Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Stress

Cloudy skies

Stress can feel like there are storm clouds overhead.

Stress is an unavoidable part of our daily lives. It can motivate us to get things done, but it can also overwhelm us if we don’t know how to manage it. It is said that about 20% of the population will suffer from serious stress issues at some point in their lives. Pressure at work, trouble with relationships, and our own expectations can all lead to increased levels of stress. Chronic stress can lead to disease and therefore it’s important to learn to manage our stress in healthy ways.

Stress can lead to a number of physical problems and in the long term even damage blood vessels, contributing to heart disease, high blood pressure and various other ailments.

Stress can also really affect your thinking and feelings. We have likely all had stressful thoughts and feelings at various times during our lives, but if they persist, they can lead to something more serious like depression and anxiety, which will need professional help.

Below are some examples of thoughts and feelings that might be an indication that stress in your life is becoming unmanageable and that you might need help:

  • You may have persistent thoughts about things going wrong and can even have panic attacks. You may believe you have screwed things up in your life or feel like a failure. You might feel full of doom and gloom about your life and find yourself waiting for the worst to happen.
  • You may often feel unwell and tense.
  • You might feel as if you have no energy for anything. You slow down.
  • You might be more irritable and you may be quick to lose your temper.
  • You’re not able to concentrate like you used to.
  • You might not sleep well or you can’t “switch off”.
  • You may also feel worthless or hopeless. You cry a lot.
  • You find yourself drinking too much or using other substances to cope.
  • You might avoid certain places in case something bad happens. You escape from places when you feel tense. You retreat from life and try to protect yourself against the world.

These things can come on either slowly over time or suddenly after a major life crisis. It can be like a vicious downward cycle that feeds on you – there is a close link between stress, anxiety, panic, depression, poor sleep, and substance abuse. Anxiety and depression are very commonly found together.

Like many things in life, these feelings and conditions can be either mild, moderate or severe. If you feel it is all too much, you need help and you need to talk to someone about it.

Did you know? Although women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, men are 3-4 times more likely to die by suicide.What can be done?

There are many things in general that can be done to defeat or manage stress symptoms.

  • Talking to someone is a great way to help yourself! There is no shame in being vulnerable as this can also help others to reach out to you.
  • Exercise has been demonstrated to reduce the effects of stress and has the spin off that it can make you feel healthier and feel good with the release of all those “feel good” chemicals.
  • Write down a list of stressors in your life. Often the very act of writing down the stressful things can give you a more realistic view and you might see ways to reduce your stress that you hadn’t thought of yet.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol as both can worsen stress and anxiety. Caffeine can increase jitteriness and anxious feelings and alcohol can make you feel depressed. In the long term, alcohol can make you anxious and even lead to panic attacks.
  • Healthy eating and good nutrition has also been shown to be helpful in combating stress, giving the body the energy and nutrients it needs to fight stress effects.
  • Take a “one thing at a time” approach to help you get through the tasks of the day and to stop you from running everything together and going over things again and again.
  • Focus on the positive and try to find at least 5 things each day to be thankful for. Gratitude works in changing the conversation from negative and self-deprecating to positive and grateful.
  • Try yoga and meditation. Maybe it’s time to join a group and change up your life and learn some new things. Research shows that meditation is very useful in helping people cope with stress. People can learn that they are ‘not’ their thoughts and that thinking and self are different. This can help combat negative thoughts.
  • Avoid isolating yourself and think about doing things for other people. Helping others helps us to feel better about ourselves. Join a group of some kind to give you an interest that is different from family and work.
  • Go to a counsellor. There are many well-researched thought and behaviour therapies that can help people re-imagine their lives for the better.
  • Talk to your doctor about your stress if you are having trouble coping. There are ways that your doctor can help with anxiety and depression.

Some people can become so stressed that they may even consider suicide.

If you have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death you need to speak to your doctor and counsellor immediately. I know what you’re thinking: “But I’m a man, Jim, I shouldn’t ask for help.” I’m here to tell you that you can ask for help and that it makes you an even stronger man for doing so. You can call a crisis line and talk to someone there confidentially or seek emergency help by calling 911.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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