When it comes to dealing with stress, men and women can have quite different strategies. For a lot of men, the default position is to internalize stress and hide it from others. Women can do this, too, of course. But it appears that men have a propensity for this way of coping with difficult situations. This is due to the unhealthy stereotypes and norms associated with masculinity. It will be helpful to delve into the reasons why men tend to internalize stress, emphasize the risks involved, and offer some tips for men on how to better cope when times get tough.
Why Men Internalize Stress
Men have been socialized (from a young age and amongst their peer group) to associate emotional struggle with weakness and poor character as a man. So, when stress arises, they internalize this experience rather than express it to others. To admit that you’re struggling with stress, and perhaps feeling worried, insecure, and overwhelmed, you may fear that this would rob you of your masculine identity.
A lot of men hold firmly onto the belief that a true man can bear any stressful situation in a calm manner. From this point of view, men must resolutely press forward in trying times, dealing with stress completely on their own, never asking for help from others, and not even communicating their internal hardship to others. Indeed, for many men, their masculine identity rests upon having this stoic attitude at all times. Some men may worry that if they show signs of distress and anxiety that male peers may tease them about it or that a current or potential partner would instantly see them as an unattractive wimp.
The Risks of Internalizing Stress
Internalizing stress entails all sorts of problems for men. When you internalize stress, it stays bottled up but it doesn’t go away. Without a healthy outlet, stress accumulates, increasing the risk of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Also, when men don’t open up about feelings of overwhelming stress, their stress can manifest in other, more damaging ways.
When you internalize stress and refuse to express it, that stress can make you more prone to irritability, anger, aggression, and emotional outbursts. If a family member or partner has to face these sorts of reactions, it is likely that they will respond negatively to you. This unhealthy way of expressing stress can, over time, cause major issues at work, in the family, among friends, and in romantic relationships. Internalizing stress could even lead to a partner leaving you. After all, no one should be expected to bear the brunt of those strong reactions.
Tips on Coping With Stress
In order to maintain healthy relationships with others and protect your well-being, it’s vital to find productive ways of dealing with stress. Here are some tips on coping when things start to feel overwhelming.
- Talk about it. Find someone you can trust who can listen to your struggles in a non-judgemental way. This could be a family member, a close friend, or a mental health professional. As a man in a relationship, there’s also no shame in opening up to your partner about your stress. A loving partner will be there to listen and will show empathy towards you.
- Focus on strenuous physical activity. Exercise is one of the most effective ways of reducing your stress levels. As a man, you may feel uneasy about opening up about your stress. If that’s the case, it’s crucial to find other ways of decompressing. By making a trip to the gym a part of your routine, you can manage stress and approach situations and other people with a much calmer mindset.
- Find practical solutions. For a lot of men, it’s important to solve internal problems by getting things done. This shouldn’t be the sole method of dealing with emotional pain (and sometimes it’s not always the best initial thing to do), but practical solutions are sometimes necessary. When it comes to stress, many of the contributing factors are external. There may be issues with one’s finances or job-related stresses. None of these problems, however, are permanent. By creating a plan on how to resolve them (and not being afraid to ask for guidance or help), you can pursue a way of living that prioritizes your mental health.
- Practise meditation. When you internalize stress, there can be a danger of not recognizing how much emotional pain you’re actually experiencing. As a man, you may tell yourself to suck it up and get on with it. But this kind of attitude stops you from recognizing a problem when it’s there. It can also prevent you from showing compassion towards yourself. Certain meditation techniques do the opposite, however. Mindfulness meditation, for example, allows you to notice stress (how it manifests in your mind and body), accept it, and stop it from getting out-of-control. Meanwhile, loving-kindness meditation can help you show kindness towards yourself. This will reduce your stress levels and can motivate you to prioritize your mental health.
Standards of masculinity may still encourage men today to internalize their stress. This is why it’s important for men, from all walks of life, to challenge these expectations and set an example on how to deal with stress in a healthy way and achieve greater happiness as a result.