acute fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms
Phobias: when someone has a high level of anxiety related to a specific situation or object – for example, spiders or heights
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder): a condition resulting from severe physical or psychological trauma
OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder): a condition characterised by repetitive, unwanted and uncontrolled thoughts and behaviours
Important: anxiety disorders are specific conditions that can only be diagnosed by a qualified professional.
Anxiety can take other forms as well. Two that are common among men are:
Workplace anxiety: this can be fuelled by long hours, demanding expectations and job insecurity. It can be especially hard to deal with because many people are understandably reluctant to discuss it with their managers or co-workers.
Health-related anxiety: according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, this is the ‘preoccupation with the belief that one has, or is in danger of developing, a serious illness’. Health anxiety can be associated with panic disorders and OCD – and of course, the pandemic only worsened it, as many of us spent hours Googling symptoms and wondering whether every scratchy throat was Covid-19.
The causes of anxiety differ from one person to the next, but some of the more common culprits include:
Difficulties at work: in addition to workplace stressors already mentioned, many men struggle with a feeling of imposter syndrome. Or they set impossibly high expectations of how ‘productive’ they should be, or how quickly they should climb the ladder. Even success can become a source of anxiety.
Relationship challenges: difficulties with a spouse, partner or loved one can trigger anxiety.
Traumatic life experiences: for example, a car accident or the death of someone close.
Health issues: such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or hormone decline. (Low testosterone has been linked to anxiety in some men and can increase the levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone.)
How can you tell if someone close to you is experiencing more than a normal amount of anxiety? There are some physical and behavioural signs you can watch for. (Again, use this information to know when to seek help, not to give an armchair diagnosis.)
Sleeplessness and fatigue
Irritability or angry outbursts that are more frequent or severe than normal
Constant, excessive worry, dread, rumination (worst-case scenario-izing) or racing thoughts
Hyper-vigilance (always on the alert for potential threats)
Diminished interest in favourite activities
Avoidance or withdrawal
Problematic anxiety is not something that is cured or magically disappears. But it can be treated. With the right care and support, guys can manage their symptoms, so anxiety doesn’t interfere with the rest of their lives.
Generally, there are three ways to treat anxiety:
From the simple to the more significant, certain changes to your everyday routine can help to reduce anxiety or make it more manageable:
Getting plenty of rest and relaxation (including enough sleep)
Eating healthy foods
Taking up a hobby
Practising meditation or breathing exercises
Writing or journaling as a daily reflective exercise
Limiting the use of addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine
Therapy can help identify some of the causes of anxiety and offer strategies for managing it. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the more common (and effective) methods for treating anxiety. It involves:
Identifying specific patterns of thinking or behaviour behind anxiety
Equipping you with better ways of coping
Providing calming strategies to use when anxiety strikes
Not everyone needs medication to treat anxiety, but it can be helpful in some cases. There are different types of medications, including some taken daily and others taken during moments of high anxiety.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, talk to a doctor about whether medication should be part of your treatment. Keep in mind, it can take time to find the right medicine – and even then, you should allow a couple weeks for it to have an effect.
Many men are brought up not to ask for help with anxiety. It may be up to you to say something if you see a difference in a loved one’s behaviour or personality. Here are some things to keep in mind when you do:
Be sure to tell them you have their back, no matter what
Be specific (and judgement -free) when you mention changes you’ve noticed
Ask open-ended questions that invite more than a one-word response
If they don’t want to talk, don’t push. Let them know you’re here to listen and support whenever they’re ready.
It’s also important to keep showing up. Don’t make every interaction about their anxiety. Instead, engage in relaxing downtime or self-care activities together. It can be as simple as grabbing coffee or going for a run.
Gently encourage them to practise self-care on a daily basis: getting outside, staying active, eating well, getting enough sleep, and so on. You can also encourage them to talk to a counsellor or therapist about their anxiety. If that makes them nervous, offer to go with them to appointments.
Don’t avoid them
Don’t minimise what they’re feeling. For example, don’t tell them to ‘snap out of it’ or suggest all they need to do is keep busy.
Don’t diagnose or prescribe solutions – leave that to a professional therapist.
If you are concerned for their immediate safety, contact emergency services.
Remember: with the right care and support, anxiety can be managed. The first step is talking about it more openly.