Effects on the Body
Tension and anxiety takes a unique toll on men, starting with the stress response. In women, stress often activates a “tend and befriend” response, while men tend to respond with a more aggressive “fight or flight” response, leading to different physiological responses in the body.
Fight or flight is an emergency response in the body that focuses on getting energy to the muscles. The response temporarily shuts down the immune system and suppresses the reproductive system. Repeated stress—recurring emergency responses in the body—increases wear and tear and leaves people susceptible to illness.
Major life stressors—including job loss, marital separation, illness, and death of a loved one—all affect men’s anxiety levels. That anxiety can affect sleep, eating habits, and other behavioral habits that may contribute to decline in health. Men under stress are more likely than women to report having been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or heart attack.
Acute stress triggers reduced blood flow to the heart, which can cause the heart to beat irregularly and increase the likelihood of blood clotting. These responses can trigger the development of cardiovascular disease. These symptoms, when experienced over time, can cause damage to the lining of the blood vessels, creating a greater susceptibility to atherosclerosis.
Researchers have studied the effects of stress on glucose levels. Mental stress can raise blood glucose levels in people susceptible to type 2 diabetes. Physical stress, such as illness or injury, also causes higher blood glucose levels for people with type 2 diabetes. Prolonged fight-or-flight responses to stress can be harmful for people with type 2 diabetes. Insulin is not able to allow the immediate energy that the body produces—glucose and fat—into the cells, so glucose piles up in the blood.
Though few of us can control the causes of our stress, we can control how we respond to the symptoms. Here are three research-backed methods for managing stress levels:
- Step Outside
In a recent study, participants who walked in a natural setting reported lower levels of rumination (repetitive negative thoughts) compared with those who walked through a cityscape. When stress hits, head outside for a brisk walk, take a hike, or hop on your bike.
- Take a Vacation
According to a recent survey, people who take annual vacations report better health, less stress, more energy, and better relationships. Rather than thinking of regular vacations as a luxury, think of them instead as essential to your wellbeing.
- Keep a Journal
Writing about your feelings allows you to see your thoughts and experiences more objectively, and to put them into better perspective. A recent study showed that college students who practiced “expressive writing” for two months experienced less depression and stress than those who did nothing.
This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.