Men’s Health Week 2020: Protect your mental health during COVID-19
Almost one fifth of men say their mental health has got worse since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, according to research from men’s health charity Movember. Worryingly, nearly half say that nobody has checked to find out how they’re coping. This suggests there are a lot of men suffering in silence.
The theme of this year’s Men’s Health Week (15-21 June) is ‘Take action on COVID-19’. The aim is to look at what can be done to prevent the virus doing more damage – physically, but also mentally. The organisers recognise that as many of us are spending more time inside our heads these days, if things aren’t right in there we need to do something about it!
Men can find it hard to put their feelings into words, and they’re more likely to keep schtum if they’re having a difficult time. This is something we’re finding at Ieso: one therapist has described how female patients are talking about the concerns they have about the pandemic and the effects of lockdown, whereas men tend to keep focused on the specific problem they came to us to address, for instance a phobia or depression.
So why the silence? It might be due to a belief that the current situation is something we should just get on with, a reluctance among men to admit to themselves or others that they’re struggling, or feeling under pressure to be strong. But, as the organisers of Men’s Health Week put it, ‘you can be strong without being silent’!
It’s OK not to be OK
If you’re experiencing more symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression these days, it’s hardly surprising. Our work, home and social lives have all been disrupted, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future. The regular rhythm of our days has disappeared. This is bound to bring up new emotions and feelings.
Coronavirus is a situation we can’t ‘problem solve’ our way out of, which can make us feel frustrated and powerless over what’s happening. Many people will also be experiencing stress around keeping the family safe and provided for, especially if they’re worried about their job and financial security.
We’re all less connected to other people, including colleagues, friends and family members. This can be destabilising, and lead to feelings of loneliness.
As human beings routine and structure is important, so if you’ve been furloughed or you’re working at home you might feel a bit lost and aimless. Many of us get a sense of achievement and purpose from our work, and we might be missing this, as well as camaraderie with colleagues.
Gaining a better understanding of the context around how you feel will help you take the right steps to address it.
Follow a healthy routine. This should include going to sleep and waking up at regular times, eating a balanced diet, and taking regular exercise. It can be tempting to turn towards alcohol, smoking or junk food as a coping mechanism, but this will probably make you feel worse and less able to deal with things.
Initiate conversations with friends. Ask them how they’re finding lockdown – many are not being asked this question, and it might get them talking which could be good for you as well as them.
Do what you can. There’s so much we have no control over, it can feel overwhelming. Take a step back and identify the things you can do – for example, ‘doing your bit’ to fight against the pandemic by sticking to the guidelines. If you’ve been meaning to improve your general health, or tackle a bad habit, now could be the time to make a plan to do this.
Find ways to replace the activities you miss. If you’re furloughed you could start a lockdown project around the home that will absorb your focus and give you something to aim for. If you used to play a team or competitive sport, set yourself a fitness goal together with your team-mates or opponents.
Avoid information overload. Rolling news, push notifications and social media mean we’re constantly bombarded with messages that are sometimes contradictory. Set aside a chunk of time to check the news a few times a day, and stick to trusted sources.
You might also find these techniques for tackling low mood in lockdown useful.
If the way you feel is affecting your ability to function day-to-day, or has become overwhelming or distressing, you might benefit from seeking support. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that provides practical techniques for changing thoughts and behaviours you’re struggling with, and there’s an online option which could help you get support quickly and discreetly.