anxiety is, frankly, a stupid term. It implies the men feel anxiety in a way that is different from the rest of the population. The truth is, anxiety is anxiety no matter who is feeling it. It presents in similar ways across the board. However, a long history of men being taught to provide while maintaining a stiff upper lip and suppressing their emotions means that many men don’t seek treatment for their anxiety, if they choose to acknowledge it at all.
Here’s why that is an issue…
Why ‘Manxiety’ is a ridiculous term, and the “Genderization” of Emotions
Terms like ‘manxiety,’ arise when certain emotions and hobbies are shoehorned into one stereotypical sex’s “box,” and those who dip their hands into the wrong box are punished. In Western society, people have to “mind their identities” rather than just feeling what they feel–especially men–for fear that they will be perceived as odd, or weak. However, the truth is that feelings have no gender. While there is a marked difference between men and women, conventions like the one that deems anxiety a “women’s emotion,” are driven by sociology rather than biology.
So, feel your authentic emotions, get in touch with your feelings. Be sure to know yourself and your triggers. By addressing each emotion as it comes, rather than stifling them altogether, you will prevent an inevitable buildup of negative emotions.
Where the Stigma Comes From
Growing up, many young boys’ idols fall into one of two categories: superheroes, or lawless outlaws. I haven’t a clue as to why this is, but it’s true. And while one cannot deny the appeal of superpowered human beings and confident, cool cowboys, there is a definite drawback to the overwhelming abundance of these characters when we talk about the messages that they tend to send to kids.
When all of your heroes maintain a stiff upper lip, when all of your heroes inhabit the role of “the protector or provider,” when all of your heroes represent a very narrow, “masculine” ideal–you’re not given very much to work with. In theory, you will have all of the tools to navigate a stressful situation: You'll know what to do when a fight or a conflict of other sorts arises…But what about emotional situations? How are you meant to understand how to navigate those when the only messages you’re taking away from the media you consume are how to maintain a sterling image and massive sense of personal pride?
When you look at it that way, mental health just seems to be getting in the way…
Fortunately, things appear to be changing for men as more and more cartoons for kids address topics such as gender roles and mental health. It doesn’t erase the long history that this toxic idea of what masculinity represents has pushed onto us, but it is doing it's best.
If you're having trouble reconciling your identity as a man with being an overall anxious person, try thinking of things this way instead: You are a man, therefore, everything you do is masculine. If you need to cry, that is a masculine act. Traditionally “feminine” things like knitting, dancing, or cooking are all masculine things, just as long as a man is doing them. It’s ridiculous to force a gender onto a hobby–just as it’s ridiculous to force a gender onto a piece of furniture or a paint color, or an emotion for that matter. It simply is.
Why Treatment is So Important
There are ramifications of ignoring your anxiety. Ignoring anxiety can lead to anger, aggression, depression, or loss of important things in your life. It’s hard to predict just exactly what might happen by leaving your anxiety to fester, or worse, bottling it up until it explodes. However, the general consensus of what can and often does happen is not great (panic attacks, rage, suicidality).
You’re not Alone, Far From It
Note the following statistic. According to Anxiety Disorders of America, “...nearly 1 in 10 men experience depression or anxiety but less than half will receive treatment and more than 4 times as many men as women die by suicide every year.”
Learn your Triggers and Coping Mechanisms
Every illness, especially chronic mental ones, have a period of time in which you are meant to figure things out. This is your chance to test new things: like medications, hobbies, jobs, and coping strategies. It is crucial to your recovery that you find out what works for you, what makes your anxiety worse, and most importantly, what is sustainable. (It's also important to bear in mind that not everything is about constant improvement—if that stresses you out, just know that you are doing enough and you don’t have to fix all of your problems in one night.)
So what generally works?
Reliable Coping Strategies
- Having a pet (especially a cat) nearby for company and lower blood pressure
- Leaning into calm hobbies like reading, drawing, or knitting–while also keeping up with your exercise (running in particular is great for burning off stress)
- Telling your boss if you’re struggling, or else seeking out a job that doesn’t cause you anxiety (perhaps something where you can work from home, or in a cafe, like writing.)
Bear in mind that if you are struggling, you don’t have to talk about your anxiety if you don’t want to. If you should choose to, though, know that it can help your relationships if you are up front about it. Your friends and family want to know you, and want to accommodate you too (if they are indeed friends). In fact, may I call to attention a great resource? Breathe Magazine. It provides articles focusing on your career, mental wellness, and creativity. Breathes' peaceful images (mainly digital art and photography) set the mood for what is ultimately a magazine meant to calm and distract. Remember: Coping strategies can be found even in the most unlikely of places, and can even come in magazine-form!
If you can’t think of anyone in your life who you could safely talk to about these feelings, you may want to find yourself a compassionate therapist. These people have no personal stake in your life, and so are able to give objective advice. They are literally paid to hear you out, so no thought or feeling is off the table. (NOTE: Be sure to switch therapists immediately if you ever get the feeling you’re being mocked, ignored, or if you and your therapist just aren’t melding.) Therapy is much more personal than just another doctor visit, and the vibes between you and your therapist are so important when it comes to establishing trust between you and them.
Some men have great experiences in therapy.
If your Anxiety is Existential…
This is a common exercise when trying to focus on your goals, improve, and get to know yourself. It came about because it can be hard to know what you want with so many people (and sometimes even society itself) screaming out what it expects of you.
- Step 1: Take a notebook, close your eyes, and dissolve into your inner world
- Step 2: Imagine your happiest self, in the future
- Step 3: Elaborate. What are they doing? What have they accomplished? Where do they live? Most importantly, what does their life look like?
- Final Step: Write this out and then make decisions going forward based on this model. What can you do to get yourself where you want to be?
Remember! This is a picture of the happiest you–not necessarily the most accomplished or successful. Many people go back and alter their lists based on their ambitions, but the truth is that many vocational ambitions--once achieved--give happiness which is fleeting. I'm not saying it's wrong to have ambitions within your career, not at all. However, problems can arise when people attach their lasting happiness to something that will only give them a temporary sense of pride, if that. Your happiest self is not necessarily the self with the most accomplishments! Maybe just living in a small town with two cats and a peaceful job is the happiest version of you.
How to Communicate your “Manxiety” to others
The biggest hurdle of this so-called manxiety, outside of worrying about what it looks like to others, is wondering how you will be able to tell others about it . Generally, the consensus is that honesty is a great start. Tell your family how you’ve been feeling, as well as how you’ve been going about coping (or not coping) with it. Ask them for support, if you feel you will need it (and it's quite likely you will, but if not, it's still a nice pillar of support to have).
Bear in mind that, ultimately, you know the people closest to you much better than this article does, so take everything here with a grain of salt. This is just to give you some idea as to how to get started/go about things.
How to Respond in the Face of Stigma
There are prejudiced people present: in society, in your personal life, just...everywhere, really. They often don’t rear their wrongheaded views until WE (the people they know) come forth with an opposing one. The compounded shock and hurt at this only makes their judgement sting all the more. Here is how to combat the naysayers in your circle, as well as how to de-escalate things should they reach a boiling point.
Here are Nine toxic phrases to always be on the lookout for. While the person who says them might not always mean harm, you should be able to recognize these statements for what they mean and imply, as well as be able to respond to them in a detached and cool manner.
If you are met with mockery, the general consensus is that you disengage, maintain your cool, and simply walk away. Life is too short to deal with backlash concerning your own emotions and how you feel them.