3 Little Known Stressors Killing Men and the Women Who Love Them


It’s no secret that stress levels are on the rise.  Much of our present-day stress involves our minds going around and around worrying about what could happen. “Stress—or as I like to think of it, the mind that’s running on overdrive—is now considered to be a leading factor in numerous illnesses,” says Woodson Merrell, MD, chairman of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center and author of The Source. “By some estimates, up to 80 percent of all illnesses are stress induced.”

Although stress impacts everyone, men are particularly vulnerable.  We see that in the fact that men die sooner and live sicker than do women.  A chart that I shared in my last post is worth sharing again.  It contains  statistics from the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that men have a higher death rate for the ten leading causes of death (numbers are deaths per 100,000 population):


These statistics show, for instance, that for every 100 women who die of heart disease 150 men die.  For every 100 women who commit suicide 400 men kill themselves and for every 100 women who are killed in a homicide 390 men are killed.

Since we know that stress is implicated in most causes of death, what are the most common stressors?  We often think of such things as time pressures, unhealthy lifestyles, traffic jams, and financial worries.  But major new research reported by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book, The Spirit Level:  Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, indicates that more important stressors are ones we probably are not even aware exist.

The Three Killer Stressors Few People Know About

If we take a moment to think about it, the stress that impacts us the most strongly have to do with other people, particularly those who are close to us. Wilkinson and Pickett say that “the most powerful sources of stress affecting health seem to fall into three intensely social categories.”

  1.  Trauma experienced when we were children.
  2.   Low social status.
  3.   Lack of friends.

Early Trauma Affects Health Years After It Occurs

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study has demonstrated that childhood experiences affect adult health decades after they first occur.  The ACE Study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.  They found that childhood abuse, neglect, and exposure to other adverse experiences are common. Almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more.

Further, it was found that each adverse childhood experience increased the risk of health problems later in life.   For instance, compared to people with an ACE score of 0, those with an ACE score of 4 or more were twice as likely to be smokers, 7 times more likely to be alcoholic, 10 times more likely to have injected street drugs, and 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide.

 Low Social Status Is Stressful 

Sally Dickerson and Margaret Kemeny, both psychologists at the U.C.L.A. found that the stressors that most impacted our health were ones that threatened our sense of self-worth in the eyes of others.  They collected findings from 208 published reports of experiments in which people’s cortisol (stress hormone) levels were measured while they were exposed to an experimental stressor.

They classified all the different kinds of stressors used in experiments and found that “tasks that included a social-evaluative threat (such as threats to self-esteem or social status), in which others could negatively judge performance, particularly when the outcome of the performance was uncontrollable, provoked larger and more reliable cortisol changes than stressors without these particular threats.”

Lack of Friends Can Be a Real Killer

“All the usual risk factors for heart disease—smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and a high-fat diet—account for only half of all cases of heart disease,” says heart expert Dr. Dean Ornish. “Every so-called lifestyle risk factor laid at the door of cardiovascular illness by the medical community has less to do with someone having a heart attack than does simple isolation—from other people, from our own feelings and from a higher power.”

Thomas Joiner, author of Lonely at the Top:  The High Cost of Men’s Success, calls men “the lonely sex.”  And it points out that it gets worse as we age.  “Men’s main problem is not self-loathing, stupidity, greed, or any of the legions of other things they’re accused of,” says Joiner. “The problem, instead, is loneliness; as they age, they gradually lose contacts with friends and family, and here’s the important part, they don’t replenish them.”

As the suicide statistics verify, men often feel increasingly alone as they get older, even when they are surrounded by those who care about them. “A postmortem report on a suicide decedent,” says Joiner, “a man in his sixties read, ‘He did not have friends…he did not feel comfortable with other men…he did not trust doctors and would not seek help even though he was aware that he needed help.’”

The importance of friends reminds me of the refrain from Desperado by the Eagles.  “You better let somebody love you, you better let somebody love you, you better let somebody love you…before it’s too late.”

What do you think?  How have these categories impacted your stress levels?

