Ever heard of Movember or No Shave November? The global campaign is launched each November to raise awareness of men’s health issues. Participants in the movement will grow out a mustache or beard for the entire month to encourage men to be willing to seek out the physical or mental help they need.
Seeing a month dedicated to bringing awareness to this subject is a small, but encouraging step forward in equipping men to lead happier healthier lives. But unfortunately, we have a long way to go. Trigger warning: Male suicides have been on the rise since 2000, accounting for nearly 3% of all male deaths. Over 6 million suffer from depression per year, but more often than not, male depression goes largely unnoticed.
As a man, I’ve faced my fair share of challenges and will face more in the years, that is a guarantee. A few years ago, I began asking myself, “how can I find beauty in both the mundane and the painful?” And “how can I build sustainable systems in my life that would allow me to lead a mentally healthy life?” These questions led me to some mental health tips I’ve learned for myself.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are my three tips to begin to sharpen your mental health:
1. Move your body
Science has repeatedly shown that exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety and depression by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. My go-to exercises are Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and mountain biking. These exercises are physically taxing and constantly put you in high-stress situations. The outcome of this for me is that you realize you are much stronger than you think, you’re capable of learning more, and you’re taking great care of your body during the intense biking sessions or rolling (curated live drills in BJJ).
2. Write it down
Julia Cameron says “Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.” I’ve recently taken up journaling. It has been the hardest habit to build upon since I started on this path toward mental health, but the benefits are endless. We’re all simply students of life, and with life having so much to teach us, it’s easy to lose track of what we’re learning and when we learn it. Journaling removes the guessing game of what we’re learning in real time. You have a “receipt” to give you the ability to track your emotional ups and downs, your ideas, conversations, lessons, and whatever else life throws at you.
3. Find Community
Human beings by nature are social beings, we’re not meant for isolation. Community is critical for our desire for belonging, support, and purpose. It comes as no surprise that many men suffering from mental illness often experience loneliness.
Community can be categorized by the following: mentorship, friendship, and family. Becoming a father was the tipping point for me to pursue becoming the best version of myself, as I want my child to have guidance from a healthy father. With the support of my incredible wife and doing months of research, I decided to start therapy.
Therapy has and continues to reveal my many blind spots. Outside of therapy, if the need to confide arises, my closest friends and my family are people I trust. In solitude, despair is heightened. Think of one person you can confide in and prioritize time with them. Your mental health will be glad you did, here’s to you living a life full of hope and joy in the difficult as well as the incredible days.
Start where your feet are
In short, move your body, take walks, bask in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes, and watch how it changes your mood. Start a journey of writing – if that is too taxing try to write simple, encouraging affirmations with sticky pads, or leave yourself voice recordings of your thoughts, dreams, ideas, concerns, etc.!
Men, please note that what’s worked well for me may look very different for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all framework in the pursuit of mental wellness, but I urge you to start where your feet are! If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Written by: Jesse Mwakajumba