Ep 1: The impact of stress and anxiety on the body and tools to reduce it

4 Apr 2022 PODCAST

Anxiety impacts approximately a quarter of the Australian population, however many don't even know they are experiencing it. The impact on the body can vary from person to person, and today Louie and Jess speak to resident Dr C (Chopra) about the possible signs, how this can impact sexual performance and how you can approach your friends and family to let them know you're struggling. Lastly, tools to help you get back into living a happier/stress-reduced life. 

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The information shared on this podcast is not designed to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any condition and is for information purposes only - please discuss any information in this podcast with your health care professional before making any changes to your current lifestyle.


Jessica: Welcome to Flip the Script Podcast, where we flip the narrative on issues that affect men's health.

Louie: Our aim is to talk about the weird, the wonderful, and perhaps, the unspoken issues that affect men, so you can feel empowered and back to living your best life.

Jessica: Let's get into it. Okay, so today we're talking about stress and anxiety, and it's something that we can all relate to, even if it's something that's happened, a particular circumstance in your life, or if it's something a bit more chronic or underlying. Doctor, can you maybe kind of break it down for us, what is actually happening to your body when you're feeling anxious or stressed?

Dr C: Well, stress and anxiety, they start off as a small thing usually. It's whatever kind of event you're experiencing, your body feels it's a bit traumatic. Now, what it does in response to that is to try and protect itself. This includes getting all your blood flow and circulation to just what it thinks are the prime organs, things like your heart, your lungs, your intestines, your brains, and it can trigger a lot of things like the flight or fight response that I'm sure you guys have heard of before. If it's just a one-off event, we tend to say that you may have been anxious or it was just a little bit of stress, but when it keeps recurring again and again and again, that can really weigh you down and that's more where we talk about sort of medical anxiety.

Louie: And what about those people who, when they're experiencing it, they sort of just shut down?

Dr C: Yeah, that comes again to the blood flow is going to just very few parts of your body. So whilst it can sometimes trigger people to actually want to get the hell out of there, it can also make people just shut down and not really be able to, or willing to do anything, because their body won't let them. This is similar to, if you're trying to think about when you've watched a scary horror movie, sometimes you want to get the hell out of there, but at other times, you are just curled up in a ball, not really wanting to do anything, not really capable of doing much. And it's not necessarily that you can't, it's a reaction to the situation, and your body makes it very hard to really do better things to be able to get yourself out of the situation.

Louie: Okay. So, I mean, are there any other signs that we'd know if we're experiencing any stress or anxiety, other than the more obvious?

Dr C: Yeah, so the more subtle things are things like people sometimes feeling their heart racing a little bit, or them noticing that they're breathing a lot faster. Sometimes, people can even feel a bit headache-y or dizzy, but usually, if you're getting to those points, it's been going on for a little bit longer. Definitely things like feeling like you're breathing faster, sometimes even getting a pins and needles feeling in your hands or feet. Those are much more common sort of things that you can get with anxiety.

Louie: So physically, in your body, exactly what's going on?

Dr C: Well, that's what I was saying, you've got the blood being taken away from all of these areas of your body, and that's why they're responding the way they are.

Louie: So, you'll find your blood is going to be in the brain, the heart, stomach?

Dr C: The stomach and your lungs.

Louie: And your lungs. So the vital organs, just to keep you alive.

Dr C: Pretty much.

Louie: During this period that you're feeling a bit anxious and scared.

Dr C: Pretty much, yes.

Louie: It's just there to protect you. So, I guess, what would be the failings, what won't be working during this period?

Dr C: Well, that's where things like your stomach isn't necessarily working, so if you've got a lot of food in there, you're probably going to throw up. Your vision isn't necessarily as good as it was, so sometimes people can feel like they're getting really tunnel-visioned, or sometimes they feel like their vision gets a bit blurry, because you're not getting as much blood to your hands or feet. Sometimes people will find themselves feeling a lot more clumsy, because they're not being able to hold onto things as well. Also, when you get that kind of really tensed up mode, you can become really sweaty, and again, harder to hold onto things. You're more likely to be, as I was saying, clumsy, trip over things. It may feel like, at the time, your body's working against you, because all of those things make you feel even worse. But sadly, the body doesn't care so much about you, it cares more about itself.

