Managing your Mental Health: For Men
Mental health can be a difficult topic for men to talk about, yet it’s a conversation we need to have – especially with the added stress and social isolation imposed by COVID-19. Now more than ever, taking extra steps to ensure our mental health is crucial.
While growing up, I heard the same cliches again and again; “boys don’t cry,” “suck it up,” and “be a man.” Phrases like these shaped my personality, discouraging me from talking about my emotions. It was these wrongful associations with weakness that held me back from reaching out when I first started to get more seriously depressed – and far too often these same phrases hold other men back from reaching out as well.
Instead of shying away from these wrongful associations, we need to fight back against the false messaging we’ve heard about men and depression, and make an effort to prioritize mental health for everyone – men included.
Here are some tips that have helped me and other guys to better manage our mental health:
1. Know the symptoms and check in with yourself
Some men are aware of typical depression symptoms, like low mood, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts. However, there are many other early signs of depression that often go unnoticed or are overlooked because they are not as commonly associated with depression.
For some guys, early onset symptoms of depression manifest as more frequent or intense anger and irritability, or as an increase in reckless behaviour, like drinking and driving, or engaging in dangerous sports and other activities that show a disregard for personal safety. The first thing I noticed was my stress going way up, but I didn’t see it as a warning sign of anything else, not realizing it could be a symptom of depression.
It’s important to check in with ourselves regularly so we can recognize when things start to go off track. Most mental health issues are a lot easier to manage the earlier you reach out for support.
2. Get better sleep
When we can’t get enough sleep, we don’t act like ourselves. We might have a shorter fuse, feel more tired, get stressed more easily, or have a harder time thinking clearly.
To stay on top of your mental health, try to keep a steady schedule by going to bed and waking up around the same time each day. I also stop watching TV and try my best to put away my phone an hour or so before bed to cool down and unwind with a book.
3. Eat healthier
You don’t have to change your whole diet to start eating better. Raw fruits and vegetables (apples, oranges, bananas, carrots, etc) don’t take much time or effort and are a good way of getting something nutritious into your body. What you eat fuels your body and mind.
These days I try to avoid processed and fast foods when I can.
4. Stay active
When we’re stressed, our brains send out a stress response, telling our bodies that we have something we need to physically respond to. This adaptation was meant to help us escape physical danger, but these days, our stress rarely stems from threats like charging animals. Although our sources of stress are now largely mental, we still need to do something to burn off this extra energy, and being physically active can be a great help – go for a walk, take a jog, whatever you feel up to.
The most important thing when it comes to exercise is making it a habit. The first few weeks may be hard, but over time things will become easier. Set smaller realistic goals and go from there. I try to get outside each afternoon for a 30 minute walk, to get some fresh air, hopefully some sunshine, and to get moving.
5. Talk to friends and family
Speaking with a friend or family member about tough issues can be a great way of sorting them out and can also strengthen your relationships. The simple process of talking can often help take some of the weight and intensity away from your thoughts, which when kept inside, can slowly shift further away from reality and towards more negative outlooks.
Reaching out may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Just saying something as simple as “I’ve been getting pretty stressed lately and could use a hand,” can go a long way in getting a conversation going.
Friends and family often wish guys were more vocal about what we’re going through, and would be happy to help if only given the opportunity.
6. Know when to seek professional support
When your mood or stress level starts to interfere with your daily life, it’s time to reach out.
Talking to a doctor is a great place to start. Be as honest and specific as possible about how you’re feeling and the impact it’s having on your life.
Though many men are hesitant to try it, talk therapy (or psychotherapy) is a proven treatment for mental health issues. The first time I talked to a therapist I was very hesitant and wasn’t sure how it could help.
Sometimes in our heads we think we know all the answers and that talking about it won’t help. But talking and explaining what’s going on can also give you the opportunity to get an outside perspective of the issues you are dealing with.
These days I find talk therapy to be one of the more helpful ways to get issues off my chest, think things through, and help me to sort out and prioritize my thoughts.
If you or a man you know may be dealing with depression, HeadsUpGuys is a website specifically designed to help men fight depression. The site features practical tips, information about professional services, and stories of recovery from men. It also has a Self Check that can help determine whether or not depression may be affecting you.
About Josh Beharry:
Since recovering from experiences with depression in 2010, I have become a passionate advocate for mental health. I currently work for HeadsUpGuys, a website resource dedicated to helping men fight depression. For more information about my recovery see my post “I never wanted to die, I only wanted to end my pain.”