A guy’s guide to mental health

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the Suicide Crisis Hotline at 9-8-8 or text 9-8-8 any time day or night. 

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As Ron Burgundy from the movie “Anchorman” might say, men’s mental health is kind of a big deal. Of course, Ron means that mental health is a HUGE deal, with one in five Canadians experiencing mental illness in any given year.

What is mental health?

Mental health is about enjoying life, managing its ups and downs, and having a purpose. It affects how you think, feel and act, and determines how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Why reducing stress is important

Every guy wants to enjoy life, but there’s more to mental health than that. It is important to look after your mental health and learn how to reduce stress because it helps you do your job well and have positive relationships with other people, from friends and family to co-workers to the friendly barista behind the coffee shop’s counter.

What does good mental health look like?

Good mental health may look different from one guy to another, but there are six common factors of well-being that are part of it. These include: 

  • A sense of purpose
  • Strong relationships
  • Feeling connected to others
  • Having a good awareness of self
  • Coping with stress
  • Enjoying life
Happy man with daughter

Men’s mental health tips: small changes can have a big impact

We know that small changes can greatly impact mental and physical health. Making big changes can be overwhelming and seem like too much, so why not try one small thing one day at a time?

Start small, and pick one small thing to do each day to start. Here are some simple ways to help you reduce stress and improve your mental health.

Meditate

Think meditation is just for hippies? Do you worry that you need to light some incense while sitting with your legs (painfully) crossed? You don’t have to do any of that. All you need to do is … nothing, really.

  • Find a quiet place to sit
  • Sit comfortably and inhale and exhale slowly and deeply through your nose
  • Your belly, not your chest, should rise
  • Do this for five minutes to start
  • Feel your stress and tension melt away

If you feel like you need more guidance than that, check out one of the many guided meditation apps available, like Calm and Ten Percent Happier. For some people, meditation apps are the easiest way to learn how to meditate.

Connect with friends

Friendships help you live longer, even more so than having close relationships with adult children and other family members. Living longer can be the most significant benefit of friendships, but there are many other benefits.

Here are some reasons why your friends are good for your health. Having healthy friendships can:

  • Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Improve your mood
  • Stave off heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s
  • Motivate you to be more active
  • Help you to live longer

Exercise

When it comes to exercise, start small. Go for a walk around your neighbourhood or play with your kids outside. Keep it simple! You can build up to bigger workouts by simply getting more active and moving your body.

Another fun way to get more exercise into your life is to work out while watching TV. When anyone gets into or out of a car, break off 10 jumping jacks. When your favourite team scores a goal, bust out 15 bicycle crunches. You pick the show, make the rules, and have a blast while getting some much-needed exercise in.

Simply getting outside for 20 minutes every day is all you need to start positively affecting your mental health.

Get a pet

Man’s best friend helps with much more than adorable YouTube videos. Research suggests that compared to people who don’t have dogs, dog owners’ heart rate and blood pressure are steadier and moderate more quickly during times of stress. This calming effect reduces the adverse effects of stress on your mind and body.

Owning a dog is also associated with a longer life, lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, likely because of dogs’ calming effect and because dog owners tend to get more exercise.

Cats can also reduce stress too! Loving connections between cats and their owners can help owners cope with stress by reducing feelings of loneliness, providing a sense of purpose, and taking their minds off their troubles. On the other hand, does your cat seem to ignore you? According to researchers at the University of Tokyo, cats know that we’re talking to them, but they simply don’t care.

Take a deep breath

Deep breathing can improve your quality and quantity of sleep, help keep your weight in check, and reduce the risk of a heart attack. Can deep breathing lower your blood pressure? It can! Is deep breathing good for anxiety? You bet it is! It’s truly amazing what deep breathing can do for you.

Try this stress-relieving challenge and take five deep breaths in one minute:

  • Find a place to sit (standing works too)
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing
  • Say “one” as you inhale
  • Say “two” as you exhale
  • Keeping counting, and inhaling and exhaling, until you get to 10

Reboot your relationship  

As men, we usually live up to our stereotypes when it comes to relationships. But as thick-headed as we can sometimes be, we know those petty fights with our girlfriends/wives/partners aren’t really about the dirty dishes or whose turn it is to take out the garbage.