Louie: So, I mean, what are some things that someone can do when they're in that situation, when they're feeling that way, to sort of calm themselves down and get the body back to doing what it's supposed to do?

Dr C: Yeah, so the common basic things that we talk about that you can do on your own are things like breathing exercises and forcing yourself into kind of repeating mantras or meditative states, so that you can try to bring everything out. The idea behind doing any of these things is to forcibly correct your body into doing the right thing. Breathing exercises are designed to slow your breathing down, get more oxygen in, get less carbon dioxide being retained. Things like repeating certain mantras or doing meditation things, you're trying to force whatever is stressful out of your head, and trying to get your body to look and say, "No, no, no. That situation is not a problem anymore. It's done. I can go back to no normal."

Dr C: Whilst these things can work, what we find a lot more successful is if you have a support team around you, whether that's your family, your partner, if it's really significant people like a doctor or psychologist, because having other people around you who can help with the issue, what that really does is, if you are stuck, if you are at a point where you can't do it on your own, they can come in and help get you out of it. And it's not that you will always need that. It doesn't mean that you're helpless. It doesn't mean that you're incapable. It's just like asking for help when you're moving furniture around, it's much easier if you've got other people to help you.

Jessica: It's funny how there's a bit of a stigma around someone's mind, like if you have a broken limb.

Dr C: Yeah.

Jessica: Or you fall over, it's like, "All right, go to the hospital." You're more than happy to talk about it. In fact, some guys might be like, "How cool is this? I broke my arm. I got a scar."

Dr C: A lot of guys are like that.

Jessica: Yeah, but when it comes to your mind, it's just so stigmatized. People don't feel as comfortable talking about it.

Dr C: There's lots of different research that's gone into exactly why that feeling is. And the most consistent answer is just that anything that's happening in your head is not obviously physically visible on the outside. If I've broken my arm and my arm is in a cast, everyone can see that's where the injury is. But if it's just in your head, the example that women will sometimes get is period pain. Unless they're cramping and bending over with pain, a lot of other people will just be like, "Oh, she's just making something up." For guys, we don't really have that many things that are as well-known as an analog, and that makes it that much harder for you to say, "No, this is really painful. This is really distressing."

Dr C: And it's also sometimes very hard for other people who don't know you that well, to pick up that you're behaving differently. It's one of the more common things that does happen from time to time, when you are more stressed and anxious, is it just a change in behavior, whether that's, you're not talking to as many people, or that you are suddenly talking a lot about things that are not related to you. You might become suddenly obsessed with the rugby, and that's the only topic you want to talk about, because you don't want to talk about yourself. These kinds of changes, unless people know you really well, they might not pick up on. And that makes it just that much harder. No one is noticing that you're having a problem, so it's much harder to ask for help for the problem.

Jessica: Yeah, and especially if you feel like people minimize it.

Dr C: Definitely.

Jessica: So, you don't have a problem. I can't see that you've got a gaping gash on your arm, so it's not a big issue.

Dr C: Yeah.

Jessica: But where it's these little compounding things that happen every day that do make a big impact on the overall happiness of your life and your happiness is kind of a big deal.

Dr C: I'd like to believe that being happy is the true goal for everyone out there.

Jessica: Yeah.

Louie: And, I mean, how would this be affecting you physically? We know that you mentioned the effects as soon as you feel anxious and stressed, but long term effects, can it affect your body? Are there things that might stop working or not work as well?

Dr C: Long term effects of having severe anxiety or stress cover a whole wide spectrum of things from things that people more commonly associate like weight gain, or even weight loss, taking up unhealthy habits like smoking, recreational drugs, even having severe difficulties at work. But you can also have just as many problems at home, whether that's in your day to day relationships, in how well you're taking care of yourself, how you're performing in the bedroom, all of these things, when you are not happy and comfortable with yourself, get worse.

Louie: How is it supposed to affect you in the bedroom?

