Men: Lose the Stigma, Regain Your Health

The stigma that surrounds mental health, especially when it comes to men has created a vacuum of silence. With all the awareness of mental health and services nowadays, men still don’t seek help in this arena.

Societal norms of masculinity, embarrassment and shame are some of the reasons men are less likely to seek help. Many view seeking help as a sign of weakness, and continue to try to cope with depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness on their own. Terms such as “unmanly” or “weak” are hold an undercurrent of negative connotation of what it means to be a man. In general, many men tend to hide their feelings from their family, putting on a false front that nothing is wrong but inside angst and inability to cope with these feelings can lead to destructive and unhealthy behavior.

Unhealthy ways of dealing with stress lead to physical and emotional destruction

Job pressure (or unemployed), stressful family relations, and social isolation, if not dealt with in a healthy manner can lead to serious health problems.  The buildup of stress hormones – the fight or flight mechanism that is designed to charge your muscles and entire nervous system with the energy to flee or fight a perceived danger can turn on itself if you aren’t able to effectively deal with the situation or have a physical outlet for all the stored-up energy. This mechanism was lifesaving back when life’s stressors were tied to survival- a bear attack, natural disasters that required rescue of a loved one or even hunting. In today’s modern world, these real life dangers and scenarios are not part of our daily lives. Stress nowadays is usually tied to our sedentary lifestyle. We ae unable to flee or physically fight the opponent. Because of this new ways of coping have to take place. If not, built up stress can lead to heart disease, cancer and even suicide. It is a widely known fact that stress,-or how you deal with it- is the leading cause of heart disease and cancer, which are the top two causes of death in men.

The fight or flight response to stress that isn’t dealt with can lead to anger outbursts, self-destructive behavior, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, depression and isolation from friends and family. Lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, alcohol, and substance abuse can snowball into more depression (alcohol is a depressant).

This same fight or flight response is responsible for the majority of deaths in men- increased cortisol levels from untreated stress, along with decreased immune function set the stage for the two most common causes of death in men- heart disease and cancer. If there is no outlet for stress, the body’s stored up adrenaline will literally take your body hostage.

Make your health a priority.

3 steps towards effectively dealing with stress

  1. Acknowledge your stress. If you haven’t already, take time out to figure out what is bothering you. Seek counselling or a trusted friend/ relative to confide in. There may be multiple stressors in your life. Stress can be anything- from long commutes in traffic, demanding work situations, demands- both reasonable and unreasonable from family and friends to an unexpected health crisis. Along with counselors, friends, and trusted family members to confide in, many find keeping a journal a good way to identify and keep track of events that trigger stress response.
  2. Plan. Make that counselling appointment or schedule time to talk with a trusted friend or family member and follow through. Many times, excuses and commitments get in the way of doing this. Schedule time as if it was an appointment- which it is-n appointment towards health and wellbeing. Make or keep doctors’ appointments. This is especially important if you haven’t seen your care provider for a while. High blood pressure is known as the silent killer. Many times, there are no symptoms until a fatal heart attack hits. Lifesaving medications may be prescribed to treat high blood pressure or other stress related diseases.

3. Once you have identified the stressor(s), remove the stress from your life. If you are unable to change the situation, find healthy ways to cope with it. Channel the excess energy through physical activity by joining a gym, running, hiking or a hobby that brings you enjoy. Maintain a healthy diet. Cut out alcohol if you are currently using it to cope with life’s stressors. Join an AA meeting if alcohol abuse is a problem. Meditation, deep breathing and refocusing can go a long way toward stress reduction. In addition, make sure you keep up with your annual doctor’s appointments. Your doctor may prescribe medication-either short term or long term to help cope with stress. In addition, some diseases go undiagnosed that can cause depression such as diabetes.

Life has become challenging in ways our ancestors never dreamed. Our world is constantly changing-more so in recent years than at any other time in history. It is easy to put off self-care while putting out life’s fires. However, by neglecting your own needs you set could be setting yourself up for long term health crises.

- Brooke Lounsbury, RN

Medical Content Writer

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Doing This One Thing Will Slash Death Rates in Men

(Manage your stress before it manages you)

It is no secret that men are dying younger than in the past. Life expectancy for men dropped one full year, from 74.2 years in 2020 to 73.2 in 2021. Heart disease and cancer lead the pack as the two most common fatal diseases in men. Some of these reasons can be traced back to genetics- a parent or close relative with heart disease or cancer; however even taking this into consideration, many deaths are preventable. One of the major causes of heart disease and cancer is due to chronic stress.

Stress can be good- when not long term

Stress is a reaction to a real or perceived threat to life. In acute, or short-lived stress, the body activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis in a process known as “allostasis”. Powerful chemical messages are sent throughout the body to ready for either fight or flight from the situation. The adrenal glands produce the 3 stress response chemical messengers- adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol.

All three of these are necessary to sustain life when in balance.

