Men’s Mental Health: The Essentials
In today’s fast-paced, always-on world, it is important for all of us to look after our mental health.
With every 3 in 4 suicides in Ireland being men, and research showing that most Irish men are reluctant to seek help for mental health problems, this Men’s Health Awareness Month we’re encouraging men to prioritise their mental wellbeing.
Life can be hectic and there’s often several things demanding our attention. Amidst the madness, it is crucial to make time for yourself and for your health. You deserve it! And you will reap the benefits.
Here are some steps you can take to nurture a healthy headspace. Some of us may find these tips less helpful or achievable, especially when we’re feeling unwell – and that's ok.
Check in with yourself
Carve out time to check in with yourself.
For many of us, we spend a lot of time operating on autopilot and may not even acknowledge how we’re feeling day to day. Regularly taking time to assess how we’re feeling mentally allows us to become aware of any niggling issues before they become a bigger problem.
It is important to notice the signs of declining mental health. These include:
- Feeling irritable
- Poor concentration
- Extreme fatigue
- Problems sleeping or sleeping too much
- Rapid breathing, sweating and trembling
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness that you can’t seem to shake
- Lack of pleasure from activities you normally enjoy
- Feeling disconnected from reality
- Isolating from friends and family
- Digestive issues
- Engaging in risky behaviour
- Increased desire to drink alcohol or take drugs
As well as being beneficial for our physical health, exercise can also play an important role in our mental health. Exercise causes physiological changes in the body which result in improved mood, self-esteem and lower stress and anxiety levels. Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing, and lower rates of mental illness.
If regular exercise is not already part of your routine, you might be wondering how much you need to do to experience benefits. The good news is exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous or take a long time. Low to moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, for 30 minutes, 3 days a week, is enough to make a difference in terms of your mood and thinking patterns.
If you can exercise outdoors, even better! Spending time in nature is beneficial for our mental health too.
When starting an exercise plan:
- Choose an activity you enjoy. Whether that’s walking, cycling, tennis, football, golf, swimming - if you enjoy it you are much more likely to stay consistent.
- Consider asking a friend to join. Exercising with a friend or as part of a team can motivate us and make it more enjoyable.
- Start small. To avoid overwhelming yourself and your body, build up your activity gradually rather than taking on too much at once.
Eating a balanced diet that provides our bodies (and brains) with the nutrients they need can improve our sense of wellbeing and mood. A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, seeds and unsaturated fats has been seen to be protective of mental health.
Here are some suggestions to consider when it comes to eating to support mental health:
- Eat regularly - This can stop blood sugar levels from dropping, which can make us feel tired and bad-tempered
- Stay hydrated - Even mild dehydration can affect mood, energy levels and our ability to concentrate
- Load up on fruit, veg and wholegrains - Eating a variety of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains provides us with the nutrients we need for good physical and mental health
- Include protein with every meal - Protein contains chemicals called amino acids, which our brains use to help regulate thoughts and feelings
- Include healthy fats - The brain needs certain fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, to keep it working well. These fats are found in things such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocados. If you struggle to include enough of these foods in your diet, consider supplementing with an omega-3 supplement such as Minami MorEPA Original Omega-3 Fish Oils.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol - Be aware of how caffeine and alcohol can affect your mood. Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause anxiety and irritability in some people. It can also negatively affect sleep, especially if consumed close to bedtime. Alcohol is a depressant and drinking too much can disrupt chemicals in the brain that are important for good mental health.
Get quality sleep
We all need to sleep well to help our bodies rest and recover. But many of us struggle to get a good night’s sleep, and the consequences can seriously affect how we feel mentally.
Lack of sleep can make us more likely to feel anxious or depressed. We might have difficulty concentrating and making decisions, or feel irritable and lack the energy to engage in activities or show up in our relationships. So it’s important that we try our best to create a healthy sleep routine. Studies show that improving sleep is associated with better mental health regardless of the severity of mental health difficulty.
Some things to try if you’re looking to improve your sleep:
- Try to establish a regular sleeping routine, such as waking up at the same time each morning
- Relax before you try to sleep. You could try breathing exercises, listening to calming music, muscle relaxation or meditation
- Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Spaces that are dark, cool and quiet are generally easier to fall asleep and stay asleep in, but everyone is different so see what works for you
- Avoid using screens an hour or two before bed, including smartphones and tablets. Light from screens can have a negative effect on sleep, and social media, news and games can all stimulate the brain, making it harder to fall asleep
- If you’re a worrier, writing down your worries before bed can help put your mind at rest
- If you can't sleep, don't stress. Get up and do something relaxing like listening to music or reading until you feel sleepy
- Some supplements may help with sleep. We recommend Leapfrog Snooze Chewable Tablets and Solgar Ultimate Calm Tablets.
Make time for social connection
Positive social connections have consistently been shown to support mental health and well-being. In fact, some studies have identified social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression6. Happiness, self-esteem, sleeping patterns, healthy eating, physical activity and our ability to cope all thrive in the company of satisfying social relationships.
Some things to try to strengthen existing relationships and cultivate new ones:
- Make time each day for social connection, be this dinner with family or a friend, a walk with a friend, a phone call, lunch with a colleague or a chat with a neighbour
- Reach out to friends you haven’t spoken to in a while
- Foster friendships at work by engaging in conversations and offering support to colleagues
- When facing challenges or loneliness, allow yourself to ask for support from friends and family
- Join social clubs or teams that align with your interests
- Volunteer in your community
- Ask friends and family to join you for activities
Joy is a powerful emotion that positively impacts our mental health and overall wellbeing. When we experience joy, our brain releases feel-good chemicals dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline and endorphins.
We can make an effort to experience more joy in our daily lives by:
- Making time for things we enjoy, such as hobbies. If you don’t currently have any hobbies, perhaps you could revisit something you enjoyed when you were younger or try out something new that you think you’d like - a sport, an instrument, cooking, reading.
If you’re stuck for ideas, our Digital Detox Cards offer 100 suggestions of things you can do instead of being on your phone
- Practising gratitude - This could mean sending positive thoughts to someone, writing a text message to a friend or listing things you are grateful for each day. Taking time to express gratitude daily helps your brain shift its focus to appreciation and joy, instead of problems and challenges
- Journaling - Journaling has long been recognised as an effective way to reduce stress, help with depression and anxiety, and focus the mind. It can be a great tool to use to open up and let go of anxious thoughts that bother you, in a healthy way. If you would like a little guidance and inspiration in your journaling practice, try the Come As You Are Wellness Journal
- Practising kindness - Simple acts of kindness can contribute to improving mood, reducing stress, and possibly alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety7. Look for ways to offer kindness to others and to yourself.
If you have been experiencing prolonged feelings of stress, anxiety or depression, or these feelings are negatively impacting your daily life, reach out for professional support.
Mental Health Ireland has a list of support services which can be accessed here.