Middle-aged men take note: You may be worrying yourself sick. A long-term study spanning more than four decades has found that U.S. men prone to stress and anxiety face a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, and also type 2 diabetes at an earlier age.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, more than 1500 men (97% white) including veterans and nonveterans with no history of heart disease or cancer, were part of this study. The average age of men in the study was 53 years in 1975.
What the researchers studied was the differences between men with neuroticism and worry and men with less neuroticism and worry. Neuroticism is defined as a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings. All personality traits, including neuroticism, exist on a spectrum – some people are more neurotic than others. If a person is found to have high neuroticism, they may be described as having low emotional stability or negative emotionally.
Lewina Lee, Ph.D., and lead author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, stated, “Our findings indicate higher levels of anxiousness or worry among men are linked to biological process that may give rise to heart disease and metabolic conditions. These associations may be present much earlier in life than is commonly appreciated – potentially during childhood or young adulthood.”
The study methods included measuring seven cardiometabolic risk factors that occurred during follow-up visits. These seven cardiometabolic risk factors were blood pressure, triglycerides, fasting blood sugar levels, total cholesterol, obesity, and erythrocyte (ESR), which is a marker of inflammation.
Men with six or all seven high risk factors were very likely to develop or already had cardiometabolic disease. Men identified as having higher neuroticism had an associated 13% higher risk of having six or more risk factors for cardiometabolic disease. As the men aged from their 30s into their 80s, the cardiometabolic disease risk increased also.
The researchers advised that men get routine health examinations and to be proactive with managing high blood pressure and maintaining a healthy body weight.
The feeling of being worried can be described as feeling uneasy or being overly concerned about a situation or problem. Worrying excessively can cause the body to go into overdrive focusing on the “what might happen.”
Undue worry can lead to high anxiety, possibly even a panic attack. Chronic worriers often have a sense of impending doom or unrealistic fear. Due to their ultra-sensitive response to situations, its likely those who worry the most, will start to see anything, including people, as potential threats.
The problem with excessive worry is how it can begin to affect a person’s life and health. Chronic worry can interfere with appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance. For some worriers, their worry may be so overwhelming they may resort to smoking, overeating, or using alcohol and drugs to seek relief.
Chronic worry and stress can indeed trigger a host of health problems. Starting with excessive worrying triggering the fight or flight response, this causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones increase blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel.
The released hormones can also lead to the following:
When left untreated, excessive worry and high anxiety can lead to serious health issues, including depression and suicidal thoughts. Depending on a man’s coping capabilities and style, if the stress and worry are not addressed, it literally can make a man sick.
There are many lifestyle changes helping alter how men approach and respond to situations. While, stress occurs daily, there are suggestions on how to turn down worry, anxiety, and stress that can be harming health.
The next time a man feels the constraint of stress bearing down on him, here are ten highly effective ways to reduce its toxic effect:
2. Get moving – Any type of regular physical activity is well known for being able to better manage stressful situations. Exercise acts as a buffer against negative effects of emotional experiences. Hitting the gym or walking/running/bicycling trail will also reduce overall anxiety in the short term and helps men better able to maintain reduced anxiety when confronted with stress in the long run.
3. Set boundaries – Like the old saying goes, keep work at work, separate from home life. When work finds its way into your non-work life, this becomes problematic hindering anyone from being able to do job work-related activities interfering with home-life work activities. Keep the two separate.
4. Take time off – To achieve better health, less stress, more energy, an improved sex drive, and overall happiness, learn to take time off. Go on a vacation or weekend get-away. As the world becomes more complicated and stressful, indulging in some time away from work is a must for better relationships and a better quality of life.
5. Chewing gum – Grab a stick of gum and start chewing when feeling especially stressed. That’s because research has shown chewing gum while multitasking under stressful conditions taps the brakes on stress and anxiety.
6. Practice deep, controlled breathing – Taking deep, controlled, and slowed breathing from the diaphragm helps reduce physiological symptoms associated with stress. Practice either sitting or lying comfortably with closed eyes while inhaling deeply through the nose and count “one” on the exhale.
7. Stop obsessively checking emails – Talk about a stressor, multiple daily checks of email is linked to enhanced anxiety leading to more stress. Try setting a limit – such as three times a day – to check emails. Research has shown people feel less stressed when they check their email less often.
8. Listen to music – No matter what form of music a person likes, well-liked melodies help people feel more centered and experience less anxiety, depression, along with lower stress-inducing cortisol levels than those who rarely turn on a tune.
9. Get a massage – A relaxing and rejuvenating massage can do wonders for reducing anxiety, eliminating excess stress, lowering blood pressure, and for promoting serotonin – the sleep hormone. When done regularly, massages can keep stress levels better controlled.
10. Master time management – Those who plan well tend to feel less stressed. Some of the best ways to accomplish this is to tackle more difficult to-do-list items early in the day, week, or month. Save the easy stuff for later in the day or week. Most of us have more time and more energy earlier in the day, week, or month than if we procrastinate until a deadline is looming, which is never a good plan for relieving stress.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncolo gy and prostate cancer 911.