Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A problem shared is a problem halved: a focus on men’s mental health

Remember that book called Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? It was designed to illustrate the differences between the way men and women approach personal relationships, but the sentiment behind the book is also true when it comes to mental health. 

The Centre for Studies on Human Stress in Canada conducted some research into stress triggers. It’s no surprise that they were different for men and women.

Women were found to get stressed when faced with social rejection – it made them upset. For men, the stress triggers were performance related. They were given difficult tasks to complete which caused their heart rate and frustration levels to rise.

Men are predisposed to outperform. This can put them under immense pressure. While a woman’s response to stress is often an outpouring of emotion, this practice in itself goes someway to easing their stress. For men, on the other hand, there is usually no outward response to the stress triggers. Frustration is internalised, which may then manifest itself as anger or avoidance behaviour – such as isolating themselves or creating additional problems that are easier to deal with. There may also be a tendency to blame others for problems, in an attempt to transfer the burden of stress.

It’s good to talk

While talking about problems is second nature to most women, men may need more encouragement to talk. Many stress-causing issues at work or home cannot be resolved easily, but talking can help. Sometimes it is as simple as changing perceptions about a situation, rather than changing the situation itself – and the best way to do this is by speaking to another person about what you’re going through.

Active body, healthy mind

Exercise is closely linked with better mental health and stress control. A study back in 2012 by the University of Glasgow found people who exercise outdoors experience half the mental health risks of those who exercise inside. An effective way for a man to improve his mental health, especially during times of stress, is to spend more time outdoors. It doesn’t matter what exercise, but 20 minutes of outdoor exertion does wonders for mental wellbeing.

Put a name to it

It’s always easier to cope with what’s happening around us when we can identify how it makes us feel. Some men find it beneficial to put a name to their emotions, so they become ‘real’ rather than abstract. This could be: "The important meeting is just two days away; I’m feeling anxious.” Or “My co-worker took credit for my proposal; I’m feeling angry.” By naming our emotions, we make it easier to park them and move on. We can free ourselves and concentrate on finding a solution to help us overcome the stress.

Mindfulness practices have been found to be beneficial when it comes to engendering positive mental health in men. You can read more about men’s mindfulness here >

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Only Men Allowed: your mindfulness matters

Do you ever feel like you’re living life on a treadmill or in a hamster wheel? You’re doing what you need to keep going, but things are happening around you – you’re just not really ‘present’ to enjoy them?

There’s no escaping the fact that we live in a busy society. Life is simply not as slow as it once was and we’re juggling more plates than perhaps we ever have before.

For men especially, it can be tricky to step back from daily responsibilities and take stock of where we are – and where we’re heading.

Mindfulness is a short, sharp intervention that brings you back to the present. It makes you aware of your surroundings by requiring you to pay attention to things you wouldn’t otherwise give a second thought to.

It can help to relieve stress; improve blood pressure; and stimulate rational judgement so that you can make better decisions. It can be done anytime, anywhere – and the only person who needs to know is you!

It works too... Mindfulness practices that have been tailored for use in male dominated settings, have been used successfully in a number of environments including the US marine corps. It has been found to help officers and service personnel better deal with anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia. Mindfulness programs have also been used in prisons with great success, to encourage compassion and reflection among the male inmates.

The good news is it’s really easy to incorporate mindfulness exercises into your everyday routine.

A mindful minute

Set an alarm clock or timer for one minute. All you are to do for the entire 60 seconds is focus on your breathing - nothing else. You can keep your eyes open, or closed. You can keep your hands by your side or lay them flat across your belly. If your mind starts to wander, bring yourself back to your breathing, then simply stop when the timer tells you the minute is up. What could be simpler?

A mindful break

Take a break. No, we don’t mean take your work papers to the canteen and read them over a rushed sandwich; we’re talking about a proper five minute break. Doing nothing. Take a seat and just be. Take in your surroundings, look out of the window, or watch your colleagues as they go about their business. Again, if your mind wanders, bring yourself back to the room. Go about your business again, when your five minutes is up.

A mindful drive

  • Step 1: turn off the radio and drive in silence. 
  • Step 2: take notice of how your body feels while you are driving – do you grip the steering wheel? Is your stomach clenched? Is your jaw tight? By noticing how you hold yourself in the car, you can consciously relax your body. TIP: It is advisable to focus on these things before you start driving, then you can revisit them fleetingly while you drive without losing focus on the road and your safety.
  • Step 3: drive below the speed limit. It is a maximum after all. By shaving a couple of miles an hour off your speed, you start to ‘drive’, rather than race. This takes all the tension out of your journey.

It's so easy to stop noticing the world we live in – to lose touch with the sights, smells, sounds that surround us and get wrapped up only with the thoughts and emotions in our heads. By coming back to the present – if only for a few minutes each day – we can not only benefit the ‘now’, but also the future.