Photo Credit: http://holistifit.com/CreativeCommons

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  1. tom williams says:

    Very good article but very sobering. I think that point number 3 (about lack of friends) has been very hard to take. I am a single guy, never married at 55. Making friends at this point in my life is very hard. Yes, I can do things with guys by groups and things, but they tend to make me feel very unfulfilled. It seems like so many guys are taken so they wouldn’t have time for me. And then there are guys who are single and unattached, but they seem very weird.

    I don’t know. It seems like something should really be done about this. I feel like being with a woman can really help, but I feel like that’s not all that can do it. My family is very scattered and just doing their own things. I have friends, but they seemed to be scattered also.

    There is a site that I go on that’s all about Never Married No Kids for women. I have been on there and the women welcome me into it. By reading it, you’d swear that there are tons of middle aged women that are having the same problem. If so, then where are they?

    So that’s my comment.

    • Tom, I too took note of that bit about how lacking friends can induce way heavy stress levels, and I like your comment. I feel ya bro’ : ) I am approaching my 70th year. I have outlived all my contemporary friends, save one, who now has altzeimer. Until recently, I thought I would die friendless. Now it is my intent to find new friends of all kinds, hoping to form truly close relationships with as many persons as I can. To that end I am active on twitter, tumblr, facebook, wordpress, quora… you get the idea. Give it a try, Tom, the only thing you have to lose is time at the TV!

      • Guy, Good ideas and support. There have been a number of studies indicating that men, unlike women, don’t develop new friendships as we get older. Whether we do it through social media or just getting involved with others locally, it may not be easy, but as you point out, it’s important. Thanks for offering your ideas and experiences.

        I’ll be interested to hear from others about what they have been doing. For me, I’ve started doing Zumba classes. Started out as a fun exercise, but I’m also meeting new people and getting involved in a whole new area of life.

        • Just want to say it takes guts to be a man and go by yourself to Zumba classes. Props to you. My understanding is that few men are getting in to Zumba, but perhaps I’m wrong or is this only true for some localities.

          • I’ve always been somewhat of a maverick from the time I was 4 and the shoe salesman told me I didn’t want the red keds. “Those are for girls. You want the blue ones.” I walked out in red and decided red was my color. I wore red to school, got hassled, and wore more red. I actually like red quite a lot.

            Going to Zumba classes and hanging out with a lot of nice looking, young and old, sweaty women, isn’t too difficult. Its true that guys don’t seem to go (and least where I’ve been), but too bad. I keep telling my men friends and occasionally one will come to check it out, but they rarely come back.

            I suspect its got something to do with pride and fear of “looking bad,” shame about “dancing,” etc. I’d be interested in other’s take on “Why men don’t go to things that seem too ‘female.’ What do you think?

    • As a 59 year old woman, if I am looking for friends of either gender I start by looking at community or church organizations that touch my passion. When I know someone is committed to the same causes that I am it creates a bond very quickly. My suggestion, find your passion, get involved and see who comes into your life.

      • Holly, good suggestions. I, too, have found people I could develop friendships with at events and common areas of passion and interest. With that, you automatically have something in common to build upon.

  2. Tom, This is one of the most difficult problems men face. Many of us didn’t find it easy to make friends while we were young. Others found that friendships slipped away as we got older. I’ve found one of the best things we can do to stay alive and well, is to reach out a find a friend. Its not easy, but its better than spending needless time sick or in the hospital. Don’t give up, others want to have friends, too. Keep trying. Let me know how it goes.

  3. Hi Jed – Another excellent example of your continued work in helping men to realize their full potential in life. You and I are on the same page… as usual.

    Childhood trauma can be a haunting nightmare for men (and women too). They feel their buttons being pushed and react to current stressors as if they were still reacting to painful incidents in their past. This impacts men both at work and at home. Men’s perceptions of their social status being insufficient (keeping up with the Jones’) coupled with issues from their childhood, can make for a ticking time bomb in terms of their health. In many instances men are not the one in a relationship to make plans and reach out. Many men rely on their wives to be the social secretary. Unfortunately, keeping up with connections may be too far out of their comfort zone if they lose their partner due to divorce or death. This impacts their social circle negatively causing isolation. We already know that isolation can be one of the leading causes of depression and suicide. The statistics you post bring that fact into sharp focus.

