HEALTHGrumpy Old Man Syndrome

Grumpy Old Man Syndrome

Grumpy Old Man Syndrome, Wellness, Fire Fighters, CRACKYL MAGAZINE

By: John McKenzie

Ever wonder why some firefighters are grumpy and appear that they aren’t having fun anymore? Getting old sucks, it’s true that grumpy old man syndrome is a real thing. Don’t be its next victim.

In the 1993 comedy Grumpy Old Men, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau play the characters of John Gustafson and Max Goldman, neighbors who bicker and trade jabs with each other and have for years. They make us think that grumpiness accompanies aging, especially for men, and the movie certainly exploits the “grumpy old man” trope for laughs. But is there truth behind the trope

It turns out the answer is…maybe. And, as a male-dominated profession, this is a trope that firefighters should confront.

Natural, age-related testosterone level decline may contribute to grumpiness, but doctors remain split on the issue. Some insist that increased irritability is unrelated to changes in testosterone, while others, such as Dr. Abraham Morgentaler suggest that “men with low testosterone find that their emotional reserves are lower…they have a shorter fuse. That’s when men get cranky.” Morgentaler’s view is supported by Dr. Ridwan Shabsigh, who notes that in addition to its better-known effects such as promoting muscle development, reducing fat and affecting sex drive, testosterone also has “neural-psycho effects,” which manifest in some men as “low mood and irritability.

But, biology isn’t the only possible factor. Social and emotional issues may also play a role. In her book, How Not to Murder Your Grumpy, Carol Wyer suggests that not only can “older-guy grumpiness be traced to major life changes like retirement” but feeling obsolete “…can result in severe depression at worst and general grumpiness at best.” 

Firefighters aren’t immune to grumpy old man syndrome and it can impact those around us, including colleagues, friends and family. Nobody likes being around a grump or finding themselves on the receiving end of someone’s misplaced moodiness.

But what can we do to ward it off? 

First, pay close attention to your overall physical health. Eat right, stay hydrated, get adequate rest, lots of exercise — all things we already know improve mood in general. If increased moodiness is apparent and becomes a problem, a doctor might recommend hormone therapy as a solution. According to long-time mental health professional Dave Philips, other non-pharmaceutical strategies can help, too. Regular contact with friends, loved ones and a trusted confidant, for example, can counteract men’s tendency to bottle up emotions. Facing change head-on, expressing thoughts and emotions through writing or some other creative outlet and then ritualizing this process can also be helpful strategies.

There’s more to grumpy old man syndrome than meets the eye. If you’re a Gustafson or a Goldman, consider taking action. If there’s one among your colleagues, consider cutting them some slack; telling them to “pull their bottom lip over their head and swallow” definitely won’t be enough.