A Guy’s Guide to Dealing With Anxiety

Racing thoughts. Trouble concentrating. Fear of the unknown. Fixating on the worst possible outcomes.

Sound familiar?

If so, you might just be experiencing symptoms of anxiety, a mental health issue that one in five men is affected by, according to Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Anxiety can present in a variety of different intensities; it typically manifests as an overall feeling of uneasiness that can present itself in a slew of different ways.

According to Vladimire Calixte, founder of Therapy For Black Men, anxiety in men can manifest in various physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms, often affecting their overall well-being and relationships.

But what does full-fledged anxiety look like for men and how does it impact one’s life?

“When we hear the word ‘anxiety,’ we typically think about feeling afraid, nervous, or jumpy,” said Dr. Eran Magen, founder of Parenting for Humans and CEO of Early Alert. “While these elements can all be part of how people experience anxiety, it’s important to realize anxiety can also show up in other, more subtle ways.”

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Given that anxiety is not the easiest thing to talk about — particularly amongst men — we’re using this space to review and discuss steps men can take to better identify anxiety’s symptoms and better manage it as they move forward to lead their best lives.

How Anxiety Shows Up in Men

We know anxiety can manifest itself within the body in a multitude of different ways — affecting mental, physical, and emotional health — and because its influence can be so consistent and pervasive, the “normalization” of anxiety within one’s body and mind can make it hard to detect as anxiety.

“Anxiety often manifests as an inability to stay in the present moment, causing us to get stuck in loops of dwelling on the past or catastrophizing about the future,” says Shira Lazar, co-founder of Peace Inside Live. “When this happens, our brain shifts into the sympathetic ‘fight-or-flight’ mode rather than the parasympathetic ‘rest’ mode, making us more reactive, easily triggered, and easily distracted.”

These symptoms, Lazar says, “can lead to poor sleep, digestive issues, and difficulty concentrating. Over time, anxiety can impact our ability to work effectively, enjoy our relationships, and maintain overall happiness. It can also lead to nervous habits such as nail biting, jaw clenching, and chronic pain.”

According to author and crisis counselor Lisa Sugarman, other physical effects of anxiety include increased heart rate and high blood pressure brought on by stress that can turn into hyperventilation or shortness of breath.

“Prolonged stress of emotional pressure can also lead to stomach issues or loss of appetite along with muscle aches, tension, and headaches,” Sugarman says. “It can also cause a disruption in our sleep and can also — in some cases — lead to substance abuse as a way to cope, so there’s a lot more attached to anxiety than meets the eye.”

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And that’s what can make anxiety all the more sinister: Not only does it affect different areas of one’s overall health, it can also lead to seemingly unrelated consequences that stem from men grappling with anxiety without realizing they’re experiencing anxiety.

“In men, anxiety can also show up as anger or aggression, which can look like general agitation or a stormy mood,” Magen says. “But it can also look like explosive reactions to seemingly minor frustrations.”

Now, if you experience any of these symptoms, does it mean you have anxiety? No — and to be clear — an anxiety diagnosis should be achieved by speaking with a therapist or another licensed medical professional.

But assuming you do identify with the symptoms, your identification can be the catalyst for you to put a magnifying glass over the areas of your life where the symptoms are bubbling up. From there, you can conduct a deeper dive of self to better understand the root of what you’re experiencing.

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According to Calixte, the following is a breakdown of the different ways anxiety shows up in men and how it can affect them:

Physical Symptoms

  • Increased Heart Rate: Men may experience a racing heart or palpitations.
  • Sweating: Excessive sweating, particularly in stressful situations.
  • Trembling or Shaking: Noticeable physical tremors or shakes.
  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty breathing or a feeling of being suffocated.
  • Muscle Tension: Persistent muscle aches and stiffness.
  • Fatigue: Constant tiredness or exhaustion, despite adequate rest.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia or restless sleep patterns.
  • Digestive Issues: Stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Emotional Symptoms

  • Excessive Worry: Persistent and uncontrollable worrying about various aspects of life.
  • Restlessness: Feeling on edge, irritable, or easily agitated.
  • Fear and Panic: Experiencing intense fear or panic attacks.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Trouble focusing or maintaining attention.

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Avoidance: Avoiding social situations, work, or activities that trigger anxiety.
  • Controlling Behavior: Attempting to control the environment and routines to reduce unpredictability.
  • Rigid Thinking: Insisting on things being done a certain way to avoid anxiety triggers.
  • Irritability: Quick to anger or frustration, especially when plans are disrupted.
  • Social Withdrawal: Withdrawing from social interactions and relationships.
  • Overcompensation: Overworking or engaging in excessive physical activity to distract from anxious thoughts.

Effects on Personal Well-Being

  • Mental Health: Chronic anxiety can lead to depression, low self-esteem, and a sense of helplessness.
  • Physical Health: Long-term anxiety increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, chronic pain, and weakened immune system.
  • Sleep Quality: Poor sleep exacerbates anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.

Effects on Relationships

  • Communication Issues: Difficulty expressing feelings and fears can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Intimacy Problems: Anxiety can cause sexual dysfunctions such as erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, leading to strained intimate relationships.
  • Isolation: Men may withdraw from partners, friends, and family, leading to loneliness and decreased social support.

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Effects on Work and Productivity

  • Performance: Anxiety can impair concentration, decision-making, and productivity, leading to underperformance at work.
  • Absenteeism: Increased sick days or avoidance of work-related tasks.
  • Job Satisfaction: Chronic anxiety can reduce job satisfaction and motivation.

