Throughout our media channels you may find us referring to us MENDing men's mental health. Mending, if your from up north refers to something that's need repairing, but can we ever actually fix our mental health. The short answer is yes, the longer answer is no. Of course we are able to make changes that improve how we feel day to day. However, mental health is a life long commitment. That requires proper maintenance daily. The WHO depicts mental health as a state of wellbeing in which we realize our ability to cope with the normal stresses of life, whether we are able to productively engage with a work life and make contributions to our community (1). So if we dissect that, everyday life is very rarely ever the same hence why mental health requires regular maintenance.
How do we do that though when we never have any idea what life will throw at us? One of the techniques I use is mindfulness. Mindfulness can mean many different things to different people. To me however it means to acknowledge an emotion as soon as it happens. For example if a co-worker of yours was to be offered a promotion or bonus for something at work, except just last week you did exactly the same work but was never acknowledged for it. Now what was the first thought that came to mind? was it anger? Did you know that anger is almost always a secondary feeling? Merriam-Webster defines being frustrated in part as "feeling discouragement, anger, and annoyance because of unresolved problems or unfulfilled goals, desires, or needs." (2) That means there's another deeper feeling. Perhaps jealousy of your co worker? Feelings of being unappreciated? They would be a completely rational feelings to have about that situation. In principle what I'm saying is to always search for the origin of the emotion, not the emotion itself. Being able to identify and label your initial emotion takes away half of the stress you feel when negative emotions first surface.
So what does M.E.N.D mean to Headstrong CFC.
As I've already spoken about, your minds need constant maintenance. Despite decades of research establishing the causes and consequences of emotions, we know surprisingly little about emotions in everyday life (3). Taking time each and everyday to think about how certain moments in our day have made us feel will enable us to better prepare ourselves for the next time we encounter a moment like that again. It might also help you gain some clarity on how your truly feeling about the situation your in right now. Like the example I've given about work. Perhaps your feeling underappreciated or undervalued in your work? Maybe a conversation with management can help rectify that? And now that you've dealt with the initial anger that conversation might be more amicable.
Exercise is key to improving your mental health and is one of the key elements of what we offer via our football team and training. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. (4,5) The health benefits from regular exercise include:
Increased interest in sex
Improvement in mood
Increased energy and stamina
Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness
Do ever find yourself having conversations with yourself in your head. Perhaps you rehears what your going to say to somebody, encouraging yourself to do something you're nervous about doing. I'd call this negotiating with yourself. Sometimes when we suffer from depression or anxiety every day activities from cooking, bathing or even getting out of bed can feel daunting. People in those situations often have those conversations with themselves weighing up the pros and cons of doing things before they do them, things that others may find mundane simple tasks. In those situations motivating yourself may feel difficult, but perhaps see it as a negotiation. For example if your finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, negotiate a deal with yourself. Perhaps you can get up for 20 minutes and in return you can return to bed when those 20 minuets are up? Even if you only manage those 20 minutes, you have still achieved something and brought yourself a step closer to where you want to be, and a step further from where you were.
As you keep up that regular maintenance of your mind, you will no doubt develop new ways of coping and managing your mental health. Those strategies can be whatever you want, as their personal to you. Some people mediate, some count to 10 if an emotion is too powerful, some simple take a minute to themselves and listen to music. Football itself can be seen as a strategy. I myself use football as a strategy because during training or during a match, all of my other worries or concerns move to the back of my head where I cant think of them or feel the emotions that come with them. What's important however is to ensure we don't develop unhealthy coping strategies.
Examples of unhealthy coping strategies: Examples of healthy coping strategies:
• Drug or alcohol use • Exercise
• Overeating • Talking about your problem
• Procrastination • Healthy eating
• Sleeping too much or too little • Seeking professional help
• Social withdrawal • Relaxation techniques (deep breathing)
• Self-harm • Using social support
• Aggression • Problem-solving techniques
4. Callaghan, P., 2004. Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care?. Journal of psychiatric and mental health nursing, 11(4), pp.476-483.
5. Guszkowska, M., 2004. Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood. Psychiatria polska, 38(4), pp.611-620.