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Men and Stress, Please Don't Fix Me

Men and Stress, Please Don't Fix Me

by Peter Rivkees

Stress that is not dealt with is a real issue affecting just about every living creature on earth and can be managed successfully with a little bit of self-awareness and effort.

We all stress over money, work, and family relationships (yes your pets count), personal and family health, world events and everything that we hold as important to us. Research shows that almost 70% of us feel that stress has a negative impact on our physical health and mental health. Symptoms of stress that we can experience include anger, general irritability, fatigue, disturbed sleep patterns, addiction, passive aggressive behavior, depression and sexual dysfunction are but a few. We all experience stress in our own unique way based on our past experiences over our lives. When we were younger we may have dealt with stress by acting out with slamming doors, refusing to listen to our parents or eating an entire bag of Doritos and some of us in our adult years may do exactly the same things. How do you act when you are under a lot of stress?

My therapy practice focuses on the men so I'll share with you how stress directly impacts the lives of men and potentially every interaction in their lives. For most men we have been brought up to hide our emotions, do anything in our power not to appear weak and live life as if it were a continuous competition. We are the perfect candidate for physical and psychological issues directly related to stress. Most men are programmed not to ask for help when help is needed most, to keep up the bravado that makes us "real men". We are more apt to hire a golf coach to improve our swing than hire a therapist to work on our family, our marriage, our relationships with our children our career, our siblings, our boss or our coworkers. My wish for all men is not to be remembered for our golf handicap, but for the impact we make on those that are most important to us in our lives.

We would rather suffer in silence, saying "I've got it under control ", or take out our stress on those in our lives at home and at work. We have been conditioned, some will say brainwashed by our parents, media and any other sources from our earliest memories that "real men" get over it, don't cry or just don't get emotional. The truth is that every man, woman and child is born with the same set of emotions. We pretend not be afraid of anything, have an "I can conquer anything attitude", but in reality we are most afraid of discovering who we are and how we got to be who we are.

Discovering our inner self requires courage. The same courage that we have or pretend to have when facing the challenges of everyday life. Being a man in today's world is scary, frustrating and full of uncertainty. Changing our attitudes towards self-help and awareness will be an evolutionary versus revolutionary process and only you can start your journey of self-discovery. Dealing with stress through regular exercise, listening to music, reading, seeking professional help with a therapist are the leading activities to help relieve the symptoms of stress. Unfortunately, many men turn to negative harmful behaviors including alcohol/substance abuse, behavioral addictions like gambling, exercise and pornography that only lead to self-destructive behaviors and damaging relationships that sometimes cannot be healed. The unfortunate result of not dealing with or ignoring stress will often lead to feelings of shame, fear and loneliness.

I often use the phrase "hiding in plain sight" to describe how we often wear masks that hide how our inner self is truly feeling in contrast to the mask that we project to others. We may appear "fine" to all that we are connected to in our personal and work lives, but inside if asked "if you really knew me, you would know that I am really __________ " afraid, scared, lonely, suicidal, sad, angry, confused, depressed, an addict, a failure, in debt or whatever you chose to fill in the blank. If we could only recognize and be comfortable in knowing that we are not perfect and that all men could truly benefit from exploring ourselves without the self-judgment or external judgment that "men do not go to counseling unless they are broken" what a better life we could have. We would open up our hearts to others and demonstrate true compassion; we would be vulnerable with ourselves and with those that we love. We would be better men, better husbands, better fathers, better in life.

Learning and growth does not often come from a place of comfort. True learning and growth comes from a place of discomfort when we push through the uncertainty of not knowing the answers to life's questions or being able to fix any problem with our tool kit. Men want to fix any and all problems that are presented to us as soon as possible and we practically know the perfect fix before the other person has fully described what the problem is. Most people aren't looking for someone to fix them; most people would prefer someone to listen to, a shoulder to cry on, a hug or gentle reassurance that you are in their corner or just someone to sit next to in silence.

When I work with men, I understand that we are not accustomed to expressing emotions, that it is just really hard to admit to someone else, let alone ourselves that our world is not perfect. I want to create a safe environment built on trust so men can learn to understand what emotions are, how they feel, how to accept them, how to heal, how to communicate effectively, how to be angry, how to be sad and most importantly how to feel real joy and happiness. I choose to believe that our purpose is not to live a life hiding in plain sight; it's your decision to make as to what you can do to become a man that makes a difference in others' lives and to live a life that is full of all the rewards that you deserve.

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