What are stressors and stress?
It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline.
Circumstances or phenomena that trigger the stress response are called ‘stressors.’ The manifestation of stress tends to increase as a factor of the number of stressors acting on the individual.
It would be useless to discuss stress without focusing on stressors; it would be impossible to manage stress without first managing stressors.
Stress manifests as a feeling of physical, mental/emotional, or spiritual tension, or it may be dangerously silent. The physical, psychospiritual, behavioral, and social manifestations of stress (the signs and symptoms, SSx) caused by stressors (the causes) are how stress expresses itself (the effects); it must be clear that you cannot cope with SSx of stress without first acknowledging the stress, and then identifying its source, the stressors.
These stressors can emerge from activities of daily life, relationships, financial pressures, and many other situations; anything that poses a real or perceived challenge or threat to a man’s well-being can cause stress.
When the body becomes too easily aroused, or when impinged upon simultaneously by multiple stressors, the resulting stress can adversely affect a person’s mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
When a man faces a mild, normal stressor, there is a physical response; his body produces cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, which result in a heightened state of arousal or awareness.
Stressors and stress, and their effects have received much attenion. In fact, stress has become a public health concern. The results of the findings of the APA surveys draw attention to the serious physical, mental/emotional, social, and inevitably, spiritual implications of stress and the inextricable link between the mind-body, and spirit. The unavoidable conclusion to be drawn from the multi-year surveys: Stress is on the rise and is adversely affecting men’s health.
Effects of Stress
A man who does not have adequate coping skills or resources will probably have a more intense reaction to stressors that could trigger health problems. The same stressors affect different individuals in different ways.
These effects typically involve a significant change, extra effort, new demands, but all require a need for adaptation. Adaptation also often requires a man to take steps into the unknown and uncertainty.
If these effects are negative and protracted his response to life challenges may have an adverse effect on his health and feeling of wellbeing.
For example, a 2018 review found associations between psychosocial risk factors such as work- related stress and coronary heart disease (CHD), although the authors could not confirm the exact mechanisms through which stress causes coronary heart disease.
Types of Stress
The Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) propose two types of stress: acute and chronic, and three types of stressor: routine stress, stress of disruptive change, and traumatic stress.  I’d like to add a fourth type, which doesn’t quite fit neatly in any of the three types, ‘minority stress.’
Acute stress (AS) is short-term and usually the more common form of stress. Acute stress occurs in association with the activities of daily living, recent events, anticipated future challenges. Examples may include meeting a publication deadline, political developments, effects of the pandemic on interest rates. Ordinarily, AS will resolve once the stressor has been sorted out.
Acute stressors are often transient, tend to have a clear and immediate time window, and an imminent resolution.
Recurrent or prolonged AS over a protracted period may reorganize to become chronic stress.
Chronic stress (CS) is stress that continues or develops over a protracted period with harmful physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual outcomes.
CS occurs when a man cannot avoid the stressors or is overwhelmed by them. Early life experiences such as trauma may also predispose to poor coping, and result in chronic stress.
A hallmark of CS is that there is no down-regulation to a pre- or non-stress condition, resulting in various physiological, mental/emotional, and spiritual dysfunctions. The sufferer never really returns to a normal, unstressed state.
A persistent stress state may increase a man’s risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Depression, anxiety, symptoms of PTSD, and other psychological disorders can develop in CS.
A major problem with CS is that the sufferer may become tolerant of the stress or refuse to acknowledge that he is stressed; in his avoidance or denial strategy, he may not seek support or refuses it when offered. Stress can then precipitate the so-called silent killers, cardiovascular disease (CVD), high blood pressure, or depression.
The manifestastions of CS can also become a component of a man’s personality, causing him to manifest or express the effects of stress in his day-to-day activities, relationships, social life.
A man suffering CS is clearly at risk of a final showdown that can result in self-destructive behavior, violent actions towards self or others, heart attack, or stroke.
Causes of Stress
The causes of stress can be summarized succintly as life. Stressors and potential stress surround us, and are present in almost every moment of living. Each of us responds differently to stressors because each of us has his own coping strategies; some are more efficacious than others, of course.
Almost any situation has the potential to become a stressor but, because we each have unique coping strategies, what may be stressful for you may not be stressful for me. For some men, just thinking about a stressor — let’s call it a “trigger” — or multiple minor triggers will cause stress. There is no identifiable reason why one person may feel less stressed than another when facing the same stressor. Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may predispose a man to stress or aggravate existing stress.
Unfortunately, stress has been excessively medicalized, which leads to the further unfortunate circumstance that most men think it needs “treatment,” and promptly avoid seeking help. The story of our lives, right?
