For thousands of years, men have been sold the story that manliness equates to toughness. The ability to undergo hardships and show resilience through moments of difficulty plays a central part in what it means to be a “man”. From sports like rugby and boxing, to competition in the workplace, society insists that success is about being strong. This means appearing confident and composed, but most importantly – never anxious.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with toughness itself. The ability to show strength in adversity can only be a positive thing. The real problem with this narrative is that it misconstrues being tough as not showing weakness – and here's where the real damage lies.
Over the past few years, awareness around men's mental health has greatly increased. It's now a well-known fact that suicide is the biggest killer in men aged 20-45.
But despite increasing awareness, the signs and symptoms of anxiety in men can still be hard to spot.
In fact, anxiety in men sometimes doesn't look like anxiety at all.
Self-doubt, nervousness and thinking traps are just some of the hallmarks of anxiety. And when these feelings arise, men might try to bottle them up or push them aside in fear appearing 'weak'. Unfortunately, in the long run, all this does is make an isolating disease even more isolating.
When anxieties take hold, men might try to re-affirm their confidence by internalising their feelings. Anger is often used as a disguise for more difficult emotions. Instead of speaking up and facing their issues head-on, a man struggling with anxiety might come across as aggressive, cocky and confrontational.
Become snappy or pessimistic
By refusing to seek help when anxious thoughts creep in, it's easy to get trapped in a negative dialogue. From the outside, this might make someone seem more irritable or pessimistic in their outlook.
Showing “weakness” or fear in social situations doesn't fit with society's expectation of what it is to 'be a man'. Instead, men might start to gradually retreat from their friends and family and pull away from social gatherings.
This might all sound very despondent, but there is another way. Telling men to “man up” obviously won’t work, and neither will telling them to rethink their entire identity of manliness.
The good news is that being tough is 100% compatible with showing weakness. Being tough means accepting where your strengths don’t lie; addressing the problems in your life and finding healthy ways to deal with them. To combat anxiety, sufferers have to be told that - by seeking help - they're not losing face, but showing strength by facing their problems face on.
Loved ones and therapists can provide support by encouraging men to let go of the unhealthy, gendered notions that so often damage men’s mental health.
Managing anxiety is no easy task, but it’s a task that starts with being honest – to yourself, and to those around you – about your problems.
Believe that yourself, or someone else in your life might be suffering from anxiety? There’s no reason to suffer in silence. Speak to one of our team to get help to find a therapist today.
Greg Humphries is an emerging novelist and journalist from Brentwood, UK who has been published in Pluralist Media and Fox & Hedgehog amongst other political magazines and websites. Having moved to New York in 2016, he is passionate about mental health advocacy. You can reach out to Greg directly on: firstname.lastname@example.org