Adrenaline (also known as adrenaline) redirects blood flow to the heart and lungs, increases heart rate, opens bronchus and lungs for better breathing, and raises blood sugar levels. This increases energy and focus, enabling the body to leave or fight the threat. In the medical setting, epinephrine is a life saving drug. For asthmatics it opens up airways, allowing easier breathing. In septic shock, the victims blood pressure plummets to dangerously low levels, epinephrine brings blood pressure up. Likewise, during a cardiac arrest event, blood pressure can drop, in turn inhibiting blood flow to vital organs and brain. Administering epinephrine brings blood pressure up which increases blood flow throughout the body.

Norepinephrine is considered a “back up” to epinephrine. It is produced in the adrenal medulla and functions in much the same way as epinephrine. Just like epinephrine, it maintains blood pressure during cardiac arrest and septic shock. It is also used in pericardial tamponade, a condition in which fluid builds up around the heart membrane, making it difficult for the heart to maintain blood pressure and neurogenic shock, a condition in which there is damage to nerve cells that are responsible for maintaining heart rate and blood pressure.

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland in response to a series of chemical messengers starting with the brain. (This is called the HPA axis) The brain receives a message of danger- physical, emotional or mental, it alerts the amygdala- a small region in the brain, which in turn releases corticotropin releasing hormone. This hormone activates the pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone, which in turn activates the adrenal gland to produce cortisol. Almost all body systems have receptors to cortisol. These are called glucocorticoid receptors. Cortisol regulates blood pressure, increases blood sugar, reduces inflammation and is involved in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. When not activated by stress, cortisol is released into the blood stream according to the circadian cycle (sleep/wake cycle) It is usually highest in the morning and fluctuates during the day, with the lowest amount in the middle of the night. During times of stress, cortisol is released from the adrenal glands into the bloodstream to ready the body for action. Increased blood sugar gives the muscles ready fuel to act.

Acute stress can be lifesaving, chronic stress can be life threatening

Causes of acute stress

Acute stress is the stress experienced on a daily basis from minor situations. Acute stress typically happens quickly and fades once the situation or circumstance has passed. Hormones return to prestress levels.  Examples that may cause acute stress include:

  • Argument or altercation
  • School exams
  • Physical competitions
  • Traffic jams
  • Acute stress symptoms include short lived anxiety, mood swings, irritability, anger, increased blood pressure(temporary) insomnia,

Acute stress doesn’t cause health issues, the body recovers quickly, and hormones return to normal within 24 hours.

Causes of chronic stress

Chronic stress, which is considered to be at the core of almost all health related conditions, happens when exposed to prolonged stress that doesn’t resolve.

Examples of chronic stress include:

  • Illness of a loved one where you are the caregiver,
  • PTSD- post traumatic stress disorder- either during military service or traumatic events in life
  • Loss of a job and inability to find another,
  • Emotional stress with a partner
  • Social isolation

Chronic stress and health

There are many health-related diseases associated with chronic stress. Stress affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems. 50 percent of premature deaths in men are from heart disease and cancer. Chronic stress has been implicated in the progression of both.

Cancer– Animal studies consistently prove the link between chronic stress and cancer progression, however, researchers have stopped short of claiming chronic stress can bring on cancer. Given that stress affects the immune system and all the other effects chronic stress have on the body, it would seem that there is a link to cancer and chronic stress.

Heart disease- The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.

How to deal with chronic stress

Set limits and refrain from taking on more commitments.

Cut back on any non-essential activities in your work life.  Identify tasks and projects that you must do and prioritize. Set aside time each day to review progress and prioritize these tasks. Do not take on any more tasks until you feel these are under control. Seek input and help from your coworkers and employer if you are feeling overwhelmed.  In social and family settings, re evaluate the time you spend and assess the quality of relationships. If there is animosity or other forms of stress between you and those you are close to, seek solutions, either through active listening and participation, counselling, or both.

Prioritize your mental and physical health and well-being

Everyone has chronic stress. It is how we view and deal with it that makes the difference. Self-care is imperative, both for you and those you are close to. Take time out each day to indulge in something you enjoy doing- even if it is just being alone on a walk. Exercise, social interaction and working on a hobby are all great stress reducers. If you have been feeling helpless, depressed or that your stressor has trapped you and you feel there is no way out, it is time to seek the help of a counsellor and your primary care provider. Counselling along with a complete physical can provide answers. Chronic stress raises blood sugar, which can be the start of diabetes. High blood sugar causes emotional instability and depression. Be sure to keep yu annual physical appointments. If your physical health is in good shape, your care provider may suggest medication along with counselling until you are able to resolve the chronic stress, either by learning healthy ways to cope or removing yourself from it.

- Brooke Lounsbury, RN

Medical Content Writer

Lifesaving Medications

Everyone should be empowered to care for themselves and their loved ones during the unexpected.

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Keeping you informed and safe.

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