Men don’t get a lot of compassion — not as a gender, not toward one another, and not toward ourselves. We are the more impulsive, less refined gender that has not progressed much since our cave-dwelling days. We’ve learned to use a salad fork since then, however, and we pretend to enjoy chivalry.
Sadly — and perhaps due to our ruffian status — men are often perceived as an expendable lot, regularly sent to do life’s dirty work like unclogging municipal sewers, diffusing IEDs, repossessing tractors, or mining for coal and ore miles below Earth’s surface. When duty calls, somewhere a willing man answers.
It is our own culture that depicts men as the stronger sex.
This might be true when it comes to opening new bottles of ketchup, or scaling a tree to save a kitten. But when it comes to our mental health, men are subjected to a culture where the standards of masculinity are literally making us sick. Men make up most suicides, and the minority of mental health service users.
It’s a misnomer that men have only two feelings: hungry and horny. Male anxiety, depression, and suicide has become a silent crisis, and one of the biggest challenges in combating mental health disorders in men is that they are difficult to reach through traditional methods, like physicians or mental health programs. Moreover, the condition is often masked by risky behaviors, self-harm, and substance abuse.
Anxiety and depression run feral and cloaked within men everywhere. Most just channel or compartmentalize it while it individually displays as forms of fatigue or apathy; insomnia or lethargy; substance abuse; irritability; conflict and anger; isolation; impulsivity and risky behaviors; mood swings; relationship and job problems; denial; self-criticism; aches, pains, or digestive problems; indecision; and suicidal thoughts.
I personally distracted from my anxiety and depression with feats of athleticism and binge drinking, resulting in 13 orthopedic surgeries and countless broken bones. I had no choice but to become a writer. My hands were the only thing not in a cast or physical therapy.
Emotions have no gender.
Most men are too obstinate or ashamed to seek help for anything involving our head except a nail from a pneumatic gun or balding. Sadly, men must hide behind the facades they feel pressed to create. Men have come to accept many things, but being considered weak isn’t one of them. Yet forms of anxiety like PTSD are diseases of the tough-minded.
Mental disorders and illness don’t care if you’re a war vet, foreman, or florist. They’re an indiscriminate mind sweeper. It can happen to anyone, any age and any gender. And it’s not just “all in your head.” It’s a medical problem that can wreak havoc 24/7 like any other ailment on any other organ.
How to Mind Your Mind:
JUST DO IT … LATER. Mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity. Schedule downtime to do nothing. Consider practicing some relaxation techniques. This can include simple meditative breathing exercises, or guided meditations available on YouTube or via smartphone apps. The best way to get your brain and body to work at their peak is to take rest breaks.
RADICAL ACCEPTANCE IS THE NEW DENIAL. One option you have for any problem is Radical Acceptance (Linehan, 1993). Radical acceptance is about radically accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot change. Radically and mindfully accept that you cannot control everything, and let life live you.
COFFEE AND BOOZE LIE TO YOU. Caffeine sets unrealistic expectations of your daily productivity and can spike anxiety. Though low doses (200 mg) of caffeine is known to improve cognitive performance, studies reveal higher anxiety levels in moderate and high caffeine consumers versus abstainers.
On the other hand, alcohol is a depressant which slows down the brain and the central nervous system’s processes. Alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term, but long term it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with.
LET ME HEAR YOUR BODY TALK. Exercise is a phenomenal antidepressant and anti-anxiety tool. Channel nervous energy, stress, and even depression into a regular exercise program. More than the physical upside, there is the social aspect in structure, and seeing regulars and friends. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and stress, while improving self-esteem and cognitive functioning (Richardson CR, Faulkner G, and McDevitt J. Et al. Psychiatric Serv. 2005 56:324–331).
YOUR BED IS A TIME MACHINE TO PANCAKES. Serial killers are just regular people on too little sleep. Promote good sleep hygiene. Get to bed early and at the same time each night. Turn off the electronics to turn off your brain. Sleep problems greatly exacerbate stress and anxiety. Research indicates that REM sleep may play an especially significant role in maintaining emotional well-being and psychological balance.
YOUR CHEAT MEAL SHOULDN’T BE A MONTH LONG. Some say that you can’t spell “salad” without “sad.” But there is a direct correlation between a healthy diet and a positive mindset. During times of stress, we often turn to traditional “comfort” foods like fast food, pizza, and ice cream, which make us feel sluggish and less able to deal with stress. Brain food such as the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, is thought to improve cognitive function, and can be used at preventing or treating many stress-related mental disorders (The Journal of Medical Investigation, Vol. 51, 2004).
PLUG YOUR BEAK. By controlling your breathing, you will slow your heartbeat and eliminate anxiety and panic. Try alternate nostril breathing (aka, yogic breathing). This is a simple, natural breathing technique from Ayurvedic medicine that brings the body and mind into a state of balance and neutrality. Close one nostril by placing your thumb gently over it. Exhale; then inhale through the uncovered nostril. After each inhale/exhale (a breath cycle), switch sides. Then, leading with your out-breath, do one out-breath followed by one in-breath through each nostril. Repeat this series, alternating nostrils after each inhalation. It will likely be easier to breathe through one nostril than the other. You’re not deformed. It’s normal.
I WILL FIND YOU, AND I WILL THANK YOU. Being grateful by focusing on gratitude improves physical health. According to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier. Not only does gratitude do the obvious work of increasing how much positive emotion we feel, it just as importantly robs the negative energy that is the driving force of why we feel so bad. Cite three things for which you are grateful each day, no matter how small.
BECOME A FREAK OF NATURE. A 2015 Stanford study found quantifiable evidence that walking in nature can reduce stress and lead to a lower risk of depression. By 2050, 70% of people will live in urban areas. Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why.
PHONE A FREUD. There is no shame in seeking help. If stress, anxiety, or depression disrupts your life or daily activities, get a mental spotter. It is imperative to know when to seek professional help. The easiest index to use is if your emotions are starting to interfere with daily life functioning. Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health provider because you may need treatment to get better. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for anxiety. Self-medicating is not. You can find a trustworthy mental health professional HERE.
Don’t believe everything your mind tells you.