    Thanks for all your hard work. Your books are still my go to for men’s health. Keep up the great work!!

    Best –

    • Lisa, you’re right. I remember when I went through a divorce many years ago, I was shocked to find that “our friends,” turned out to be “her friends.” I hadn’t put much energy into keeping the connections, assuming that was “women’s work.” But friends are for everyone and we all need to put effort out. I think guys need to learn from women how to do that. Thanks for your comments and support over the years.

  4. Carol Taylor says:

    I neglected my friends during a long marriage.My husband and I were both wrapped up in our immediate family we lost touch with the outside. Things happen, and we went our separate ways last year. I have made many friends, at this point they are fledgling relationships, but I had to go for it. I text every Sunday, I write email twice a month, i invite others to coffee. I never fall into the why should I contact them they never contact me personal pride contest. The best piece of reality I can remind you of is that whilst it may be some stranger knocks on your door and becomes your friend, friends are out there, not in your living room. So, go and do things that involve other people. Do things that help other people. Commit to something, to a course, cleaning canals, urban gardening, walking your sick neighbors dog, and speak to people, practice by smiling and saying hello to everyone, make the first move to chat, and gradually it becomes second nature and you invite smiles back.
    Almost everyone seems to me, to be isolated, and almost everyone I smile at, is pleased to have made that brief human contact. It makes me feel good and them. You will be amazed at the expansion of your life.

    • Carol, thanks for the comments. You’re right and your details of what you do shows us all that we need each other and that we have to put out the efforts. Most of us understand that we have to put out effort to get enough exercise, to eat well, and reduce stress. But friendships may think just “happen” or that we make them once and then can coast on the past. You remind us that we can connect every day, with a kind word or even a smile of recognition and appreciation.

  5. I have found that for me I am a public extrovert. In the work place I am well liked. I rarely extend the work place friendships into my personal life. I have found as a 53 year old male that I actually enjoy the solitude although I do have children at home.

    I have found it much harder to make friends and I am very reluctant to reach out to new people. It may be because I am time strapped still having 4 children 13 and under at home. However I am not nearly as outgoing in my personal relationships as I used to be. This article really hit home for me. I find myself being much more stressed than I used to be and less flexible in relationships and in reaching out to others. I think it is a function of being less trustful of people and less interested in engaging outside of the work place which is probably a formula for disaster should I ever retire.

    Any thoughts on how to overcome time and trust issues to achieve reaching out to other people. I am very career focused and very much into working and accomplishing work tasks. I’ve become much more task oriented as I age and much less people oriented.

    • Monte,
      Having lots going on with work and family often consumes our energy. I know it did mine. During those years it was difficult to put much energy into friendships. I lost track of some good friends that feel by the wayside during those years. I’m still pretty busy, but seeing the importance of friends, I now reach out, even if I only have a little time. I find it can help to start with one person who we already have some connection with and see if we can deepen it. Let us know how it goes.

