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Testosterone: Your Best Defense Against MANxiety

(This blog post was written by Elisabeth Mandel, LMFT. Elisabeth is an Associate Therapist at our practice and specializes in working with couples.)

Throughout the day, week and month, our stress levels will fluctuate to some degree. Stress can be positive or negative, acute or chronic. Regardless of type, stress causes changes in our bodies, one of which is the production of cortisol.

In his book, “Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice,” John Gray (2010) discusses the role of cortisol in our daily lives, and its effect on relationships between men and women.

What is the different between stress and anxiety? Well, this may be more of a debate over semantics than anything else, but generally speaking stress is our body’s initial reaction to a stressor, such as conflict at work or home, whereas anxiety is the umbrella term for the multitude of aftereffects once the stressor is no longer imminent.

For example, there may be talk of downsizing at work. The stressor is the threat of losing your job, and this gives you stress. Then you come home from work and have dinner with your partner, and you are still preoccupied about the possibility of being laid off. This preoccupation is a form of anxiety.

Your adrenal glands react to a stressor by producing and releasing the hormone cortisol. When prolonged stress turns into anxiety, your body becomes flooded with these stress hormones because your adrenal glands are overproducing cortisol, and exhausting themselves in the process. This is why we experience anxiety throughout our bodies– including muscle tension, rapid heart rate, sweating, headaches, etc.– and anxiety can sometimes feel so difficult to manage!

Testosterone is also produced by the adrenal glands (as well as the testes). Anxiety lowers testosterone. When men experience anxiety, the overproduction of cortisol in the adrenal glands shuts down the production of testosterone. This biofeedback loop is important to consider because of the self-reinforcing power of anxiety. In other words, more cortisol leads to greater anxiety, which leads to more cortisol, etc. All the while, the man’s testosterone levels are dropping.

Low testosterone in men reduces sex drive, motivation and the desire for intimacy with his partner, creating another kind of feedback loop: the dynamic between partners in the presence of stress.

He is anxious about work and now he doesn’t want to have sex or be close to his partner. She may then experience rejection, which can make her anxious and lead her to approach the growing distance in the relationship in the following ways: avoidance, acceptance or confrontation. The partner’s behavior may lead to greater anxiety in the man, who may be feeling ashamed about his low sex drive or angry at his partner for confronting the issue with reactivity. The relationship is strained.

One way to lower cortisol levels is by actively increasing testosterone to counteract the tendency of the adrenal glands to keep producing more cortisol. Men can increase their testosterone levels by:

1)  Changing their diet to increase protein and reduce excess fat and sugar

2)  Increasing the frequency and intensity of exercise in their weekly routine

3)  Lowering their stress, obviously!

If your relationship is strained by manxiety, encourage your man to exercise, support his healthy eating habits, and show appreciation and reassurance for his efforts! Suggest doing a physical activity together. Go on a joint diet as a couple and clean out your home of junk food. Help him raise his testosterone levels so he can better manage his anxiety. His sex drive will go up, along with his motivation and desire for closeness.

Bring on the testosterone. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Gray, John (2010). Venus on Fire Mars on Ice. British Columbia: Mind Publishing.


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