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HOW WORK STRESS IS HARMING YOUR HEALTH
… AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
I’m a man. I need to just deal with it.” How many times have you heard men make statements like this? While studies indicate that men and women experience equal amounts of stress, each deals with stress differently. Often, men are reluctant to admit their stress. And then, even when they reveal it, it is in an unexpected or inappropriate way, like getting excessively frustrated when a screw is too tight. Experts chalk this tendency to underplay stress up to the fact that men feel that they are expected to be strong, and never show weakness. However, by playing into this perceived societal expectation, men are actually doing themselves a great deal of harm.
While finances are the chief source of stress for men, work stress — especially in relation to job stability — is the second leading cause of stress. While a certain amount of stress at work is to be expected, and in fact, some stress is good and can drive better performance, extreme amounts of unmanaged stress are detrimental to one’s health and well-being.
The Health Effects of Stress in Men
Not only does excessive stress affect a man’s mood, but it can have lasting effects on his health as well. Some of the long-term issues include:
Cardiovascular Disease - One 2008 study found that those experiencing above-average stress are 54 percent more likely to have a heart attack. In addition, men who have a family history of heart disease are actually more likely to have more symptoms of stress, and are more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease earlier in life.
Sexual Dysfunction - Long-term stress is believed to be the cause of up to 20 percent of all cases of erectile dysfunction. Doctors attribute this to stress creating a “fight or flight” impulse that prevents a man from successfully getting and sustaining an erection.
Fertility Issues - Stress can also lower sperm counts, and the quality of a man’s sperm. In fact, one study indicated that a man’s stress level could change the genetic makeup of his sperm, causing future offspring to have muted or extreme reactions to stress.
Brain Issues - Not only can stress lead to anxiety and depression, which can contribute to social withdrawal and other emotional issues, but it can actually cause permanent brain damage. Neurologists have found that long-term, ongoing stress causes the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making, to shrink, which not only affects your cognitive abilities now, but also could contribute to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
These are just a few of the more serious health issues that are attributable to stress. Stress can also lead to increased weight gain (which raises the risk of chronic conditions including diabetes) as well as skin problems, sleep issues, problems with vision and hearing, and of course, issues managing relationships.
Taming the Stress Beast
Given the long-term and serious consequences of constant stress, it only makes sense that men need to learn to not only identify and accept stress, but also find ways to keep it in check. This often means avoiding the typical response of bottling up their feelings. Not buying into the expectation that they can control things that are out of their control, and that the only things that matter are results can also go a long way toward reducing stress.
Eating right, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, and taking time for enjoyable activities can also help keep stress in check. However, all the stress relief activities in the world aren’t going to help if you don’t address the root causes of stress. The law requires all employers to protect the health and well-being of employees, and this includes maintaining an environment free of toxic stress. When work stress becomes unbearable, men need to address the issue with a supervisor to find a solution. A supervisor then has a duty to work with the employee to create a healthier environment, whether that means reprioritising work, reassigning certain tasks, or addressing personality conflicts.
If the environment does not improve, or the supervisor fails to act, you could have a personal injury claim against your employer (a service like Claims Direct can help you know for sure if you’re entitled to compensation). Of course, none of this will help at all if you are not willing to admit that you are stressed in the first place. But knowing that unmanaged stress hurts your health — and could even reduce your life expectancy — should spur you to action.