Man working with tools

"Feeling anxious is pretty common. Fortunately, there are several ways to manage it and get back on track."

Anxiety is a common experience for many men, especially when there is lots going on in life. To some extent, anxiety can be useful as it cues us to important things in our lives that need attention. However, when anxiety becomes excessive and lasts a long time, it reflects a more serious issue and shouldn’t be ignored. 

Anxiety can affect guys in different ways:

  • Feeling restless or tense, out of control, irritable, or angry
  • Rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, trembling/shaking, or body aches
  • More intense symptoms can also include panic attacks – episodes of feeling scared, nauseous, and struggling to breathe – which guys often don’t recognize as anxiety right away
  • Oftentimes, guys ‘deal’ with anxiety by avoiding certain activities, having a short temper or ‘blowing up’ more often, or using substances like alcohol or marijuana

While a lot of guys tend to feel alone in their experience of anxiety, it’s actually quite common. Approximately 30% of adults will have anxiety during their lifetime1. Even pro athletes, like NBA star Kevin Love, struggle with anxiety (and panic attacks), and more and more athletes are speaking out about their mental health.

Anxiety can interfere with your daily life activities, work performance, career, academics, and personal relationships, so it’s really important to manage anxiety and get support.

Here are 10 practical ways to manage anxiety:

1. Shift your focus

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, try switching gears and focus on doing something you enjoy. It could be going for a run or working out, preparing a nice (and healthy) meal, spending time outside in nature, listening to music, watching a funny movie, playing a game…whatever helps get your mind off things.

2. Get physical

Physical activity can be a great way to work off the tense feelings that come with anxiety. Endorphins released during exercise can help you feel more relaxed and clear-headed. 

Make sure to start slow and be consistent if physical activity is not already part of your routine. It’s important to listen to what your body needs in order to prevent injury – your body will adjust and get stronger with time. If going for a 5 minute walk is all you have the energy to do, start there. 

3. Limit caffeine and other substances (like alcohol and marijuana) that can make things worse.

Caffeine increases your heart rate and can make anxiety worse. If you love the taste of coffee, try drinking decaf instead.

Guys often use alcohol to unwind and relax, but alcohol can increase anxiety within a few hours of consumption and make existing anxiety issues worse. Guys who regularly use alcohol to ease their anxiety are more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse and dependency, which can result in many serious health issues.

Some substances like marijuana might make you feel more relaxed in the short-term, but are not a long-term fix, and will usually make things worse. Some guys who use marijuana products high in CBD feel that it improves their anxiety symptoms temporarily (whereas marijuana products high in THC may make symptoms worse), but long term use is not well studied, and heavy use can create issues with dependency. Especially among young and frequent users, marijuana products are associated with the increased risk of developing psychosis.

It’s important not to mask your anxiety with temporary relief that alcohol and other substances may provide. Instead, getting to the bottom of the issue will help you feel better in the long-run.

4. Practice deep breathing

A simple way to help your body relax, even when your mind and heart are racing, is to focus on your breath. Slow abdominal breathing, or deep breathing, activates the part of your nervous system that shuts down the fight-or-flight response. You can do this anytime, anywhere. 

Breathe deeply into your stomach and chest for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. This technique is called ‘box breathing’, and will help to lower your heart rate and give you a moment to collect your thoughts.

5. Practice being mindful

There are many different ways to practice being mindful

When you’re feeling anxious, you can take a breath, make a mental note of what you’re feeling anxious about, and then put it aside and get back to your day. This way you’re acknowledging your stresses, rather than ignoring them, which can lead to burn-out and more anxiety. Try thinking “Okay, I’m stressed about work, I’ve set aside time to think about that later” or “I’ve already thought about that enough for now, I’ll move on with my day”.

Sometimes it helps to visualize putting your thoughts in a box, closing the lid, and moving them off to the side to reflect on later.

Mindfulness meditation can be great for slowing down and allowing time to collect yourself, especially if you’re struggling to contain emotions like frustration and anger. It can also help you get more in tune with how you feel, and where you carry stress in your body.

When you are feeling calmer, try to reflect on what was making you anxious. Journaling can be a good way to keep track of and identify your sources of anxiety.

6. Focus on what you can change, and strengthen your mindset with gratitude

Sometimes anxiety can come from worrying about things in the future that haven’t happened yet, or might never happen. It’s important to put things in perspective, and remember that even though unpredictable things happen in life, you can always determine how you react and face challenges. 

Practice using your anxiety as a source of insight that can help you identify and let go of fears. Check in with friends to see if the amount of anxiety you are dealing with is in proportion to the situation you are facing – oftentimes it won’t be. It helps to practice shifting your mindset to being grateful for what you have, instead of getting caught up in anxious thoughts about how things could go wrong.

For example if you are worried about losing your job, talk to a friend or co-worker to see what they think. If there are areas where you can improve, take steps to do so. If your worries aren’t really in line with what others are seeing, then instead try to shift your thoughts to being grateful for the job you have.

7. Talk about your difficulties with someone you trust

This could be a family member, a close friend, or a mentor. Whatever is causing your anxiety, it’s important to talk about it with someone – bottling things up simply does not work. Sometimes just talking about things releases some of the pent-up stress that’s underlying anxiety. 

Often when we’re anxious things can get blown out of proportion as we get stuck in negative thought loops. Talking with a friend can give you an outside perspective and a better sense of what might be going on, and how to manage it.

8. Get to the bottom of it

It’s great to add tools to help you manage stress in the moment, but it’s also important to make sure you’re addressing the underlying issues. Make time to check in with yourself and examine your stressors and symptoms.

Our Stress Test can help you understand what may be causing your anxiety and serve as a springboard for a management strategy. Use the stress test results to talk about it with someone you trust like a close friend or therapist.

9. Start therapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a very effective way to treat anxiety. Therapists come in many forms, such as psychologists, counsellors, and clinical social workers, each with different training backgrounds, specializations, and therapeutic approaches. It may take a few tries to find a therapist who is a good fit for you (many therapists have free consultations), but the effort is worth it. Even for guys who were reluctant to try therapy, afterwards they often say it’s the best thing they ever did for themselves.

See our posts on how to find a therapist and options for online therapy

10. Consult your doc

If your anxiety is overwhelming, it’s a good idea to also make an appointment with your doctor to let them know what’s going on. They may be able to provide more resources for support near you, prescribe medications that can help with your anxiety, or refer you to a psychiatrist.  


Other related articles:

For more information and practical tips about stress management, see our previous post Stress Management and Depression. Also, anxiety and depression often overlap, so many of the practical tips we offer for depression on our site can also help with anxiety. 

External resources:

References:

Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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