Just a small topic then! I’m not a mental health specialist, psychologist or even remotely officially qualified in this area… but I am human and I do suffer from my own mental health battles. I admit I find it very difficult to acknowledge it or even talk about my own demons. So that’s what I wanted to do… break the stigma of men and mental health and keep talking about it!
So on that note… Dear men, I was inspired to write this post to reach out to those of you who feel the weight and pressure of life on your shoulders. I see so many male family members, friends, influencers, celebs etc… who are generally feeling sad, flat, guilty, inadequate and/or lonely… it’s definitely not something we admit or talk about openly but I say these things because I also feel them.
Personally I feel like the pressure is always on, the pressure is relentless… whether its work, bills, maintaining relationships… you clear one thing only for the next thing to already be waiting for your attention. I don’t have a magic solution to these feelings, these pressures- but what I can say is you’re not alone and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of feeling rubbish.
I’m just going to be very brutally honest, I used to think that mental health is just ‘all in the mind’ (no pun intended!) – by that I mean when you’re feeling ‘down’ just pull your socks up, put a smile on and just get on with it. And while that can sometimes be all it takes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I totally misunderstood mental health and got it really wrong.
Let me give some background – my mum worked as a mental health worker for Ealing Council, managing a day care centre for people with severe learning difficulties. During half terms and holidays there would be days where we would have to go into work with her… and I’m not going to lie, I used to absolutely dread it. Being a young kid, it was quite intimidating seeing grown adults screaming to themselves or staring at you – it used to scare me and make me upset… but this was the stereotype which I associated a mental health patient with. Whereas I’m learning that mental health is an umbrella term for a spectrum of illnesses- not all of us require medical help as such but we do need techniques to help manage our mental health. While I do feel stupid for my naivety, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought mental health was only for people who have very noticeable struggles and not for people who live with a feeling of inadequacy… and it happens to more of us than we could imagine:
- 1 in 4 experience mental health issues
- Around 2/3rds of people with a mental health condition go untreated
- Imperial University research saw a massive increase in anxiety post lockdown – specifically a 42% increase in feeling anxious regularly everyday
We’re now more aware, we’re now talking more, so I wanted to find out more on what I can do about it. I recently watched a really interesting program on BBC One – The Truth About… Improving Your Mental Health with Professor Tanya Byron and former Arsenal & England footballer Alex Scott (link below). I’d highly recommend giving it a watch but just thought I’d summarise some of the more practical techniques they discussed that can help manage your own mental health on a day to day basis:
Interoception – tap into your heart signal:
- Your organs are in constant communication with your brain
- When we are scared or afraid our heart rate increases, which in turn signals to our brain that we are in distress… try to count your heart beat which works like a distraction and it could help you calm down, which in turn should tell your brain that everything is ok
- The basic concept is by being in control of your body, you’re telling your brain that everything is ok
Food and Diet:
- A common way of coping with stress, anxiety and tiredness is to turn to unhealthy food
- The simple fact is that certain foods are good for both the body and mind
- Vagus Nerve – there is literally a hardwire connection between your gut and brain. It runs directly from the brain stem to the gut – it’s a 2 way communication
- Gut bacteria produce nutrient and neurotransmitters that convey messages in our brain
- Psychobiotics are good bacteria (probiotics) that can influence bacteria-brain relationships – the basic concept: food which is good for your gut, can be good for your mind (this is not a substitute for anything but another option to healthier living)
- Recent trial by: “Can taking probiotics have a positive effect on our mood (tested over 4 weeks)?”. The results showed 50% improvement with mood and concentration; in addition cortisol levels were lower i.e. reduction in stress levels
- Exercise really does effect mood – and that’s whatever exercise you do
- This is because when we exercise it releases a whole range of chemicals into our blood and we want to get more blood flow and more fuel to the brain
- New study by Professor Damien Bailey University of South Wales discovered that adapting your workout to target specific movements can impact parts of the brain that influence mood
- This all gets a bit complicated! The basic concept is that by adapting our exercise to perform a mental task (e.g. listening to a podcast) whilst exercising we can increase the blood flow to both the front and back part of the brain. In summary, any additional stimulation to the brain alongside physical exercise, supercharges blood flow to the brain – and that my friends is a good thing!!!
- You would probably assume social media is a big no no and the advice would be to delete all apps on your phone! But no! It’s all about control and balance.
- Recent study by Anglia Ruskin University showed that we can control whether we are active or passive users of social media
- Passive consuming of social media is most harmful for our mental health – by passive it means just endlessly scrolling and not actively engaging with what you’re looking at (i.e. not liking, commenting, sharing – just staring).
- Active consuming can have a positive effect – i.e. engaging with a post, leaving a positive comment or liking it, this can actually increase mood and confidence.
- The other factor alongside active/passive use is length of time – 3 hours a day seems to be the tipping point. Greater than 3 hours showed to be much worse for mental health (whether that’s active or passive consuming)
- The only thing I want to reiterate is CONTROL and BALANCE – that means different things to each of us (deleting an app, taking a break for a period of time etc.) but find what helps you keep control.
- The downward spiral effect of loneliness is becoming more and more apparent. We are humans and by default we are designed to be around/interact with other humans.
- The sadness of loneliness can add to a sense of no purpose or aim in life
- Social prescribing is a new concept being provided by GPs as a means of supporting people by placing them into different groups to form new relationships.
- In addition, something for all of us to think about more generally in life: it’s about the quality of relationships, not the quantity that help people overcome loneliness.
One breath at a time, one step at a time… There is help available, there are people you can talk to, medication you can take but step 1 starts with recognising your own challenges for what they are… what mental health needs is more unashamed conversation, so let’s get chatting.