You’re no doubt well aware of the fact that stress isn’t good for you. Unfortunately, stress doesn’t just impact your mindset—it can impact you physically as well. “Stress can wreak havoc on a person’s body,” women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF. “It can affect many different body systems and do damage if a person is under chronic stress.” Chronic stress can even increase your cancer risk by weakening your immune system and leaving you prone to a range of diseases, the MD Anderson Cancer Center says.
If that doesn’t convince you that you need to try to chill out more on a regular basis, this might: Stress can have a big impact on your sex life, too. “Stress has the potential to impact us physically, emotionally, and relationally,” Rachel Needle, Psy.D., a sex therapist and licensed psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida, tells SELF.
Stress’ attack on your libido is innate, licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., tells SELF. “During times of stress, we need to survive, not procreate,” she says. Stress increases your body’s most important functions for survival, like blood flow and increased heart rate, while diminishing non-essential functions, like sex.
And, unfortunately, stress can attack your sex life on many levels. One of the biggest is via hormones. Chronic stress can cause your body to produce too much of the hormone cortisol, which can lower your libido, Wider says. That can also throw your menstrual cycle out of whack, which likely won’t put you in the mood, either. Stress even makes it harder to orgasm and can prevent a person from climaxing at all, Wider says.
The very act of being frazzled can take a direct hit on your sex life. “Your biggest sex organ is your brain,” Needle says. “If you have a ‘busy mind’ and are distracted during sex, it’s going to be harder to focus on your arousal, the pleasurable sensations, or orgasm.”
Stress can also impact your sex life indirectly. “The hormones produced when an individual is stressed can impact metabolism, which can in turn lead to ,” Needle explains. “When you experience changes in your body, or don’t feel good about your body, you might be less likely to want to engage in sexual activity.”
Chronic stress may lead to depression and anxiety, and both conditions can get in the way of a healthy sex life. “Some people who feel stressed complain that they aren’t in the mood to have sex at all,” Wider says. And, if you tend to drink more when you’re stressed, you can experience decreased vaginal lubrication to boot, Needle says.
Luckily, you can do something about this issue. Having a healthy outlet for your stress, like yoga, exercise, getting a massage, and even taking a bath can help, Needle says. “Make time for self-care,” she says. And, while some stress is normal, if you can pinpoint big stressors in your life, it’s a good idea to do what you can to minimize them or eliminate them altogether, if possible.
Clark points out that being intimate with your partner actually can help reduce stress, so it’s a good idea to try to prioritize some kind of couple time during the day (you’re often exhausted at the end of the day, she notes). “The produced from sex are natural defenses against stress—closeness, attachment, and feelings of calm—so making time and space for physical intimacy isn’t at all fruitless, even if stress levels are high,” she says.
If you’ve done all you can to get a handle on your stress but it’s still affecting your life, don’t be ashamed to seek out help from a doctor or mental health counselor—the results can change your life in a very positive way.
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- How does stress affect sexual desire?
- 6 Ways Stress Affects Men’s Health
- 4. Stress makes men eat their feelings.
- 5. Stress is bad for your heart.
- 6. Stress can lead to belly fat — and type 2 diabetes.
- Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline
- Not sure what to do next?
- How Men Experience Stress And The Signs We Cannot Ignore
- What is Stress?
- What are the common triggers of stress in men?
- What are the common signs of stress to look out for?
- The struggles of stress
How does stress affect sexual desire?
Stress is perhaps the number one culprit in low sexual desire. We’re all running around with more things to do than there are hours in the day, leaving ourselves feeling exhausted and often frustrated. Too much stress often saps away a person’s libido by affecting hormones and mood and by interfering with the quality time that helps a couple stay connected.
One of the keys to boosting libido is to have a more balanced life — in all ways. It’s not just the big stresses, such as financial worries or losing a loved one, that contribute to low desire. It’s also the small, daily stresses. Running late, trying to fit too much into a day, not eating right, and constantly bickering with your partner all can affect your sexual energy. Simple changes can make a big difference: You should get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and manage your time smartly. If you can restructure your daily life to feel more manageable, your sex life and your relationship will benefit — and the effects will increase as you continue a more balanced life.
