Men are just as plagued by worry as women. (Pic: iStock)
Men are just as plagued by worry as women. (Pic: iStock)

Women don’t have the monopoly on worry

IF WOMEN are worry warts, what does that make men?

Carefree and blithely passing through life with the only weight on their shoulders the kilos they're pushing at the gym?

Ha, not likely.

We girls might be genii at sweating the small stuff but we don't have dibs on it.

To suggest that men are free from fretting is to dismiss the pain and anxiety many blokes feel but might less commonly express.

OK, so I am not a man, but I have many male friends, an uncle, a father and a newly adult son who don't go around "beating their chests" and banging on about how free and easy life is - testosterone doesn't smooth the ride.

Yet my fellow columnist Angela Mollard, a mother of two daughters, suggests this is how it is, and that young women succumb to "low-level yet debilitating worry" that appears not to trouble their male peers.

Boys' concerns "seem more episodic, solvable and driven by issues genuinely worth worrying about", she contends.

What those issues might be, she doesn't say, possibly because she doesn't know. But the men in my life, at least, are concerned about the very things Mollard would have us believe are "part of the female condition".

Men face as many worries as women. (Pic: iStock)
Men face as many worries as women. (Pic: iStock)

Men also worry about their appearance, their finances, how they are perceived at work, their parents' health and their children's achievements.

If men did not stress over such matters, then surely the male suicide rate would not be as astronomical as it is - and three times higher than that of women, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

You can't tell me that body image is a uniquely female obsession. Look at the proliferation of shredded torsos on Instagram and the reported rise in middle-aged dudes getting plastic surgery to appeal to younger mates and you quickly see it's not a gendered trend.

Consider the increase in the number of men with eating disorders - the Butterfly Foundation says four in 10 sufferers are male - and that suicide is a major cause of death for those afflicted.

Financial and emotional pressures also hit blokes hard.

A study by Deakin University and the University of Melbourne this month reveals more than 500 construction workers attempt suicide every year - dozens dying in Queensland alone - with the majority of victims male, aged 36, and fretting about money and relationship breakdowns.

This fits with broader research by the Black Dog Institute that identifies four consistent risk factors in male suicide: a period of disrupted or depressed mood; unhelpful conceptions of masculinity such as the "tough bloke" stereotype; social isolation; and at least one personal stressor.

Clinical psychologist Dr Michael Player says the suicide triggers for men are typically minor in isolation but are part of a series of stressors that build up over time.

Men want help, Dr Player says, but they need more outlets and better role modelling from other males to deal constructively with their problems. Bonding activities like camping and fishing are useful, as are spontaneous physical activities and volunteer work that establishes a sense of connectedness.

Too many guys, he says, turn to drinking, violence, drug use and other forms of self-harm to cope with their concerns.

The 25 million sales of the original Don't Sweat The Small Stuff showed the subject of worry is universal. (Pic: Supplied)
The 25 million sales of the original Don't Sweat The Small Stuff showed the subject of worry is universal. (Pic: Supplied)

Remember the bestseller Don't Sweat the Small Stuff? More than 25 million copies have been sold since its publication 21 years ago, indicating there are more than a few worriers in our world.

Four years after its 1997 release, the authors Richard and Kristine Carlson wrote two more self-help money spinners. He did the version for men (also now an e-book), and she the women's.

A glance at the respective chapter titles, however, reveals many similarities. Here are a few, with the male title listed first: Spend More Time with Your Kids/Create Memories for your Children; Grant Yourself One Hour/Take Time for Your Self; Be Careful of the Comparison Trap/Don't Go There with the "Shoulda Woulda Coulda" Sisters; Rid Yourself of a Busy Mind/Defuse the Thought Explosion!

Mars and Venus, be damned. We're on the same planet when it comes to worrying.

"When you get to know men, you discover that, beneath the surface, we share many of the same fears, worries and frustrations," wrote Dr Carlson, a psychotherapist who died unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism on a plane in 2006, at age 45.

"Our competitive natures, while helpful in certain areas, can lead to stress and burnout" and men are "in a constant hurry", he said.

"We are often running just a little late, scrambling to our next appointment - personal or professional … we can miss what's right in front of us … and become so preoccupied with what's next."

Girls, does this sound at all familiar? Many women I know fit this description perfectly, me included.

Based on what the experts tell us, the burden of worry slugs both sexes, with potentially disastrous consequences that don't discriminate.

To suggest that men's concerns are somehow less significant, constant or far-reaching than women's is flippant and unhelpful.

Kylie Lang is an associate editor of The Courier-Mail.


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