From Broken Boys to Whole Men: #7 – Stress: Can You Manage?
July 22, 2019
Stress managed poorly can kill men. The Lancet published a study last summer which found that work stress causes 68% more deaths in men than women who already have heart disease and diabetes.
The relationship between stress and disease is complicated. In the US, we tend to see stress as either all bad or a badge of honor. Yet, not knowing how to relate to and manage stress in our lives is clearly contributing to men’s early deaths.
It’s interesting to be writing on men and stress management at the same time as I’m taking a summer course on soul-care for lay and ordained ministers at St. Catherine University here in St. Paul. We’re looking in part at the role of developing an inner soul-life in helping to manage the stress of caregiving and the many tasks involved in ministry.
But there's a connection between masculine assumptions and the link to ill-managed stress and early death.
Armoring and being cut off from one’s heart and feelings may have worked well in making a man an effective warrior, explorer, or capitalist, but the downside of the fight-or-flight response in sedentary societies is chronic high blood pressure, for example.
The competitiveness encouraged among boys as they grow up can foster esprit de corps on a team, but far more often it leads to pitting boys and men against one another, which breeds an individualism which rewards taking on all or most of the work, the responsibility, and ultimately the stress that could be shared with others, but for the isolation.
It’s taken me a lot of years to learn the hard way that these attitudes and behaviors are not normal.
And although countless blog posts, columns and books list helpful coping strategies, men need to look at our attitudes, upbringing, and internalized male norms that make for an unhealthy relationship with stress.
Boundaries – When did we learn that “no” is a bad answer? Why do we need to play the martyr or the hero in “taking all of it on”? What do we get out of staying stuck in that belief?
Feelings – What role does fear play in taking on more and more at work or home? What are we “fed up” with? Where and how can we draw a line earlier, before it gets to be too much? Where and how do, anxiety, sadness, and anger, for example, manifest in our body? What feels good?
Communication – What are you and I afraid to express? How do we say “no” to more? How do we ask for what we need?
Exercise – Was exercise a punishment when we grew up, and how do we view our bodies? What’s a healthy, appropriate kind of exercise for me at 35? 50? 75? What exercise helps us respond to stress effectively—and which works against us? How are our needs different than they were when we were younger?
Soul Care – Above, all what’s the role in stress management, for us, of developing an inner life? What would happen if we began to experiment with and discover what puts us in closer touch with our emotions, our passion, our capacity for partnership, service, and love? Where would our stress mortality figures go over the next generation if we began to tend our souls?