Dr C: So, it's a lot of things here, starting from when you're stressed and when you're not as happy or confident in yourself, it's harder to get yourself to a point where you're getting consistently good erections. It's harder to have more control over how long you last and that's even before you get to points where blood flow is being more severely taken away. If you remember when I was talking about where blood flows, your penis is not one of those lot.

Jessica: It's not considered the vital area.

Dr C: No, no.

Jessica: So, I guess, I mean, the whole flight and fight thing is pretend there's, I would say saber tooth tiger, even though I don't think they exist today.

Dr C: They did once upon a time ago, but not in these days.

Jessica: Not anymore, but if your imagination goes wild, like mine does, pretend you're being chased, your body doesn't need to go and make babies at that particular point.

Dr C: Pretty much.

Jessica: And so that also goes for women as well, like our reproductive system, your period might stop or come early, and the same for libido and things like that, so I did hear that stress hormones definitely kill your sex hormones.

Dr C: Yeah, definitely. It's not even just a case of killing the sex hormone, it's just, you'll be so flooded with all the stress hormones, all of the hormones to do with controlling your happiness, all of these things really struggle. And the longer it's been going on, the more serious it tends to be, but also the better people tend to be at hiding it, so you will get much further down the track when people are actually looking for help, whether that is for just managing themselves in their stressful situation or having picked up that is having an impact on their day to day home life and now look looking for something to help at home.

Dr C: It becomes really difficult and really challenging. And it's also just as frustrating for anyone who you're there with, if you are not performing as well in the bedroom, your partner probably isn't having a very good time of it either, if you are not feeling as confident or as happy in yourself, your partner may feel like it's either because of them or they now have an extra responsibility to try and fix, in inverted commas, whatever is going on. Where, if the two of you are working on it together, that becomes a lot easier.

Jessica: So, that kind of ties into that thing that you said at the beginning about really seeking that support. What's some good ways that a man can kind of approach his partner or his support network and, as you said, people can't see, they can't experience, they don't know, they don't have that sense of understanding visually what you're going through. How do you help them see it?

Dr C: The easiest thing is to give things more relatable context.

Jessica: Yeah.

Dr C: So things like, I had a rough day at work today.

Jessica: Yeah.

Dr C: I think I've been having a rough day at work every day for the last month. I think that's making things hard for me. That as a sequence of events is far more understandable and most people would recognise that everyone has a rough day here or there, but you don't expect it to be like that every day and that can make it more visible. Similarly, when you're talking about problems in the bedroom, whilst women tend to be known for talking a lot more about what's happening in the bedroom, most guys will probably laugh it off at some point of saying, "Oh, I was with my Mrs the day, and I think I had too many beers and couldn't get it up."

Dr C: But if you've had that kind of joking discussion once, if you've got people you're close to, you can say, "It's been happening a few times. Has it been happening like that for any of you guys?" It's all about sort of making it simple to start with. You start with something that people, well, more people understand and then you try to build that forward. If it's a case of you or not feeling comfortable, just coming out up front, look, if you can do that, that's great, but I do appreciate that's not an easy discussion to start.

Louie: Because it's more likely not to be a solely performance issue.

Dr C: Definitely.

Louie: That's what we're saying here. It's more likely that there's something that's happened, something that's continuously happening.

Dr C: Yeah.

Louie: You mentioned that guys are good at hiding it, but maybe they're not good at detecting it either.

Dr C: 100%.

Louie: And that's the other thing, so when you want to speak to someone about it and really what you have to understand is there's more to this than just the performance. I mean, if you're eating McDonald's every day and you're feeling sick every day...

Dr C: That should probably tell you something.

Louie: That's telling you something. If you're stressed every day, you're not sleeping properly, how are you supposed to function properly? We're not only talking about in sex, but we are also talking about day to day activities, how you're supposed to actually get up in the morning, focus, do what you need to do and then at the end of the day, perform.