6 Ways Stress Affects Men’s Health
“Heart disease is known to increase in those with these major stressors. They can also lead to syndromes of anxiety or major depression, and some who suffer such traumatic events turn to behaviors that exacerbate the problem, such as substance abuse, physical inactivity, and poor dieting. Suicidal ideations — the thought or plan to commit suicide — can also arise from these events. Moreover, depression puts men at risk for heart attacks.”
4. Stress makes men eat their feelings.
Like women, high stress levels can negatively affect a man’s lifestyle and behavior choices, too. For example, a U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that people with high-stress jobs who delay regular meals end up eating more when they do eat, and the longer the gap between meals, the more extra calories consumed.
“There are numerous behavioral issues such as skipping meals, getting less sleep, and eating unhealthy foods, that may be a direct or indirect result of stress,” Rego says. “These can often interact with and contribute to the medical impact of stress, which can include increased blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and increased vulnerability to infections.”
5. Stress is bad for your heart.
A recent review of studies on stress and heart health published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that high stress can raise the risk for coronary heart disease. Alan Christianson, NMD, a naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, Ariz., says that the effects of stress can actually manifest themselves physically in your body.
“Stress creates the inflammation that causes small cholesterol particles to stick to the blood vessels,” he says.
6. Stress can lead to belly fat — and type 2 diabetes.
Beyond poor diet choices, another end result of stress is packing on more pounds along your midsection, thanks to the stress hormone cortisol. Plus, elevated stress can also cause a rise in insulin, the suppression of certain hormones, and belly fat, which is a major risk factor for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
“In addition, stress blocks the uptake of protein by muscle tissue, which leads to a loss of muscle mass,” Dr. Christianson explains. If you’re living a high-wire act when it comes to stress, take the time to explore relaxation techniques to protect yourself, body and mind.
- The language of stress is largely borrowed from engineering in which we talk of stress, strain, tolerance, resilience, breaking points, flexibility, elasticity, etc. of materials.
- Broadly speaking stress can be experienced in two ways, physically and psychologically, but the two are interrelated. For example, the psychologists Janice Keicolt-Glaser has demonstrated how chronic stress leads to decreased immune function, increased risk of infection and decreased the ability to fight infection or repair tissue.
- Stress is a protector in that it gives us a mechanism for dealing with threats. We have the ability to confront threats or avoid them; the so-called “fight or flight” mechanism.
- Stress can be good as well as bad. Without some stress, we would not get the adrenaline up to win races, solve problems, take exams and make important changes.
- Stress, particularly long-term stress, can be a factor in the onset or worsening of ill health and a shortened lifespan.
- Stress management is essential to wellbeing and something we should practice every day.
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However, too much stress can affect mental and physical health, particularly if it becomes chronic (ongoing) or overwhelming. Stress can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behaviour.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of stress, it’s best to see your doctor as it can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
The symptoms of stress and changes with your body that you may notice include:
- other aches and pains
- sleep disturbance
- upset stomach, diarrhoea
- high blood pressure
- weakened immune system
- muscle tension
- change in sex drive (male or female)
The symptoms of stress affecting your mind, thoughts and feelings include:
- anxiety, worry
- anger, irritability
- depression or sadness
- feeling overwhelmed and out of control
- feeling restless
- feeling moody, tearful
- difficulty concentrating
- low self-esteem, lack of confidence
The symptoms of stress that impact your behaviour include:
- overeating or undereating
- outbursts of anger
- relationship problems
- alcohol, smoking or drug abuse
- avoiding people
Chronic and severe stress can increase the risk of developing depression, anxiety, substance abuse or a range of other mental disorders. If you are concerned you may have a mental health issue, visit a health professional.
Not sure what to do next?
If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage mental health issues, try healthdirect’s Symptom Checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
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:
- damage your immune system and heart
- increase your chances of serious health problems
- reduce life-expectancy
- damage your sex life.
Why does understanding stress matter?
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.
What causes stress?
Here are some of the common causes of stress today. Which of them push your buttons?
