I was recently interviewed on BBC Radio 2 about grumpiness (much to the chagrin of my husband who believes he is far more qualified to discuss the subject). The presenter was curious to discover at what age men become grumpy and if grumpiness is confined to older men.
Recent research states that more men suffer from 'Grumpy Old Man' syndrome when they hit 70. There are good reasons to believe this to be the case. Seventy is an age when men may become more aware of their own mortality as they see friends and loved ones pass on. They might be struggling with wearisome health problems, and/or feel depressed because they have no aspirations or goals left to attain. 'Grumpy Old Man' syndrome is also and most likely due to the fact that testosterone levels in a 70-year-old are quite probably half the normal levels of a younger man.
Whereas women's estrogen levels drop relatively suddenly when they go through menopause, causing a variety of noticeable symptoms, men's testosterone levels drop gradually over a period of time so the symptoms are not as obvious.
Men who suffer from this syndrome may experience a sense of feeling burned out, increased depression, increased irritability, increased anxiety, more nervousness, more joint complaints, reduced mental effectiveness, increased sweating, (and hot sweats in thirty per cent of those affected). They may have a need for more sleep or suffer sleep disturbances. They may notice muscular weakness, physical exhaustion, impaired sexual potency, a disturbed libido, and decreased beard growth.
Stress, toxicity, a poor diet with too many bad fats, autoimmune diseases and some drugs can also lead to a drop in testosterone levels. Also, abdominal fat, which makes estrogen, will neutralize the testosterone and cause levels to drop further.
Are only men grumpy? Of course not. Whilst there is evidence that men can suffer from 'Grumpy Old Man' syndrome, youngsters and women can also become grumpy.
Being grouchy is down to a number of factors. A person might be having an off day purely because they are not eating the right foods, or are sleep deprived. This is often the case for teenagers who are also struggling with fluctuating levels of hormones. Anyone who has lived with a teenager knows they are often truculent and/or recalcitrant. They have a number of issues usually relating to their looks, their parents, anxieties over their futures, and life in general. They rebel in a number of ways and become strange alien creatures to us more mature people.
So, why having lived with a teenager who has now grown up and left home, do I find myself living with a stroppy, difficult man who rebels by shouting at innocent cyclists, growling at the news presenter on television, or spends hours sulking in his shed? Because he too has fluctuating hormones, a number of issues relating to getting older, including his looks, and anxieties about the future. His grumpiness is a product of falling levels of testosterone along with frustration and worry about the future which is, in his opinion, running out fast. Thus it is the same for many men and women alike.
In Shakespeare's play As You Like It, Jacques speaks of the seven ages of man. While studies have tried to pinpoint the age at which a man may become grumpy, I believe there are five ages of grumpiness:
- Whining teenager: The stage of life when he begins to change into an adult. Hormones transform him physically and mentally, lifting him high one moment and plunging him to depths of despair the next. He is frustrated because he is unwilling or unable to leave the protected environment of his home, yet despises the confines and constraints imposed on him by living there.
- Working man: He is under pressure from those in charge, or by the demands of his own business. He has financial concerns, deadlines, and responsibilities. He loses sleep at night and grabs 'food to go' during the day. His body is imbalanced. His grouchiness manifests itself in complaints about his job, co-workers, and the daily grind he has to endure.
- Mid-life: He has begun to age, "Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon, With spectacles on nose" He has now attained the position he once strove for at work, has fathered children, and has a house, a mortgage, and a car. He peers in the mirror and realises he is no longer young. He worries that he is running out of time to fulfil his dreams and ambitions.
- Old age: He is a shell of his former self--both physically and mentally. He becomes invisible to those younger than him. He lacks a sense of purpose. He loses his firmness and assertiveness, and shrinks in stature and personality.
- The final stage where he becomes dependent on others. He is frustrated and frightened. Little wonder he is querulous
Is there anything we can do to help our beloved grumpies? Yes. Be patient. Understand what is happening. Ensure you and your partner exercise, eat well, are occupied with hobbies and interests, and most important of all, make sure you both laugh. Maintaining a healthy approach to life will help hugely. Invest in comedy DVDs to watch at home. Go to comedy shows, films and read light-hearted books. Play cheerful music on your stereos and don't whatever you do, call him a grumpy old man.