In my practice I frequently work with men who experience panic or anxiety. Of course every one experiences anxiety uniquely. However, what I noticed is that men experience anxiety differently than women. In general, men trend toward thinking in categorical terms such as sick/well, strong/weak, right/wrong or win/lose. When applied to the experience of anxiety this often creates a barrier to seeking help. After all, if we think categorically, then seeking help can be interpreted as a sign of weakness or that there is something wrong with us as a person. This involves the feelings of shame, and many times men struggle in silence, or worse yet, they pretend that everything is okay. Therefore, rather than showing worry or expressing how anxious they feel, men may act irritable, indecisive or show more doubt than usual. They may become angry or show frustration when forced to confront a situation that makes them anxious or become silent and stonewall. This makes a conversation about anxiety a tricky one.
If a man in your life is struggling with anxiety you can help him by approaching he issue gently, and avoiding putting a label on it. For example, you may say something like “I have noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately” or “It seemed like you are not enjoying yourself the way you used to.” Approaching the topic without judgment allows you to have a conversation free of diagnosis or labels and allows him to have a space to talk and feel heard. Second, after you have a conversation going, ask him what he thinks might be a possible solution. If he brings up seeking help, you can be supportive of the idea by asking if he would like you to be part of the process, either by helping him find a therapist, or accompanying him to the first session. If he does not have a solution, you can ask him if he has considered counseling. If his answer lets you know that he feels seeking help is a sign of weakness, let him know that you consider acknowledging a problem and attempting to solve it a sign of strength, not weakness. Finally, he may be wondering if he has disappointed you with this revelation, so let him know how much you admire and respect him for being open with you about his struggles. This is no small thing, and gives him a “win” when he is having a rough time.
If you would like help with anxiety in the Chicago area, call Dr. Helen Odessky at (847) 529-8600.