Dr C: Exactly. And it's that whole thing of it being so multifaceted and you're right, a lot of guys, whilst we may be got at hiding it, we don't necessarily pick up that we're experiencing it, but that's where you try and look for things that you are aware of, like it was a shit day at work, or I felt like I need a beer every night for the last couple of weeks. Most people recognize that having a drink here or there is fine, but if you're doing it every day, that's probably a worrying sign. If you smoke and suddenly you've gone from five cigarettes a day up to a pack a day, you should probably be at least aware that something is happening. As I said before, you don't need to necessarily dive in head first and go, "Oh crap, everything's falling apart around me." But most of the time, you should at least be aware that something isn't right.

Louie: Yeah, obviously your behavior starts to change and you're seeking, by drinking and by smoking, you're seeking... How do you say, you're seeking some sort [inaudible 00:16:17].

Jessica: The escape, right?

Louie: I don't know if it's the escape, but the euphoric feeling of...

Jessica: Of dopamine.

Louie: The nicotine or the alcohol.

Dr C: So you get a little bit of that, definitely. But often, we in the medical community, we just call it self-medicating.

Louie: Self-medicating?

Dr C: You are trying to treat the problem with something, regardless of whether that's actually going to work well or not.

Louie: Well, I mean, we know that smoking would be...

Dr C: Smoking is bad for you.

Louie: Affecting the stress a little bit more. We know that alcohol is not going to be really helping long term. It might make you feel happy for that.

Dr C: It may make you feel happy in the right now, but most people also know that you're not really yourself when you're drinking. The chances that you'll do something stupid when you're drinking is much higher. The chances that you will do something that really affects your relationship is much higher if you're drinking all the time.

Dr C: People often don't think about the end result of drinking, and as you said, they're looking just at the euphoria feel of it, they like feeling high, they like the fact that they're not worried about things, because their mind can immediately go to whatever topic.But you have to keep in mind, even if you're doing that, you're not solving the issue, all you're is covering it up with a new one. You just put your bandaid on it.

Jessica: Or you are actually feeding the issue.

Dr C: That too, 100%. You're making things worse for yourself.

Jessica: Yeah.

Dr C: Look, again, I'm not telling everyone that you need to stop drinking and smoking immediately. Smoking probably, but drinking, I understand is not necessarily reasonable, but it's being aware that when you're using something like drinking, smoking, drugs, on a consistent basis, to the extent that they're now actually being harmful to your body, your personal life, your relationships, your work life, it's going to go badly.

Jessica: And I guess the same thing for food as well.

Dr C: Oh, definitely. Food is a big part of this. And again, there's lots of things you can read online about healthy eating and matching things from the food pyramid and getting things from each and every part of the cycle into you. And I understand that plenty people will say, "That's just rabbit food, it tastes like crap." I get that, but there are lots of ways to make really good tasting, healthy meals. It takes a little bit of time or potentially a little bit of effort with finding somewhere that can get them to you, but your body will thank you for it.

Jessica: It's small changes and your mind, no different to any other muscle in your body, it needs to be trained.

Dr C: Yes.

Jessica: And yeah, you just need a little bit of discipline to recognise, but I think like you just said before, it's awareness, the first step is awareness.

Dr C: Yeah.

Jessica: Do you recognise any of these particular body impacts? Anxiety affects people differently. First, just listen to your body and just...

Dr C: Definitely.

Jessica: Yeah.

Dr C: If you feel like you're consistently having a bad time, ask yourself what is making you feel bad.

Jessica: Yeah.

Dr C: And if you have a clear answer, fine, tackle it. If you can't work out why, but things are just feeling really bad for a lot of the time. Talk to someone, ask for some help. You don't have to fight this alone.

Jessica: I kind of think it is no different to driving a car. Your support network would be able to see your blind spots that you can't see yourself.

Dr C: Definitely. They may be horrible at giving you good navigation advice, but they're generally pretty good at picking up on small things here and there that you might not be.

Louie: So, going back to performance. Now, with guys that are in those sort of longer term relationships, it might be a little bit easier for them to speak about it with their partner, even when you're in that long relationship, you've got a little bit more time to maybe fix the issue too.

Dr C: Yeah.

