Why is Mental Health Important?
Ahead of this month’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16th May), holistic hypnotherapist, Melody May, explores male mental health and what we can all do to look after ourselves.
Generations of men have been suffering in silence with their mental health and I’d like to take the opportunity of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week to explore this in more detail. You can use my advice for yourself or to support someone you care about and wish to help find a better space.
What Mental Health Means
While men may wear a mask to cover their feelings – appearing happy on the outside regardless of what they feel like inside – it’s now widely acknowledged that they’re at a greater risk of suffering in silence when it comes to mental health issues.
The reasons behind their suffering can stem from or be defined by all kinds of factors, such as low self-esteem and/or a lack of confidence, or they may be feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Bereavement (even if it’s from a loss they experienced years ago), relationship difficulties or the impact of circumstances relating to employment and housing can all lead to feelings such as stress, anxiety and low mood. A sudden change in their health could also spark a change in their emotional wellbeing.
Most men don’t want to feel like they’re a burden to others so remain quiet.
Old sayings like ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘boys don’t cry’ are unhelpful and need to be left in the past. Stereotypes such as men being ‘strong’ and unable to connect with their feelings certainly don’t help. Men and boys are often left to ‘just get on with it’ and learn to try and push their feelings away as they are not taught the emotional resources to cope and work through negative feelings, which can lead to overwhelm in adult life.
According to research by CALM, 64% of men under 35 think male stereotypes can do real psychological damage, while 68% of people agreed that society as a whole would be happier if people were more open-minded towards less traditional men’s roles.
Tackling stereotypes like these would do a lot to help us all, but what can we do to better support our mental health in our day-to-day lives?
How to Look After Your Mental Health
There are so many ways we can look after our mental wellbeing, including introducing positive new habits.
Prioritise good nutrition
As Wild Oats customers will appreciate, nourishing our bodies with nutritious food is an important part of looking after ourselves and this includes our mental wellbeing.
People living on a western diet typically consume lots of carbohydrates, processed foods and refined sugars, leaving many with ‘nutrition gap’ deficiencies which means we’re often eating too much food which is too low in nutrients. And if we’re lacking the nutrients we need to keep our bodies running smoothly, it can have all kinds of consequences for our wellbeing, including our mental health. As just one example, a low intake of vitamin D is associated with low mood.
Focus on your breathing
A great first step to overcoming stress and anxiety and to live fully is to check in with our breathing. This can also help when learning to live with breathlessness, such as that experienced with long Covid. I particularly recommend the simple method of rectangular breathing, which is something that can be done by anyone at any time – starting right now.
As shown on the diagram, start by working your way around the rectangle, with the long sides representing longer out-breaths. It’s really effective at calming the mind and nervous system, enabling you to let go of stress and start to enjoy life more again
Look at your sleeping habits
Our daily behaviours can interrupt our natural sleep patterns, whether it’s overworking, getting caught up in high drama situations or overconsumption of substances such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine and cocaine use.
To counteract this, take outdoor exercise so you feel physically tired at the end of each day. Start to wind down for bed at 9pm and try to get to bed by 10pm when our bodies are naturally tired. Ideally, aim for a healthy eight hours of sleep.
Make time for hobbies
As anyone who started a new hobby in lockdown will likely agree, embracing a new interest, or revisiting a previously loved hobby, can go a long way to boosting our wellbeing. Gardening is a particularly good option for getting into nature and focusing our minds on nurturing living things – a care and kindness that we can apply to ourselves.
Any chance to get creative, such as taking a new art class or learning an instrument, also has proven benefits to mental health.
Whatever you’re interested in, whether it’s exercising at home or something more creative, making time for hobbies you can enjoy can improve your confidence and self-esteem and introduce you to new social groups.
Reach out to others
Open up to people who do well with their own emotions. Choose someone you can trust, who respects you and who will be happy to support your growth.
You may prefer to speak to a professional such as your GP and here in Bristol we’re very lucky to have access to lots of different therapeutic services. You might like to try art therapy, sound therapy or the calming touch of message, as just a few examples.
Talking therapies can be incredibly effective. For instance, holistic hypnotherapy is a unique and empowering type of therapy where you can address any issue, offering a safe, relaxing space in which to heal. Those who take part in this form of therapy often feel a sense of relief and growth from their first session and usually start to see results very quickly. It’s about reframing the way we look at things and learning to let go of negative thoughts and emotions – taking control of how we want to live our lives.
Start investing in yourself more. By seeking help, you can learn that by letting go of negative self-talk and becoming more kind to yourself, life gets brighter and more enjoyable. Practice makes progress!
How to Support Each Other
It’s important to check in with our loved ones in a meaningful way. Perhaps invite them for a walk at one of the beautiful open spaces we have on our doorstep where you can talk while getting some fresh air in a natural environment.
It’s not always easy to tell if one of your male friends or family members are struggling. They may make jokes, seem happy and generally act in an upbeat fashion, but this isn’t a guarantee that they’re feeling happy inside.
Roman Kemp’s recent documentary, Our Silent Emergency, included the valuable suggestion that we ask a friend if they’re OK, then ask them again. This shows you are genuinely giving them the space to open up to you honestly.
In my experience, people need someone to listen in a safe and relaxing environment. Once a man is introduced to a few new tools to support his mental health and taught how to use them, he can be very proactive and find his way forwards to a happier place with confidence.
If this article has raised any concerns for you or a man in your life, there are some great resources listed below which have informative websites, call centres and/or resources to try at home. All charities can be contacted in confidence.
The important thing to remember is that anything can be worked through and every rainy season will pass and is followed by a fresh, gorgeous spring with cherry blossom trees and the promise of warmer days ahead.
Melody May is a Bristol-based holistic hypnotherapist:
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