Stress. Why is it that healthcare experts, feature newscasters, the AARP and our wives, families and friends always want to talk to us about stress?
We all know we have to watch our diet and get some regular exercise. We know we have to occasionally pass up that quarter-pounder with cheese and even our kids warn us of the evils of smoking. Why this endless parade of counselors that Job would recognize? The answer: our loved ones care about us.
Stress and stress-related symptoms account for six of the top ten leading causes of death among men, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, suicide and kidney failure. But there is yet another silent killer lurking out there as a health threat to men, and that is nothing other silence itself.
Typically men are regarded as quiet, certainly in comparison with our female counterparts. This is even more so the case in the area of expressing how we feel. I suspect this tendency has its origins in the need to appear strong, confident and in command when leading the tribe on a foraging expedition or in the face of some crisis. Maintaining an outward bearing of stoic indifference lends an air of stability and would appear reassuring to the smaller and more vulnerable women and children of the tribe. But very often habits and practices which had important survival value in our racial past have now become outdated and to a certain extent even counterproductive.
When I speak of expressing feeling I am not referring here to there fairly well understood necessity of constructively expressing rage. Unexpressed hostility often accounts for symptoms which include high blood pressure, ulcers and hypertension. Today I want to make a case for expressing the warm feelings we often keep locked inside, which include love, affection, tenderness, kindness and generosity.
Unfortunately men are often out of touch with their warm feelings. Even when they are aware of them, they are often reticent about expressing or showing them very much. Most men would be at a loss to be able to explain why they feel reluctant to show how much they care for their wife or children. Ironically, if a man owns a dog he will often be much more willing to display enthusiastic affection for the pooch than he might be for his own kids. Men certainly are an odd bunch.
Some of the greatest minds in human history such as Einstein, Freud and Edison achieved their results through the use of their imaginations or what Einstein termed thought experiments. He would simply imagine a situation in his mind and then begin to tear it apart and rearrange it in different ways until he struck upon the solution. Now I am going to give you, the reader, a chance to join the ranks of these great thinkers.
Men: think about your children. Now think about one of them being in a serious accident or, God forbid, even a fatal one. It often takes a real life tragedy to jar men into thinking about what opportunities they’ve missed and how they might have done things differently if only they’d known. Fortunately, through the use of thought experiments we can be asking ourselves these important questions and making changes for the better in our lives without having to wait for tragedy to strike. Here is a worthy challenge: pick just one person in your life and commit yourself to showing them more and more the affection that you truly feel for them.
Keeping physical and verbal displays of affection bottled up may seem less dramatic than unexpressed hostility, but it is no less harmful in its effects. Not only does it hurt the man’s heart but it robs his family and loved ones of the support and affection they need to see, feel and experience as a necessary part of their mental health and development. Men need to be willing to stretch in this direction, to go past and transcend their area of comfortability and risk appearing or feeling foolish or silly. The positive impact is well worth any transient discomfort.
Men have an in-born need to protect and cherish their families and loved ones. This is an opportunity for men to seize the initiative and be proactive in providing their families the type of protection and security they need in the twenty-first century. In so doing, men could become more flexible and less rigid in their emotional lives, which is every bit as important to their overall health as having flexible joints, muscles and tendons.
Men value competency very highly. Men: this is an area in which there is a lot of room for improvement. If you state the intent to yourself of being more demonstrative with your affection, you’ll soon begin to recognize the ways in which you hold back and recognize opportunities to mend those ways. If nothing else, you can take comfort in the fact that you are thinking like a genius!
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