Men Underestimate Health Consequences of Stress

Posted on June 18th, 2015
Posted in Mental Health

Findings from modern studies indicate that men have a gender-specific risk for stress-related physical ailments, but nevertheless are relatively unlikely to believe that stress can seriously damage their health.

In the U.S., women consistently report a higher level of stress exposure than men. Despite this fact, men have a higher rate of exposure to several stress-related physical illnesses. Modern study findings show that men process stress in ways that differ significantly from women and have increased chances of reacting to stress in a socially harmful fashion. Modern findings also show that men have a tendency to downplay the connection between stress exposure and physical well-being.

Stress and Gender

Study results reported by the American Psychological Association clearly point to a greater degree of self-perceived stress exposure among American women. Compared to their male counterparts, women have a roughly 8 percent higher chance of describing their stress levels as extreme. Women are also more likely to identify an increase in their stress levels over time. In addition, women report a higher rate of exposure to a broad range of specific stress symptoms. Examples of these symptoms include headaches, loss of energy, indigestion or stomach discomfort, a drop or rise in appetite, increased muscle tension, a loss of interest in preferred activities, a “down” or depressed state of mind and an anxious or nervous state of mind. Men and women have roughly equal chances of experiencing stress-related anger or irritability.

Men frequently have stress-coping techniques that differ from those used by women. For example, compared to women, men have higher chances of attempting to manage stress by playing sports, spending time on the Internet, playing video games, working on a hobby, consuming alcohol, listening to music or watching TV for extended amounts of time. Men and women have roughly equal chances of attempting to combat stress by taking naps. Crucially, men are less likely than women to see a mental health professional for stress-related issues. Study findings reported in 2014 in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology indicate that women exposed to acute stress tend to have stress responses that emphasize social connectedness with others. In contrast, men exposed to acute stress tend to psychologically withdraw and de-emphasize the importance of social connections. To a considerable extent, the typical male stress response mirrors the body’s built-in “fight-or-flight” reaction, which requires either confrontation or escape.

Men and Stress-Related Physical Illness

Stress exposure is a potential underlying contributor to a number of serious, chronic health problems, including immune system dysfunction, strokes, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure) and the blood sugar disorder type 2 diabetes. American men experience heart attacks and other manifestations of heart disease approximately three times as often as American women. Men also have a significantly higher level of exposure to hypertension and develop type 2 diabetes almost twice as often as women.

Do Men Underestimate the Connection?

Like most women, most men believe that stress exposure has a significant impact on their health and well-being. However, while 88 percent of women note the potential harms associated with stress, just 78 percent of men make the same connection. In addition, compared to women, men have a substantially higher chance of de-emphasizing the link between stress and physical health problems. Roughly 36 percent of men believe that their stress levels have little or nothing to do with their risks for physical health problems. In contrast, just 26 percent of women believe that there is little or no connection between their stress levels and their physical well-being. (Men are even more likely to discount the connection between stress and their mental health.)

Despite their higher level of exposure to several serious and potentially fatal physical ailments with a stress-related component, men are considerably more likely than women t believe that they take stress management seriously. Just 17 percent of American men identify their stress management efforts as deficient, compared to 25 percent of American women. American men are also less likely to feel unsure about the adequacy of their approach to managing stress. By a 20 percent margin, men have a lower chance of attempting to reduce their stress levels. While 68 percent of women view stress management as a major life priority, just 52 percent of men give stress management the same level of importance.

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