Why stress is more likely to cause depression in men than in women and how to handle it
Researchers have defined stress as any major changes to the status quo (existing balance) that may potentially cause mental or emotional strain or tension. These stressful life events can include marriage, divorce, separation, marital reconciliation, personal injury or illness, dismissal from work or retirement.
Men are more likely to have depressive episodes following work difficulties, divorce and separation. Women, on the other hand, are more sensitive to conflict, serious illness or death happening in their close social network. In fact, research suggests that most of the stressful events that cause depression among women are related to their close social network, such as romantic and marital relationships, child-rearing and parenting.
Research suggests that compared to men, women tend to ruminate (the technical term for “overthinking”) more about stressors and have negative thoughts that cause depression. And at least one study suggests that this explains the gender difference in the prevalence of depression. Rumination can make stress worse, and unfortunately, it is more common among women.
These findings suggest that psychosocial causes of depression may be at least partially gender-specific, and that these disparities are rooted in different life conditions – social inequalities – that men and women experience. And, in general, women tend to experience greater social inequality and social stress, and therefore depression, than men.
The gender gap in depression is largest in countries with highest gender inequalities. Gender difference in burden of depression is highest in the countries where women and men differ more in access to resources and social equity.
And that, oddly, might explain why men might be more susceptible to the depression-inducing effects of stress. They aren’t as used to dealing with it.
Men are more vulnerable to the effects of stress over time
In new research, my colleague Maryam Moghani Lankarani and I found that stressful life events are more likely to predict depression in men than in women.
In fact, men are more susceptible to the depression-inducing effects of each additional stressor over long-term periods.
We looked at data from a nationally representative study that examined how psychological factors affect physical and mental health of individuals over time.
We studied the effects of stressful life events men and women reported at the beginning of the study to their rates of depression 25 years later. We found that the effect of each life stressor on the risk of clinical depression was 50 percent stronger for men than women.
These findings correspond with a study we published in late 2015 that showed white men may be most vulnerable to the effect of stress on depression, possibly because they have a lower exposure to stress compared to any other demographic group.
It’s possible that cumulative exposure to stress may build resilience or habituation to stressors. In other words, people who cope with stress all the time can get used to it.
So the social group exposed to the lowest stressors (living the most privileged life) may at the same time be most vulnerable to each additional stressor. They have not learned to cope with stress as effectively as those who experience it more.
This is potentially the cost of living an easier, and therefore, less stressful life.
Men who experience depression may not seek care
Men may also be vulnerable to the effects of stress because they may perceive depression as a weakness. They may also define talking about emotion, and seeking help for an emotional problem, such as depression, as a weakness. This is especially the case in developing countries where traditional gender roles are more strongly endorsed.
These beliefs strongly shape behaviors of men who are in need of mental health care, and make men vulnerable when stress and emotional problem happens. All these result in men ignoring depression when it develops, and avoiding care when needed, not to look weak.
This also partially explains why more men with depression kill themselves (particularly white men) than women with depression. Originall article
So what should modern man do to short-circuit his ingrained tendencies?
10 Ways to Deal With Stress
Here are 10 ways to reduce stress and its toxic effects on the body:
- Exercise regularly. Exercise has been proven to reduce stress levels, helping you burn off pent-up energy and tension. It also improves overall health.
- Eat and sleep well. Good nutrition and 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night can help your body recover from past stress and be better prepared to deal with new stress. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants that might promote stress and sleeplessness. Avoid alcohol, which might deepen any depression you may be feeling.
- Meditate. Spend at least 15 to 20 minutes a day in quiet contemplation. Depending on your preference, you might like to devote the time to meditation or prayer, or practicing yoga or tai chi if you want more of a physical component. Breathe deeply and clear your mind.
- Solve the cause of your stress. Dealing with the problems that cause tension can relieve you of that stress. Inaction just allows it to build. If your neighbor's dog barks constantly, talk with him about it. Talk to your boss to figure out solutions for problems at work. Ask for help if you can’t meet all the demands placed on you.
- Avoid stressful situations. Recent research suggests that men’s stress levels soar 60 percent in traffic jams — seven times higher than women’s. If possible, time your driving to avoid rush hour. Shop when you know the store won't be packed with people. And cut down on the time you spend with people who get on your nerves.
- Accept things you can't change. There are going to be things in your life that you can't control, no matter how hard you try. For example, there's no use allowing snow or rain to bother you — how would you go about changing the weather? Instead, look for ways to enjoy uncontrollable circumstances. Play in the snow like you did when you were a kid; spend a rainy day reading, another stress reliever.
- Don’t take on more than you can handle. We often create our own stress by over-scheduling ourselves and failing to say no when too much is asked of us, whether it’s the boss, spouse, or friend making the request. Don't overpromise, and give yourself time to finish the things you do agree to tackle.
- Try a “glass half full” attitude. Always looking on the sunny side sounds cliché, but it can make a world of difference. Having a negative outlook can turn even the most minor annoyances into huge problems in your mind.
- Tackle first things first. Become a master at triage — that’s determining the most important of the tasks you’re trying to handle and methodically completing those first, then moving on to less critical jobs. Resist trying to do multiple projects at once.
- Savor your victories. When you accomplish a personal goal or finish a major project, do something nice for yourself. It can be as simple as getting a massage or as extravagant as taking a weekend getaway. Celebrate your achievement before you jump into the next project.
Your outlook is such an important factor in how your body deals with stress. Following these 10 steps will help you put stress in perspective and start enjoying your life again.
Learn more about men’s health basics.