Yesterday I defended my Ph.D. thesis in psychology. The leading theme of my research was psycho-cardiology. I did my best to analyze the relations between stressful life events and personality traits with a heart attack. As this research was vast and very complex, I will provide only the most important results, from which you will have a benefit. The most valuable thing I discovered was the influence of becoming a father on the risk of a heart attack.
I collected data from 500 subjects. Among these 500, 200 were people who survived a heart attack within two last months (at the moment of participating in my research), and 300 were healthy. Around 50% in each group were men. The subjects’ age varied from 19 to 84.
I included 31 stressful life events in the analysis. Some of these stressful life events were happy events, and some unhappy, unpleasant. Psychology says that a eustress is a positive form of stress, while distress is a negative form of stress. Eustress may not always feel good. You may see this new business opportunity as something good for you, but it could be very stressful at the same time! Eustress indicated a challenge, but challenges are not easy as they demand plenty of adjustments. But still, one life event is never isolated as it comes in a situation, to a person with a specific personality, coping strategies, a precise amount and quality of social support, etc. Let’s think of one life event more deeply. Let’s think of the death of a partner. It sounds incredibly terrible, devastating. For some people losing a partner may be the worst thing that can happen. It would change their lives forever. It could lead them to depression or even health deterioration. But let’s imagine an abused woman, a victim of domestic violence. Let’s imagine how she lives in fear or incaged in her own home, where she is supposed to feel good and safe. Let’s imagine her partner is very violent, threatening her he would kill both her and their children if she calls the police. Now let’s imagine her partner got hit by a car and died. Do you think she would be devastated for losing her partner? Holmes and Rahe did some research and concluded that the death of a partner is the most stressful life event a person can experience. I never agreed with the way they did this famous research. I did it differently, asking 500 respondents to evaluate how stressful were some life events for them but only if they experienced them in the past year. I wanted to catch their evaluation while their memory of the past events is still fresh. I didn’t want them to evaluate how stressful it would be IF they experienced this or that.
The results of my doctoral research showed something that is immensely interesting to me. My analysis indicated that men who got a baby in the past 12 months had 12 times more chance to experience a heart attack than those who did not get a baby in the past 12 months.
How is that possible?
What I think is that men lack social support after becoming a father. The whole world speaks of pregnancy, maternal physical and mental health, maternal recovery, baby blues that moms have after giving birth. Everyone focuses on mom and baby. I never heard people asking dads how they feel now that they got a baby, how are they handling this new situation, his partner’s changing emotions, the pressure to be helpful and think of his partner more (and himself less). I never heard someone asked a father if he sleeps enough since the baby is born. I believe in the equality of men and women. I believe in marital partnership. I believe both men and women can feel sad and lonely. I am sure men can feel lost and have baby blues. I bet they feel tired too. Science proves men have emotions as well. Men need attention, just like their better halves or their babies. We all need love and support, and we all need attention. When the baby is born, men are put aside. Society expects them to be fully ready to provide financially, emotionally, physically, and in all other ways. It may be such a joyful moment, becoming a father, but it is still a great financial burden, which fathers feel they are obligated to carry. In this modern society, both men and women work and provide for their families, but we still have evolution leftovers. For thousands of years, women took care of families’ emotional well-being, social relations, health, home. They took care of their children, but their men as well. At the same time, men were hunters. They worked with other men to provide for the family: to bring food, to keep their women and children warm and safe. Yes, women did change our society, getting up for their rights and starting to work, but the mentality that was built for thousands of years can not change in one hundred years. Men still feel they are supposed to provide for their family and they feel bad and incapable if they are not able to do so. Becoming a father is not only a happy event, the most beautiful thing in the world. It also means fears for the baby, fears of losing a job, and not being able to provide for his wife and children. It means fear of getting ill at work and infecting their weakened wives and newborns. It can also mean losing their wives completely, while they are dedicated to their babies only, or simply “not being themselves” after giving birth. Emotion rollercoasters may seem like changes in personality, but sometimes even like losing mind.
Financial stressors are proven to be predictors of health deterioration for men more than women. This may also add up to higher chances of a heart attack.
There is one more thing I think adds up to this story. Women take care of their men and children. They notice when men and children are getting ill, trying to cook healthy food, think of nutrition and fitness, motivate their men to live healthier, to drink and smoke less, to sleep more. They complain if their husbands work too much. When a woman gives birth, she is focused on the baby and does not take care of men as much as she did. At the same time, her man is supposed to take care of his wife, to help her with everything, to do things she did before – and still do things HE did before. It could be overwhelming.
I believe these are some of the explanations for this elevated risk of heart attack for men after this amazing life event – getting a new daughter or a new son.
I would love to hear what you think about this. I will continue my research in this direction and your opinions and experiences would help me a great deal.
Take care of yourself,
dr. sc. Andrea Vlašić
cert. clinical hypnotherapist
CBT therapist IE