Louie: What about these younger, maybe not even younger, maybe just the single guys out there that you get into a new relationship and immediately it's a problem.

Dr C: For those guys, it is definitely a little bit harder, because you don't necessarily have someone who's in the bedroom with you for a long time and who is probably seeing firsthand, whatever is going on. But this is where it comes to again, your support network. It comes back to your support network. You may not necessarily have a partner that you can talk to, but you may be able to raise the issue with friends. They may have an idea of what's going on. You may be able to raise it with someone in your family.

Dr C: Your dad probably has some idea of what that can be like as much as you don't necessarily want to talk to them about these things. As much as it can be really awkward and really difficult, these people do exist. If you really don't want to talk to anybody like that, that you know about, and that's what people like doctors are here for. We're here to give you that relatively confidential space where you can say anything and we'll listen and try to give you some good sound medical advice.

Louie: And hopefully what that's meant to do is reduce stress just before or reduce your performance anxiety just before having sex, and I'm sure that there's, other than your doctor, there's other things that you can look up, references, resources, in regards to this as well?

Dr C: Yeah, there's lots of really good resources out there in two things like premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction. It's estimated that one in three guys will have a problem at some point in their life and somewhere around one in five to one in six will have a recurrent problem at some point in their life. You're not alone. And we are aware that this is a big-ish problem, at least within the medical community, so we have tried to make resources available for you to look up, for you to look through personally, it's just a matter of starting the process.

Jessica: Start at the top. We'll add a few of those resources in the bio of this podcast. And also, just circling back to what you were saying about anxiety, breathing exercises, I mean, it's simple to do in your car when you're driving, if you're in the bathroom, you can do them.

Dr C: Yeah.

Jessica: So there is some really great meditation apps that we'll definitely add into the bio of this as well. But as you said, it's all about firstly identifying, having that awareness and then if you need to, just seek that support, seek that help. Don't be afraid to take the first step.

Dr C: I will just add one thing. I know a lot of guys hear meditation, and they think it's a very airy fairy type thing.

Jessica: Yeah.

Dr C: Meditation doesn't necessarily have to involve you sitting down with music playing, cross-legged and just blanking your mind that way. Meditation can be lots of different things, including more physical things like exercise. That can be very clearing when you're doing it. A lot of people will do quite intense gardening, but that same kind of point that when you're doing something like that activity, whether it's breathing, whether it's meditating, whether it's doing something physical, it's just giving your head something to focus on so that it isn't as focused on everything else.

Jessica: So yeah, I guess that's the whole thing about meditation, right? You're just focusing on one thing.

Dr C: Yeah. Yeah.

Jessica: Because I definitely feel like, as somebody who experiences anxiety, my brain is scattered. There's a million thoughts going in and out. So yeah, if you enjoy walking, going outside, going for a surf.

Dr C: Go for it.

Jessica: Go find some of those childhood hobbies that you loved doing and then you just can focus on that.

Dr C: Yeah. Yeah. That all really makes a big impact. But yeah, it's more just, you don't need to think of it as necessarily just sitting down.

Dr C: There are lots of different things you can do that achieve the same goal.

Jessica: Love it. Love it. Louie, any other last parting questions?

Louie: No, no, that was all pretty clear. I mean, look, the good thing about what we're speaking about today is to obviously make it clear that just because you have a bad performance, it's not related solely, it's not going to reflect that back on you.

Dr C: No, not at all.

Louie: You need to really understand what could be causing this, especially if it's a recurring incident and find someone that can help you.

Dr C: Definitely. Definitely. Whether that's someone in your immediate family, your relationships or someone outside like a doctor, there are lots of us here who are here to help.

Jessica: You're not alone.

Dr C: Definitely.

Jessica: Well, thanks guys for listening. If you rate this podcast, please leave us a five star review, because this will help more people find the podcast and keep us coming back week after week. If you have any questions that you'd like Dr. C to answer on the next podcast, feel free to email us at info@optimalhealth.com.au and we'll answer it on the next podcast. Thanks guys. Thanks Louie and Dr. C.

Dr C: Thank you.

Louie: See you next time.



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