The next topic on our whistle stop tour of Men’s Health is stress.

There has been a lot of media coverage recently about the health implications of living with ‘chronic stress’

Some of the negative effects of stress, for example, disrupted sleep, headaches, poor memory and irritability are more obvious than others such as increase risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity.

The physical symptoms mentioned above can be experienced by those struggling with an acutely stressful situation, for example a looming exam or approaching deadline and in those living with chronic stress such as ongoing financial problems, caring for a sick relative etc.

These symptoms are due to a rise in the stress hormone cortisol. 

In the short term, aside from the headaches, sleep disturbance, irritable digestive symptoms there is no major issue in terms of long term chronic illness but, if the situation does not resolve fairly quickly or if you move from one stressful situation to another, you are increase risk of developing the conditions associated with sustained elevation of cortisol levels, including those mentioned above.

It can be difficult to know when you are suffering from stress as it can creep up on you slowly and signs and symptoms can appear gradually without you noticing them. 

Some of the symptoms to look out for are:

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Other mental or emotional health problems

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds or flu

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

There is evidence to support the fact that chronic stress is bad for our health. 

Some of the  problems associated with sustained elevation of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ include:

A UK wide survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation showed

 67% of UK adult men have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

29% of adult men said they had experienced suicidal feelings as a result of stress

13% of adult men said they had self-harmed as a result of stress.

The study was commissioned from YouGov to launch Mental Health Awareness Week which has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 2001. The study is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive stress survey ever carried out across the UK with 4,619 people surveyed.

For more information see Stress: are we coping?

According to the widely validated Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, these are the top ten stressful life events for adults that can contribute to illness:

1 Death of a spouse

2 Divorce

3 Marriage separation

4 Imprisonment

5 Death of a close family member

6 Injury or illness

7 Marriage

8 Job loss

9 Marriage reconciliation

10 Retirement

Some of the common causes I see as a GP include work stress (both in terms of work load and stressful work environment including ‘bullying’), being a caregiver, losing a loved one, being unemployed, financial strain and social isolation. 

So, we know that stress can cause physical and mental health problems both acutely and in the long term. 

We have also established that stress in a common problem.

So, what can we do about it?

  1. Ride it out and capitalise on the benefits. If the stressful situation you are in is sure to be short term only, and by that I mean a few days or weeks you could argue that increased levels of cortisol can help you to ‘bring your A game’. For example, if you have an important presentation to give to a big client or a speech to give at a grand event it may be that short term stress can help get you in flight or fight mode and can help you in your performance. More often the not, there is not an isolated event causing the stress and we need to look at putting some work into actively dealing with stress.
  2. Take steps to manage stress and therefore reduce the levels of cortisol and avoid the long term health risks of chronically elevated cortisol levels. 

There are may things you can try and many activities you can build into your daily routine in order to better manage stress in your life.

Get moving. ??‍♀️??‍♂️⛹?‍♀️

Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Studies have shown that being active in a retailer basis can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress.

Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running and swimming are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move). It might be worth trying a new sport. Boxing and weight lifting involve similar types of rhythmic movements and there is nothing more satisfying than either moving a heavy weight around or taking out some frustration on the pads or bag. These are my 2 go to exercises when I am feeling stressed. 

Pain and Gain

Connect to others. ??????‍??‍???‍?????The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger a hormone calm oxytocin that can help to relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure. 

Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. 

So, spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. 

If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections. There are lots of ways to do this. Why not take up a new hobby? You could try going to the gym, going hillwalking or setting up a weekly game of five asides. If your stress levels are at the point where you are feeling anxious or down, there are lots of mixed sex and men only groups up and down the country that offer weekly meetings that you can go along to to connect to other who are in the same situation. 

I’d be surprised if you were the only guy among your social group who has ever struggled with stress so I would urge you to try to speak to someone about how you are feeling and start sharing your life experiences. 

Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to music make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee or the fresh air when you are outdoors? Or maybe petting an animal or doing spending practical with your hands works well to give you a sense of calm. 

It’s difficult to know how much benefit of this technique is down to hormone changes and how much is down to distraction alone, bit either way we know engaging your senses can help manage the negative effects of stress. 

Learn to relax. ??‍♂️???✏️?

You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. Several small studies in animals and human have shown increased levels of ‘relaxing’ or ‘anti anxiety’ hormones including serotonin, dopamine and GABA but further studies are needed to build a significant evidence base. 

There is enough date to suggest that when practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure. 

You might think you need to spend years learning how to practice yoga, meditation or mindfulness. You may think you need to go to a class to do it or spend hours at a time sitting on the floor to get any benefit. Many of my patients also say they feel yoga and meditation are not particularly ‘masculine’ activities and this alone can put them off trying to incorporate these activities into their lives. 

I’m happy to say that I see more and more men having a go at adding 5-10 minutes of mindfulness, meditation or yoga into their daily routines. 

For me, it’s as simple as taking a ten minute walk outside with no distraction and actually taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the environment, or spending five minutes stretching before I start the morning routine of getting us all up and out the house, or doing a bit of colouring in with the kids. Give it a go.

Eat a healthy diet. The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.


Ensure you are getting enough good quality sleep. ?

Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleepso you feel less stressed.

Studies have shown that small changes such as  reducing blue light (TV, phone, I pad and computer screens)  for the hour or so before bed, reducing caffeine after lunch, having a cool, dark room which is only used for sleeping and nothing else can aid sleep. 

There is lots more helpful information regarding improving sleep in one of our previous blogs if you need a bit more help with this. 

I’ve mentioned a good few ideas above but really the best thing to do is have a think about what gives you a sense of space and joy in your life and try to prioritise time in your week doing those things. If you can’t think of many thing, then why not try something new? Laura. 


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