Researcher John Gottman—pretty much the guru of solving relationship problems—has figured out the key ingredients to a sex-filled relationship where both partners are happy. Gottman says that couples in positive (i.e. amazing sex) relationships invest an extra five hours in each other each week, and the ways they do it aren’t that hard to figure out. These are his six relationship tips:

  • Give your significant other a kiss and a compliment before you leave the house
  • Give each other 20 minutes to talk about work at the end of each day
  • Admire and appreciate by doing little things like foot rubs and house cleaning
  • Hugs, kisses, and couch snuggles will improve both of your moods
  • Have a weekly date night
  • Spend some time apart

It’s common for people to feel lonely and disconnected in relationships. If this is something you can relate to, here are some more tips on how to reconnect with your partner and start feeling the love again.

Spend quality time with your kids

Being a dad is pretty damn cool. All the effort that goes into being a dad is worth it because, despite how stressful it can be, being a parent can also make us happy.

Here are some easy tips for being a great dad:

  • Spend at least 10 minutes of one-on-one with each child every day
  • When your child hugs you, don’t let go until they do
  • Find things they are doing right to compliment them on
  • Be the father you wish you had
  • Spend time reading with younger kids

Talk to someone

Things are changing when it comes to conversations around mental health. It’s not like it used to be for men (and women). According to the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation National Champion, Kelly Hrudey, “Talking about mental health is normal. If you’re having a bad day, it’s ok to say you’re having a bad day. If you’re having a bad month, it’s ok to say that too. The more we talk about it, the more we see how common it is. This is a big one. For me, it’s important to share and not keep everything bottled up inside. We all need someone to talk to. That may be a friend or a family member, and it may be a professional. If you’re struggling, you don’t need to struggle alone.”

We are lucky to have several mental health support services in Canada, so there is no need to “man up” and suffer alone. Being in a good headspace is the manliest thing you can do! Remember, some good people are qualified to help you and will never judge you.

Work on your mental fitness

Just as physical fitness helps your body stay strong, mental fitness provides the coping skills and resources you need to deal with life’s challenges in positive ways. It’s about building your toolbox of skills and resources that help you respond constructively to whatever life throws at you. 

You’re always going to have to face challenges and adversity in your life. You will never be immune to stress. Mental fitness helps you to handle stress and anxiety better.

Here are some ways you can work on your mental fitness:

  • Make time for fun and games
  • Get creative
  • Journal
  • Create goals based on your personal values
  • Connect with simple pleasures

Stop binge-watching TV

Binge-watching TV for hours on end isn’t good for the body, and it sure isn’t good for your brain.

Binge-watching can make it harder to fall asleep (especially when you watch TV before bed), increase your risk of health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and is associated with depression, social anxiety, and loneliness. You might tell yourself that watching shows is a way to relax and lower stress; however, if you watch too much, the opposite will start happening. When you neglect your physical and mental health, it leads to increased stress levels. If you can relate and find yourself zoning out to the television too often, check out these tips to help reduce binge-watching.

What about mental health problems?

All guys feel stressed or burnt out from time to time, butt heads with others and make poor decisions. There are a lot of everyday things that add up: driving in traffic, arguments with partners, job stress, kid stress, and the list goes on.

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. How do you know when anxiety is becoming a problem? Some key indicators are an overwhelming feeling of being stuck, insomnia, withdrawal from relationships, engaging in unhealthy behaviours, and panic attacks.

Negative thoughts, feelings, and actions are part of mental health. They only become a problem when they start to affect your daily life. If that happens, something more serious may be the cause.

What can you do about mental health problems?

Talk to a doctor if you think you or someone you know shows symptoms of mental illness. If necessary, he or she can refer you to a specialist resource such as a psychiatrist, a mental health clinic at a hospital or a community health centre. The treatment will depend on the specifics of the mental illness.

Another option is to book an online appointment with TELUS Health MyCare™ and get virtual care from the comforts of your own home. Needing someone to talk to when you’re feeling alone is a good enough reason to reach out and talk to someone.

If you’re worried that your depression and anxiety are not going away, it’s a good idea to reach out to a healthcare professional. These online tools help you assess your mental health or wellness and are an easy way to find out if you’re experiencing something that requires a professional’s help—there is no shame in asking for help.

Do you need to talk to someone right now, or do you know somebody who does? There are crisis hotlines available so you can speak with the right person to help you right now.

It’s easy for some men to see asking for help as a sign of weakness, but that’s simply not true. It takes a strong man to understand that your mental health is important to you and everyone around you. Remember that even small changes can make a big difference. Start small and do one thing daily, like taking 5 minutes to sit and focus on breathing. Be easy on yourself!

For more tips, check out these blog posts, all of which offer easy tips for staying on top of your mental game with everything from meditation and exercise to eating well and being a kick-ass dad.