When Bo Burnham was asked why he chose to focus on a teen girl coping with anxiety for his directorial debut, the comedian explained that, “I was having panic attacks on stage…And I felt like, man, my anxiety is so grounded in this specific circumstance of my life. Who is going to understand what I’m going through… And afterwards, kids, 14, 13-year-old girls would come up to me and say, ‘I know exactly what you’re going through; I’m going through it, too.’”
The movie Eighth Grade was heartfelt and well-received, but Burnham’s choice of a main character was revealing. Although women may be more likely to suffer from anxiety than men, they are also more likely to seek treatment. They’re more likely to have a support system and more open to discussing the condition–which means many men are silently suffering. They don’t have to. Anxiety can lead to serious health issues. So if you or a loved one are a man coping with anxiety what should you know?
Anxiety skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Job losses, disruption to daily routine, and the pessimistic sense that it may never end have all contributed to rising rates of anxiety. For teen girls like the protagonist of Eighth Grade, the last 10 years have seen double-digit increases in the rate of anxiety. The rise has been linked to a similar spike in social media usage and always-available smartphones. Yet men are also seeing increases.
Analyzing data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), researchers discovered that self-reported anxiety among men had increased from 4.22% in 2008 to 5.35% in 2018. This reflects any anxiety over the previous month. However, as the most common mental illness in America, anxiety disorders affect over 18% of the adult population––some 40 million adults. Men and women experience social anxiety at similar rates but women are twice as likely to report symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or Panic Disorder (PD). Some of that may be due to general reluctance on the part of men to acknowledge they have the disorder. Despite being highly treatable, just over one-third of people with anxiety ever seek treatment.
Although anxiety and stress are often confused, remember that anxiety is generally a reaction to stress, especially stress that is long lasting. However, anxiety can be triggered by just about anything. Men experiencing anxiety or panic attacks are more likely to behave aggressively, even violently. They may also abuse alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.
Help is Available
If you’ve been experiencing headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and/or gastrointestinal issues, you’re likely enduring some of the physical symptoms connected to anxiety. Left untreated, anxiety can lead to some serious health problems along with both a reduced quality of life and a reduced lifespan. Your anxiety may mean constant worry about money or job loss or more general anxiety such as a feeling of impending doom. While most of us experience some anxiety from time to time, if it’s persistent and affecting your quality of life, there are steps you can take.
Mindfulness and making a daily gratitude list are often recommended. Living in the present and being grateful for what you have (rather than what you don’t) has proven benefits. So do breathing exercises and meditation. Watch your alcohol intake, eat healthy meals loaded with vegetables, and exercise daily.
However, you may also benefit from speaking with a professional. One proven approach to treating anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This is often described as a “short-term, skills-focused treatment aimed at altering maladaptive emotional responses by changing the patient’s thoughts, behaviors, or both.” There are also medications that can help. What you don’t want to do is “tough it out.” Seeking treatment doesn’t make you less of a man. In fact, the life you save may be your own.
Written by John Bankston
- Speaking of Psychology: Anxiety and teen girls
- Trends in anxiety among adults in the United States, 2008–2018: Rapid increases among young adults
- Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA
- Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: an update on the empirical evidence