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Men’s Health Matters: Too Many Men Are Living With Anxiety and Don’t Know It

April 07, 2023

Valeria Martinez-Kaigi, PhD, MS
Clinical Health Psychologist
Tallwood Men’s Health Center

A few months ago, I wrote about some of the surprising signs of depression in men. Now, I want to talk about anxiety, which is very common and can go undetected for decades.

When it comes to anxiety, men often ignore their symptoms altogether, or assume something else is going on. For example, they’ll experience physical symptoms that seem related to heart issues — and after a full cardic workup, learn it was actually anxiety. Or they’ll experience erectile dysfunction (ED), and after a complete urologic workup, their urologist will conclude it’s likely due to anxiety and chronic stress.

The first step is understanding what anxiety looks and feels like.

Here’s how anxiety can show up in your body.

Any and all of these physical symptoms can be connected to anxiety.

  • ED
  • Generalized pain, often in the back, neck or shoulders
  • Hands trembling
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Heart pounding or racing
  • Hot or flushed; hot or cold sweats
  • Indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • Issues with breathing
  • Itching sensations
  • Lightheaded or dizzy; wobbly or unsteady
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Urine retention and frequent urination

I often talk about the two-way street between the body and the brain. That’s at work in all of these symptoms. For example, many patients have terrible pain in their back, neck and shoulders. That’s because anxiety can cause a constant state of muscle tension throughout the day, and even during sleep. And that leads to chronic pain.

Here’s how anxiety can show up in your thoughts and emotions.

You might think you already have a handle on what anxiety means, but here are some red flags to keep in mind. They likely mean you are experiencing clinically significant anxiety that can be treated.

  • Easily annoyed or irritated
  • Fear of the worst happening
  • Feeling constantly overwhelmed
  • Nervous, anxious or on edge
  • Not being able to slow or control racing thoughts, especially when trying to fall asleep
  • Not being able to stop or control worrying
  • Restless, can’t sit still
  • Trouble relaxing

Certain behaviors can also be a clue of underlying anxiety.

Finally, without the right support, many people with anxiety wind up developing some pretty unhealthy coping mechanisms as a way to feel relief or distraction.

That includes:

  • Compulsive gambling
  • Disengaging socially; isolating as a way to control outside stressors
  • Emotional or stress eating
  • Overuse of substances like alcohol, tobacco products, and recreational drugs
  • Sex or pornography addiction

If you’re dealing with anxiety, your healthcare team has lots of ways to help.

As just a few examples: A therapist can work with you on learning and implementing cognitive-behavioral as well as mindfulness-based skills. Both techniques can help regulate your nervous system and aid in neuroplasticity — essentially retraining your brain — to lessen your anxiety symptoms. For some patients, anti-anxiety medications can also be vital.

Some of these techniques are simpler than they sound. For example, say you’re suffering from insomnia due to anxiety. Your therapist might suggest journaling before bed, a practice that stops worrying thoughts before they get stuck in a negative feedback loop. They might prescribe a specific mindfulness meditation, or teach you a progressive muscle relaxation exercise to aid in regulating your nervous system.

Together, with practical and scientifically backed recommendations, your healthcare team can help you find ways to overcome your anxiety. All you have to do is ask.

Valeria Martinez-Kaigi, PhD, MS, is a clinical health psychologist at Hartford HealthCare’s Institute of Living and Tallwood Men’s Health Center in Fairfield, CT. The “Men’s Health Matters” column spotlights the health issues she’s seen impact men most.