Good physical and mental health is more than the absence of sickness in our lives. Wellness is about adopting lifestyle practices that improve our chances of not getting sick or when illness occurs we are in a better place to manage it.
Mental health issues are more difficult to acknowledge and address than physical ailments, but the symptoms and the impact on our lives are just as real. Mental illness is often accompanied by stigma and misunderstanding which results in a person feeling more isolated and alone.
Just as we can take life style precautions to safeguard our physical health, we can also take steps to promote mental wellbeing.
Here are a few tips to think about:
- Develop and maintain strong supportive relationships with your partner, children, family and friends. We are social animals, and the people in our lives are our most important asset. Looking after your relationships requires time and care.
- Find someone you can talk to and who will listen. This can be someone from your family or outside such as a mate, work colleague or a professional. We all need someone to talk to when life gets tough. For many men, this might be the greatest challenge, as in tough times we tend to isolate ourselves and try to go it alone.
- Broaden your interests and do things you enjoy. There is more to life than work. So much of a man’s identity and sense of worth is linked to his work and what he contributes to his family and society. Engaging in hobbies and sport adds to our lives.
- There is a link between physical and mental wellbeing. When one is not functioning the rest of the system is affected. By taking care of our bodies, we take care of our minds. Think about your lifestyle. Eating well, exercising regularly, drinking in moderation, are proven strategies for health.
- Listen to what you are telling yourself. So often when we are under pressure, our thinking turns negative. We may worry, blame others, feel hopeless, and not want to take responsibility. Notice these signs to reduce your negative thinking.
- Ask for help and don’t go it alone. This may be a challenge for men. Many of the messages we receive are about standing on your feet and solving your problems. Some things we can manage alone, but there are some things we can’t. Knowing the difference is another important skill.
Actions you can take to manage your mental wellbeing
Focus on what you can do
Resist the urge to give up or run away from stressful problems. Avoiding the situation often make stress worse in the long run.
Manage your emotions
Feelings of sadness, anger, fear and other forms of distress are common when coping with stress. It is more difficult to feel happiness when coping with stress. Try not to bottle your emotions up. Instead, try talking about your feelings or writing them down. Try not to lash out at other people. Many of the coping strategies listed below are also useful ways of managing our emotions.
Seek out support
Seeking social support from other people is helpful, especially when you feel you can’t cope on our own. Family, friends, co-workers and health professionals can all provide support. You can ask someone for their opinion or advice on how to handle the situation.
Focus on the positives
This is one of the hardest things to do when coping with stress and at times can seem impossible. Dwelling on the negatives often adds to our stress and takes away our motivation to make things better.
Make a plan of action
Problem-solving the controllable parts of a stressful situation are one of the best ways to lower our stress. Try breaking a stressful problem into smaller chunks. A good plan of action can put other tasks on hold to concentrate on the main problem or waiting for the right time and place to act:
- Identify and define the problem
- Select your goal
- Brainstorm possible solutions
- Consider the pros and cons
- Choose the best solution – the perfect solution rarely exists
- Put your plan into action
- Evaluate your efforts and choose another strategy if need be.
None of us will cope well if we do not take care of the basics.
Taking good care of ourselves can be difficult during stressful times. If we don’t balance work with play, most of us will experience burn out. Eat healthy foods and drink lots of water throughout the day to maintain your energy. Try to exercise or do something active on a regular basis. Try to avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way of coping.
Practice meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques. Take regular breaks from work to maintain your energy level. Plan fun activities and hobbies so you can look forward to them. Get a good night’s sleep.
Take care of relationships
Family, friends and co-workers can be affected by our stress, but they can also be part of the problem. Keep the feelings and needs of others in mind when coping with stress, but balance them with your feelings and needs.
Accepting things, we cannot change can be the most challenging part of coping with stress. Sometimes all we can do is manage our distress or grief. Denying the problem exists will only prolong our suffering and interferes with our ability to take action. Acceptance is a process that takes time, so be patient. Death, illness, major loss or a life change can be particularly difficult to accept. Try not to get caught up in wishful thinking or dwelling on what could have been.