  6. I’m really at wits end with my husband. Irritable male syndrome plus 100 – he tells me he hates me, I nag, nit-pick, he’s told me every year we’ve been married to get out, calls me names, swears like a sailor, and is so overworked (by his choice) although I get blamed for that too, that he is on a death march and our marriage is a sham. He’s openly threatened to commit suicide at least six times, pointing his finger at me like a weapon, running away from me hollering, “I’m going to kill myself now”, or “When I do it, it will be right in front of you!” I calmly said to him that he should not threaten with that final ultimatum ever. My son-in-law committed suicide in 2001, and it has been the most profound and horrific experience I’ve had to go through in my 58 years. My husband is extremely talented, creative, and likes to put on the “facade” that he is in control, happy-go-lucky, and likes to impress upon others he is a “can do – go to guy!” Everyone takes advantage of him due to the fact that he never says “NO” and prides himself on saying “the only word I don’t know is no.” He gets so angry and agitated at me over a simple question, such as “are you going to your mother’s and stay overnight? I answered, “I don’t know.” and he blew up – stormed out, that’s why I hate you, just a simple YES or NO! He eats poorly, Coke-a-Colas by the boxful, sugar, protein – meat constantly. And, when I found your article “Irritable Male Syndrome” it FIT HIM to a TEE! The only problem is he will not go to a doctor. He yells, “yeah, you’ve got all the answers – WHEN do I HAVE TIME – huh?” I said, you make time to go to training, to do work for others, to watch TV, to take the time to yell at me – why not spend some of that time and visit your doctor? He won’t. This July 28 – is 9 years we will be married. In the last year there has been no sex. I don’t feel like having sex with someone who calls me a f***ing bitch, tells me I’m like talking to a cocker spaniel, and he continually stymies any communication with me by focusing on TV, as he says, to do some mindless noise so I don’t have to listen to all the things I have to do going around in my head. I could go on and on, but what I’VE decided to do is enjoy my life. I’ve done a community play, met new people, formed light-hearted bonds with other women, started driving a school bus and mentoring young children whose parents don’t have time to do things with them, I finally joined my classmates at our 40 year reunion and reconnected with my girlfriends. I’m going to baseball games to watch my grandson, my daughter just gave birth to my third grandchild and I’m so happy with that. I got into a business adventure with a co-worker and we are having a blast selling our products. BUT, mostly, I’ve started eating better, riding my bike 13 miles to work, and enjoying the minutes I have to create a place of joy and peace. I can’t chose my husband’s destiny, even if his choice is dark. What I can do is be a pleasant and happy person that somehow might show him that our life is what WE make it, nothing more, nothing less. For those struggling in poor marriages, or loneliness, you have to be able to help yourself – you CAN’T spend another second being drained by unhappy, negative people. YOU were not brought into this world to bear other’s crosses – your cross is heavy enough – lighten you load and start living with healthy choices – small as they may be – the little things in life add up to some of the MOST rewarding.
    LOVE to you all – peace and health!

  7. Debra,

    Clearly your husband is depressed, angry, and very hostile and you’re wise to take care of yourself. You don’t deserve to be abused. Even when a person has a problem like depression, it doesn’t help them or yourself to allow yourself to be harmed. If you want to help yourself and help him, you’ve taken the a big step in deciding not to let him pull you under. Even drowning men can take someone with them. Don’t let it happen to you. Your task is to take care of yourself, offer him help and support, and encourage him and you to get professional help. Thanks for sharing your experiences here.

  8. Joe Magura says:

    All the previous posts carry quite a bit of truth to them and I have to agree with them.
    Through the years I have come to the conclusion that perhaps what everyone should be seeking are the right answers for whatever concerns they are experiencing. For My Beautiful Wife and I, We have found that a key lime pie from Anita’s and Kutchie’s Key Lime Pie Factory pretty much has the ability to cure just about any problems that could be of concern to our marriage as well as our sex lives. Some say it is just a placebo effect but we think not. The pies have a powerful and what many call a magical effect. All we know is that they work wonders for us. Since the pies we have become closer than we have ever been before. We think it could possibly come from the fact that Anita and Kutchie are so extremely in LOVE with one another. And from what we understand They have always been a happily married couple working partner team. And for more than 35-years they have been working hand and hand and standing side by side baking their marvelous key lime pies. Somehow, that love the couple has for each other appears to be able to transfer it’s-self into they’re key lime pies. I guess that it could really be true that there is something magical about Anita’s and Kutchie’s Key Lime Pies!!!

    If you believe that the pies could be of benefit to you and your marriage you can find Anita’s and Kutchie Pelaez’s KEY LIME PIE FACTORY and GRILL in Asheville, N.C. near the Biltmore House and Gardens.

    We highly recommend that you at least give them a try. What have you got to lose?

    Joe Magura

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