Well, the good news is that stress does not often require medical diagnosis or treatment, and the mainstay of alleviating stressors and stress include self-help and some lifestyle changes. First of all, identify the stressor causing stress; then integrate early alternative strategies such as relaxation, breathing, meditation, aromatherapy, or massage. Joining a support group or receiving the guidance of a mentor are also very helpful. These are called ‘coping resources’ and are aimed at developing ‘coping skills;’ they should be integrated before stress can become chronic, since they help a man to manage new challenges while maintaining his physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
Ongoing awareness, management, and maintenance are indispensible. I also advocate a thorough lifestyle review and complementary psychospiritual methods to aid in managing stressors, learning coping skills, or eliminating the adverse effects of stressors and stress-related perceptions of being overwhelmed. Among the most valuable coping strategies, lifestyle changes head the list.
Observation, conversation, and self-reflection as well as face-2-face interview are the most direct ways to identify stressors, characterize SSx of stress, and assess its effects. I also teach and mentor a number of strategies in Homoerotic Tantra ℠ and in the ‘Warrior Discipline.’
Most importantly, identify and acknowledge stressors and the SSx of stress. This needs to be done honestly and early, before the stressors become a ‘normal’ component of your life, and you become oblivious to their effects, and deny the stress and its effects.
You may be so close to the problem that you can’t see it or you may be so focused on the circumstances causing the stress that you do not appreciate or admit its effects on your being. It is therefore essential to cultivate mindfulness in any challenging circumstances and to recognize their potential to become stressors.
Acknowledging signs and symptoms is the essential first step to taking action. A man who experiences anxiety, depression, high job demands, works long hours, or has relationship problems, or feels generally overwhelmed may need to review or adjust his lifestyle.
Most men think they have an activity that helps them relax, such as watching a movie, working out, listening to music, or spending time with a friend, but they don’t realize that these activities may themselves be stressors.
Having a personal strategy, a resource for social support or being part of a supportive group can reduce the risk of stress and provides strategies and practical help.
Of course, stress is perceived as overwhelming and is adversely affecting activities of daily life, you should seek specialist help, such as stress management counseling, or even therapy.
Stress management includes a number of self-help approaches. I do not encourage the fiction that a man can develop his stress management or coping skills merely by buying self-help books or using online resources, however. Homoerotic Tantra ℠ and Warrior Discipline creates what I call a sacred talkspace that can be very helpful in developing coping skills.
Know when to seek help
If you’re not sure if stress is the cause of your malaise or if you’ve taken steps to control your stress but your symptoms continue, consult with a trusted physician or other psychospiritual professional. Your care provider may want to check for underlying causes. A good first step is lifestyle review or chatting with a professional counselor or mentor, who can help you identify sources of your stress and recommend coping tools.
Stressors and stress are here to stay but you have many resources to prevent their adverse effects.
Part II of this two-part series will discuss some psychospiritual approaches to stressors and stress.
©2020/2021. Homoerotic Tantra:Mascul-IN-Touch℠ and H.W. Vadney MDiv. (Daka Karuṇā (करुणा) T.). All rights Reserved. This document is considered proprietary and confidential. Permission to publish this article is granted provided attribution is recognized without prejudice to the author’s rights. Homoerotic Tantra:Mascul-IN-Touch℠, Homoerotic Tantra:Mascul-IN-Timacy℠, and Daka Karuna are alteregos of H.W. Vadney MDiv.
2] ↑ For example, beginning in 2007, the American Psychological Association (APA) has commissioned an annual nationwide survey, ‘Stress in Amercia™,’ as part of its Mind/Body Health campaign to examine the state of stress across the United States, and to better understand its effects.
3] ↑ Sara JD, Prasad M, Eleid MF, Zhang M, Widmer RJ, Lerman A. Association Between Work-Related Stress and Coronary Heart Disease: A Review of Prospective Studies Through the Job Strain, Effort-Reward Balance, and Organizational Justice Models. J Am Heart Assoc. 2018 Apr 27;7(9):e008073. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.117.008073. PMID: 29703810; PMCID: PMC6015274.
4] ↑ 5 Things You Should Know About Stress’ (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml, last accessed on April 1, 2021).
5] ↑ Michael Bailey J. The Minority Stress Model Deserves Reconsideration, Not Just Extension. Arch Sex Behav. 2020 Oct;49(7):2265-2268. doi: 10.1007/s10508-019-01606-9. Epub 2019 Dec 18. PMID: 31853696.
6] ↑ See the American Psychological Association cover story, ‘Helping men to help themselves. Research aims to understand why men are less likely than women to seek mental health help, and what psychologists can do to change that (https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun05/helping, last accessed on April 1, 2021).
7] ↑ I cover a number of these in Part II.
8] ↑ See the list above, which does not claim to be exhaustive but provides some effective strategies that can be used alone or in combination; they are all components of the Homoerotic Tantra ℠ discipline.