- Bereavement and other endings including moving house, splitting up with a partner, changing job or children leaving the family home
- Your health and mood
- Partners and friends (and their absence – loneliness)
- Family breakdown
- Sex and sexuality
- Drink and drugs
- Being on the receiving end of violence or abuse (online as well as in real life).
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.
What are the warning signs?
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:
- Eating more or less than normal
- Mood swings
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling tense or anxious
- Not sleeping properly (or wanting to sleep all the time)
- Poor memory or forgetfulness
- Excessive drinking and/or drug use.
- Feeling really tired and lacking in energy
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Behaving out of character
- Finding it hard to concentrate and struggling at work
- Losing interest in things you usually enjoy
- Having unusual experiences, like seeing or hearing things that others don’t.
- There may be physical signs too like headaches, irritable bowel syndrome or aches and pains.
How do I talk about how I’m feeling?
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.)
How do I talk to a mate who’s having problems?
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:
- Keep it real: take it seriously but don’t make it a big deal.
- Ask ‘How’s it going?’.
- Keep in touch more: text or email.
- Doing stuff is as good as a chat: let your mate see that you know he’s still the same person.
- Talk. Swap stories: don’t ignore the difficult stuff if it comes up – you don’t need to solve it or be an expert, you just need ears.
- Be there: ask if you can do anything.
Should I see a GP?
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.
Stress Management Supplements
The stress response uses up B vitamins, vitamin C and antioxidants, as well as magnesium, which can lead to deficiency, explains Dr Arroll – ensuring your levels are topped up is an absolute must, since your immune system will already be taking a battering.
It’s called ‘the second brain’ for a reason. External stress has been shown to be as harmful to gut health as junk food in a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Arm your gut bugs with health-boosting probiotics to help stave off stress symptoms.
Early studies seem to support CBD oil’s status as a bona-fide stress-buster, and the anecdotal evidence is overwhelmingly positive. If you’re taking any medication, check for interactions (or speak to your GP) before you dabble.
Lavender oil capsules
Don’t sniff at the benefits of lavender oil. In a study published in the journal Phytomedicine, lavender oil was shown to be just as effective as the pharmaceutical anti-anxiety drug lorazepam.
A common herbal alternative to anti-anxiety medication, valerian is a plant with mild sedative properties. Again, check for interactions or speak to your GP if you’re taking medication.
Struggling to get your head down? Chamomile tea contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to receptors in your brain that promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia.
Part of the mint family, lemon balm is often touted as a stress-soothing, mood-boosting essential oil. A study by the University of Northumbria found that lemon balm eased the negative mood effects of laboratory-induced psychological stress.
Adaptogens help to relieve stress symptoms by controlling the release of cortisol and adrenaline from the adrenal glands. As biological response modifiers (BRMs) adaptogens bolster your immune system and instruct your body to adapt to stressors. Ashwagandha, ginseng, reishi, and rhodiola are ones to look out for.
How Men Experience Stress And The Signs We Cannot Ignore
You’re planning to go away this weekend to have some fun and relaxation with your buddies on the golf course. You’ve been looking forward to this ‘guys trip,’ but on the horizon you can only see the monumental work deadlines and a ton of work still to do. Your shoulder muscles tense up, you find yourself biting at your fingernails as you sit at your desk. Your partner has just texted to let you know that one of your kids is having issues at school and the school principal has requested a family meeting. Thoughts keep racing around in your head, as pangs of guilt and helplessness creep in reminding you that you also need to check in on your parents as your father is showing signs of decline.
As you lift your head from your computer to scan the office, you notice people around are starting to avoid you because you only have negative things to say about the latest project. THIS IS STRESS. And rest assured, many of us have been there!
We know that stress is part of the human condition, but we often turn a blind eye to the devastating effects it can have on our overall health if it’s not managed.
One in four Canadians cites stress as the reason for leaving their job, while 73 percent of all working adults aged 20 to 64 report at least some level of stress.
According to Statistics Canada, 23 percent of people over the age of 15 report that most days are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful, and that number rises to 30 percent among the 35 to 54 age group.
