Like many emotions, anxiety doesn’t appear in the same way for everyone.
“How anxiety presents may be very different from person to person based on a lot of factors, but it’s definitely the case that in our culture, gender may be a significant factor in how anxiety is processed and expressed,” said Timothy McCurdy, clinical psychologist and director of child and family services at Porter-Starke Services.
Among the many symptoms associated with anxiety are anger, irritability and aggression.
“While this is a way anxiety may present for anyone, regardless of gender, it’s been my experience that traditional gender roles often make it more socially ‘acceptable’ for men to express anger openly and directly,” McCurdy said.
Cultural norms could figure into the way anxiety manifests itself.
“In our culture, men are often taught both explicitly and indirectly that it’s not acceptable to show weakness or vulnerability, and at its root, anxiety is all about feeling threatened or vulnerable,” McCurdy said, “When men who have internalized these messages have reason to feel anxiety, they may be conditioned to defend themselves with shows of ‘strength’ like anger and aggression and ignore their more vulnerable feelings.”
Though men could process anxiety differently than women, there are ways to identify anxious feelings.
“I often encourage people who struggle with anger or irritability to stop and ask themselves, ‘If I’m angry, what am I feeling vulnerable about?’ ” McCurdy said. “Learning to reframe anger as a common and understandable side effect of anxiety may help to identify and address the root of the problem, instead of making problems even worse with aggressive responses.”
According to a 2015 report from the National Center for Health Statistics, about 9% of men experience anxiety or depression daily.
After identifying anxious feelings, there are many steps people can take to address them. Exercise can be an effective way to reduce anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, regular participation in aerobic activity has many benefits, including improving mood and self-esteem while reducing tension.
The ADAA also indicates endorphins created from exercise can help people sleep, which helps reduce stress.
McCurdy also believes regular exercise can relieve symptoms of anxiety.
“In addition, since anxiety is often related to events in the past or the future, practices that encourage staying focused on the present moment, like meditation or other mindfulness practices, are very helpful in addressing anxiety, both in the short and long term,” McCurdy said.
Those with anxiety can find help by turning to loved ones for support.
“Friends and family members should try to be accepting and understanding, and should definitely avoid reinforcing traditional ideas that it’s not OK to show weakness or vulnerability,” McCurdy said. “It takes strength to do anything that’s difficult, so if someone struggles with admitting vulnerability, the ability to do so is a strength of its own and one that anyone should take pride in.”
A 2015 report from the National Center for Health Statistics shows 33% of the men who experience daily anxiety or depression took medication for those feelings, and nearly 26% talked to a mental health professional about the emotions.
“It also takes strength to know when to ask for help, and no one should feel ashamed of doing so,” McCurdy said. “If someone feels they need extra help or support, they shouldn’t hesitate to talk to a doctor or therapist about other treatment options, both medical and non-medical.”