Most men believe — and are taught by society — that they must be tough no matter what and to not ask for help,” Calixte says. “It’s crucial for men to recognize the symptoms and effects of anxiety, to seek appropriate help, and develop effective coping strategies for managing anxiety and improving quality of life.”

How to Manage Anxiety Effectively

While anxiety isn’t something that can be cured, its effects can be better navigated through therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and daily mindfulness exercises — all of which require a willingness and participation from the individual in order to be effective.

Despite needing a prescription for medication or a referral for a therapist — if it’s determined you have anxiety — there are several free ways to work at better managing it. For many, those ways are simply getting back to the basics of what helps their minds and bodies function properly.

“Getting enough sleep, eating well, staying hydrated, moving your body, and spending time outdoors are vital,” Lazar says. “For me, mindfulness practices like meditation are crucial for returning to the present moment when I feel overwhelmed. Breathing techniques, such as box breathing [breathing for specific timed intervals] have been scientifically proven to shift the brain from a fight-or-flight state to a more restful and calm state, and journaling helps me process my emotions and focus on gratitude, which is proven to create new neural pathways.”

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Managing anxiety is thus more about getting back to safety within the body. How to get there depends on the preferences of the individual, but one thing remains consistent: Anxiety is the body in a dysregulated state with its host searching for stability.

“Anxiety can be managed by addressing root causes or by managing symptoms,” Magen says. “Possible root causes include genetics, unhelpful thinking habits, and exposure to too much stress. Genetics are hard to change, but thinking habits and exposure to stress can be changed.”

Further adding to anxiety’s complexities is that it can create what Magen calls a “self-reinforcing loop.”

“Poor sleep — for example — can make us more emotionally reactive, which can hurt relationships, which can lead to loneliness or fear of loneliness, which can then circle back and hurt our sleep,” he says. “Poor sleep can be managed by improving sleep hygiene — going to sleep at a regular time, avoiding screens and caffeine before bedtime. Constant worrying can be managed through therapy or medication. Anger outbursts can be managed by learning anger-management techniques through classes or therapy. There exists a number of free resources available to help with most aspects of anxiety.”

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If you’re unsure where to start, Magen suggests focusing on the core elements of sleep, exercise, nutrition and socialization.

“Start by doing what you can to get a good amount of sleep, moving vigorously at least a couple of times a week, eating reasonable amounts of food that is mostly unprocessed, drinking mostly water, and connecting with — or at least being near — other people,” he says.

According to Sugarman, the following is a breakdown of the different techniques men can explore to better manage their anxiety:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices like mindfulness and meditation can help reduce anxiety by promoting relaxation and helping individuals stay present.
  • Exercise & Movement: Regular physical activity can reduce anxiety levels by releasing endorphins and improving overall physical health.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake can positively impact anxiety levels.
  • Breathing Exercises: Techniques such as deep breathing or the 4-7-8 breathing method can help calm the nervous system.
  • Medication: In some cases, medication prescribed by a healthcare provider can be effective in managing anxiety.
  • Support Systems: Talking with friends, family, or joining a support group can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Time Management: Effective time management can reduce stress and anxiety by preventing overwhelming situations.
  • Professional Help: Seeking help from a therapist, counselor, or psychologist can provide tailored strategies and support.
  • Limiting Exposure to Stressors: Identifying and reducing exposure to sources of stress, when possible, can help manage anxiety.

“Combining these methods and finding what works best for each individual can significantly improve our ability to manage anxiety when life gets stressful,” Sugarman says.

The key is becoming aware of anxiety symptoms and having the courage to address them. Only then can we begin to normalize the idea of men having anxiety, and thus better treat those affected. The more men who can be vocal on the subject, the more we can collectively manage anxiety and overcome it with less stress on ourselves and those around us.

Normalizing Anxiety in Men

It may come as a real shocker, but the best way to normalize anything is to talk about it regularly. There’s a reason psychopaths repeat lies until they themselves believe them: The more something is discussed, the more it becomes normalized. Normalizing anxiety in men abides by the same principles.

“Social media can be a great place to find community for those who struggle with loneliness,” Della Mathew, executive creative director at 22Squared co-leading the NO PAUSE Project says. “It can be an amazing catalyst for important conversations that could spark healing and change.”

Healing and change that can come from any type of discourse — whether online or in person — by not shying away from the subject of anxiety.

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“Talking about our anxiety helps normalize both the experience of anxiety and the experience of talking about anxiety,” Magen says. “It can be hard to say ‘I’m feeling anxious’ for the first time, but it gets easier. It helps to remember that it doesn’t have to be a big deal — you’re not signing up for a diagnosis, rather you’re simply describing your experience. Just like you might say ‘My stomach’s been feeling funny,’ you could say ‘I’ve been feeling a little anxious these past couple of weeks.’ Most people feel anxious sometimes, and feeling anxious at one point doesn’t mean we’ll be feeling anxious forever — just like having a stomach ache doesn’t mean we’ll have poor digestion forever.”

Just as anxiety can create a negative self-reinforcing loop, talking about anxiety in men can create a positive self-reinforcing loop that can help one man better address and manage his anxiety — and in doing so — encourage other men to do the same.

“We can normalize and destigmatize anxiety by creating safe spaces for open discussions and sharing our experiences,” Lazar says. “Vulnerability is key because, although each of us is unique, our experiences are often more similar than we realize. By sharing and listening, we can see that we are not alone in our struggles.”

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