Distraction can be helpful when coping with short-term stress we can’t control (E.g. reading a magazine while getting dental work done). However, distraction can be harmful if it interferes with us taking action over things under our control. Distraction by using drugs, alcohol or over-eating usually leads to more stress and problems in the long-term. Distraction by overworking can easily lead to burnout or other problems (e.g. family resentment).
Seek professional help
If you need someone to talk to, you can call our MensLine Australia counsellors on 1300 78 99 78. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Don’t wait for the person to approach you. Men may be reluctant to seek out help or admit that they are vulnerable.
Look for changes in behaviour
Some things to look out for include:
- What they are saying. E.g., “I feel as though I can’t go on”; “I have had enough”; “What’s the point of all this”; “Things are not good”, etc.
- You may notice that they are becoming aggressive over small issues. In other words, they are overreacting to a situation.
- They start taking increased risks.
- They withdraw from social situations and activities that they used to enjoy.
- Having physical reactions to stress such as crying.
- Speaking incoherently and not processing information.
- Change in appetite.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
In reaching out to someone and engaging their trust, it is important to:
- Listen actively and ask questions
- Show empathy
- Be authentic and genuine
What not to do
- Don’t interrogate or demand disclosure
- No matter what they say, don’t judge or criticise
- Don’t breach confidentiality (unless there is a clear risk of harm to self or others)
Role clarity: Understand and be clear about your role and the relationship between you and the person. You are not a counsellor or therapist.
Timing the approach: Choose an appropriate opportunity to raise concerns. E.g. A time when no one can overhear your conversation.
Be concrete in your observations: Be careful to avoid making personal interpretation/judgements about what might be happening. E.g. “John, I have noticed that you have not been joining activities like you used to. I am wondering if there is anything bothering you?”
Acknowledge: If the person discloses or you become aware that something has happened in their life, acknowledge the likely emotional impact on them. E.g. “That is a significant event, you must be feeling … distress, confusion, sadness, anger, etc.”
Normalise: Let them know that their response to stressful situations is normal. Sometimes men think their behaviour and feelings are not right, or they are the only one who feels this way.
Be genuine: You must be authentic in your concern and support – people will know when you are not real and you are just going through the motions
Check your hunches: Don’t be afraid to ask the “suicide” question. Naming and breaking the silence can help to contain the situation.
Resources and supports: Check out what support he might have access to such as family, friends, doctor, etc. You may be able to assist the person to reach out for the help they need.
Recognising the importance of gender
From the time we are born many of us receive instruction from our community about how we should be as boys and girls in the world. We are taught a complex system of beliefs, attitudes, values and assumptions about what it means to be a man.
Within in Western cultures importance is placed on being rational, logical, independent, dominant, competitive, self-reliant, stoic, tough, competent, invulnerable, unemotional and successful, to name a few.
These values are good values. However, when taken as a whole and placed within a rigid framework that says there can be no deviation from this way of being, then there may be physical and mental consequences. Some of these include:
- Greater levels of psychological distress when the image in my head doesn’t match the reality of my behaviour or other’s behaviour; in other words, I or others act contrary to what is expected of my gender.
- Unable or unwilling to express how I feel, particularly if those feelings reveal any vulnerability, such hurt, sadness, shame, etc.
- Unable or have difficulty being affectionate, emotionally close to or intimate with others
- Unable to find a good balance between commitment to work and commitment to family. There may be a tendency to overwork or be preoccupied with achievement and success
- Greater difficulty in seeking help when needed.
To better manage our lives, it is important to grow in awareness of those conscious and unconscious influences that shape and mould us.
MensLine Australia has professional counsellors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing confidential and anonymous information and support for all relationship issues. Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online counselling.
This tip sheet was adapted from the work of Lilia Szarski BAMED (psych)Monash Reg Psych Vic./McIntosh J. Because it’s for the kids – building a secure base after separation, Bambra Press, Melb./Family Court resources.