It’s time we start to look at men’s mental health through a real lens. We know that 1 in 5 men will have a mental health problem. The reality is that one guy from a 5-a-side soccer team is struggling and that one of the guys you meet weekly to jam with on band night is suffering. Let’s consider that approximately four guys from a hockey roster are wrestling with a mental health problem. Now that’s what I call a reality lens!
To succeed in addressing the causes of men’s stress and mental health concerns, we need to equip men (and boys) to monitor their stress sources and embrace consistent, supportive mental health care.
“Stress is the trash of modern life — we all generate it, but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” — Danzae Pace
What is Stress?
Stress is the response of your body and mind to demands being placed on you. When you feel threatened, your brain releases chemicals that send alarm signals throughout your body to prepare you to take action. In our modern world “threats” like heavy workloads or family issues are not situations we can easily outrun or fight with a spear.
When we don’t use healthy ways to deal with stress, modern life means it can cause more harm than protect our primitive survival instinct.
What are the common triggers of stress in men?
The Physical environment surrounding you can raise your stress levels. Noisy environments, feeling a sense of discomfort, or concern for safety can allow stress to creep in.
Major life changes such as going to college, the birth of a baby, a divorce, a career change or a house move can bring a ton of stress your way — even if the event itself is positive.
Work can be a daily source of stress. Work stress is caused by factors such as job dissatisfaction, an exhausting workload, insufficient pay, office politics, and conflicts with your manager or co-workers. Many of us have some experience of work stress. The trick is to manage it properly so it doesn’t consume our life.
Life challenges can cause stress. Financial pressures, unemployment, discrimination or harassment, feelings of isolation, and a lack of social support can all take their toll on your daily quality of life.
Family and relationships are common everyday stressors. Relationship disagreements, unhealthy relationships, rebellious teens, caring for an ill family member or raising a child with special needs can all make stress levels unmanageable.
What are the common signs of stress to look out for?
Stress signals in your BODY
- Muscles feeling tense
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Headaches or stomach aches
- Gastro-intestinal issues such as diarrhea
- Increase in breathing and heart rate
Stress signals in your EMOTIONS
- A change in your usual emotions
- Feelings of worry or confusion
- Feelings of anger or irritability
- A sense of being unable to cope
Stress signals in your THINKING
- Difficulty in concentrating, memory and making decisions
- Feeling like your thoughts are racing
- Losing self-confidence
- Developing a negative attitude towards yourself and your life
Stress signals in your ACTIONS
- Reaching out for alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs to help to cope
- Drinking more coffee or caffeine-laden drinks/foods
- Losing patience with people
- Avoiding stressful situations
- Withdrawing from others
- Fidgeting and signs of nervousness
The struggles of stress
Think about this — how many times have either yourself, friends or colleagues uttered the words to those seated around a pub table: “I’m fine, well I’m not — I’m feeling sh*t, but I’m fine. It’s just a bad year — that’s all.” and then ordered another drink? Sound familiar?
Research shows that men are more likely to use illicit drugs and two times more likely to binge drink than women.
We can readily self-identify the stress but encounter great difficulty in the justification of seeking help. The greatest mental health message we can give to the men and boys in our life is that ‘it’s okay to not be okay,’ in fact, it’s a sign of strength to seek help.
Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love wrote an essay for the online publication The Players’ Tribune about experiencing panic attacks.
“No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside,” he wrote. “Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need.”
Image courtesy of Twitter @kevinlove
When we consider the traditional stereotype of masculinity, it tends to be one that holds notions of “strength,” “robustness,” with possibly the title of “breadwinner” attached. Men can potentially detach emotionally, which leads to situations where they do not feel empowered to share how they are faring emotionally and mentally.
Men can often self-stigmatize resulting in many feeling embarrassed to admit to themselves or others that they have a mental health concern.
This makes it much harder for them to seek help or reach out to their health professionals, friends or family.
We know this needs to change and its time we to send a positive mental health message to boys. Research shows that almost half (49%) of teenage boys in the UK would not feel comfortable talking to their dads about their mental health (including stress, anxiety and depression). When asked why, more than a third said it was because their dad doesn’t talk about his feelings and 31% said they wouldn’t want to burden them.
While stress isn’t a mental health problem in itself, it can often lead to anxiety, depression, self-harm or suicide.