We Need to Open Up the Conversation About Men and Anxiety

person looking pensive behind window

Adolescent Content / Getty Images

That constant concern and worrying feeling that something is going to go wrong? Yeah, that's anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Health states that about 31% of U.S. adults will likely experience some type of anxiety disorder in their life. It's more common to see anxiety in females, but around 14% of men can be impacted.

Anxiety is less likely to be diagnosed in men, often times because of "societal norms." If women show emotion they may get the title as "sensitive," men on the other hand can be viewed as "weak." This can result in suppressed feelings and untreated anxiety. We asked the experts what anxiety looks like in men, how it can be treated, and the best way to be supportive.

Meet the Expert

  • Joanna Filidor, a licensed therapist who specialized in anxiety and trauma in both men and women.
  • Tom McDonagh, clinical psychologist who specialized in anxiety disorders at his San Francisco clinic, Good Therapy.

Symptoms of Anxiety in Men

Anxiety is anxiety no matter the gender, but sometimes men tend to stay tight-lipped about dealing with it. "Although the symptoms of anxiety in men aren’t completely different than those of women, one of the most noticeable differences is that men are less likely to speak up and identify these symptoms as anxiety," says Filidor. "Men might label it as stress or might minimize it completely."

According to Filidor, examples of anxiety symptoms include:

  • Constant worrying
  • Feeling irritable
  • Insomnia
  • Being on edge
  • Fear of not being in control

"There are also a lot of physiological symptoms like muscle tension, racing heart, sweating and restlessness," adds Filidor. "Men are more also more likely to externalize the anxiety through irritability or agitation."

These symptoms can be triggered by many things. McDonagh states that he often sees men come in describing "intense thoughts of worry about the future. Very often they are associated with finances and being able to support themselves or their families when faced with the unknown." Those types of concerns paired with the physical symptoms usually confirms an individual is dealing with anxiety.

Stress vs. Anxiety

person touching their face

Adolescent Content / Getty Images

It can be difficult to differentiate between stress and anxiety since they are both emotional responses according to the American Psychological Association. "While the observable symptoms may look similar, stress and anxiety are differentiated by the presence or absence of an external trigger," states McDonagh. "Stress occurs when there is a trigger, whereas anxiety symptoms continue when there doesn't appear to be a clear 'reason.'"

For example a work deadline, a fight with a loved one, or moving can cause stress, but the feelings are short-lived. Anxiety will hang around continuously, even if there isn't a stressor in your life.

Treatment Options

Both McDonagh and Filidor mention that self-care can be the first step to treating mild forms of stress or anxiety. "Practices like meditation, mindfulness, and a good self-care routine," says Filidor. McDonagh adds that other self-care strategies include, "healthy sleep, regular exercise, and limited alcohol use."

If self-care isn't working, or the anxiety feelings seem too intense, McDonagh recommends reaching out to a licensed professional. He states it's important to find one that has experience with stress/anxiety and uses evidence based techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which research has shown to reduce symptoms up to 50%. "In some cases a combination of medication and evidence based therapy produces the best results," he adds.

When it comes to reaching out to a therapist, Filidor claims that it can be a beneficial part of treatment. "Often just having a space to process and verbalize what is going on can be very helpful," she states. "The therapist can use a variety of modalities to address anxiety like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)."

Reaching out for support is important to do sooner rather than later. "If someone is experiencing anxiety it is important to reach out for support," says Filidor. "When the symptoms don’t get addressed early on, they can become more difficult to manage over time."

If you're feeling iffy about outwardly talking about feelings, get some pen and paper and try out journaling.

How to Support a Partner With Anxiety

queer couple posing on the beach

Paula Abu / Getty Images

Just like you would positively support a partner without anxiety, the same goes for a partner that deals with anxiety.

Do: Communicate

"It is important to be welcoming and non-judgmental," comments Filidor. "While a lot of the worries might not feel rational to the supportive partner, they feel very real to the partner with anxiety."

Don't: Undermine their feelings

McDonagh states that a partner should set aside criticism and "avoid saying 'don't be anxious' or 'this isn't a big deal.'" Filidor adds, "if the supportive partner is judgmental, it will make the partner shut down."

Do: Provide validation and direction

"For example saying, 'Yes it looks scary, but you've done difficult things before. What can you try right now that you learned in therapy?'" comments McDonagh.

Don't: Stay in the dark about anxiety

The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests keeping yourself educated on anxiety so that you're informed, aware, and can prevent symptoms from worsening. Filidor also advocates partners learning more about their loved ones anxiety stating, "it is also helpful if the supportive partner learns more about anxiety and encourage the other partner to go to therapy while also encouraging them to share about the anxious thoughts in the relationship."

If you or anyone you know suffers from anxiety, please consult medical help.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. BMC Psychiatry. "The relations among worry, meta-worry, intolerance of uncertainty and attentional bias for threat in men at high risk for generalized anxiety disorder: a network analysis." 2020.

Related Stories