I'm Matt, creative, writer and illustrator of the book "Tell Your Negative Thoughts to STFU". This is an anxiety blog where you'll find my ramblings on mental health, with various book recommendations and some chill music thrown in.
Category: Men’s Mental Health
We are men. We are strong. We don’t talk. But we should.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how great anxiety is at ruining a potentially peaceful state of mind and making you feel like shit, and why that is.
I think in part, it’s down to anxiety being linked with a ‘fight or flight’ response.
Think about it. If you’re in a fight or flight situation, your brain is dealing in absolutes. It is latching onto anything that might be a threat, that it then has to get away from. It’s ACTIVELY looking for threats… or in daily life, potential negative events.
While that is happening, the other part of your brain …. your true, more logical self … has to deal with all its focus being shoved towards the ‘what ifs’ … the stuff that your fight or flight part of the brain is shouting about.
You need to break the loop.
If you force yourself, even for a few minutes, to step away and realise what your brain is doing, you can stop the fight or flight automatic response in its tracks.
The way I do it is to think about something nice that I can reward myself with later on in the day. Like a Netflix special, or maybe a super indulgent snack.
Suddenly it’s like my brain says “oh yeah, that stuff I was worrying about is silly” because I’ve ignored it.
Meditation is also good. Visualise a stream with all those worries and problems floating down it. Then just let them go.
However you do it, you need to zig when your anxiety is telling you to zag.
I almost forgot to post, on one of the most relevant days of the year for this blog. I’ve focused today on telling all my negative thoughts to shut the fuck up, and I hope you have too :).
I’ve also started reading a new book called The Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer. it’s a really interesting book about getting to know your inner self. I know that sounds wanky, but I actually think it’s a quite special read … and forces you to think about how misguided your little internal anxiety voice is.
I’ll be posting more about it soon. But for now my friends, I hope you’ve had a great World Mental Health Day!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a strictly no tolerance policy on bullying.
I remember one of my first jobs in a call centre. It was fricking horrible and I’ve never worked in such a toxic, cluster-fuck-of-a-place since – not even in my career in advertising!
Anyway, there was this supervisor who had way too much BDE and acted like he was our overlord (which in call centre terms, he kind of was). If you wanted to get off the dirty data entry desk and onto the much sexier call operator desk (where you would get your own cool headphones), you had to play his game. However playing his game meant sucking up to him and being his bitch, which he rewarded by stamping on your ego with constant snide jokes and remarks in front of your colleagues, on a daily basis.
This bullying continued for a while until staff complained about his tactics, and he got quietly ‘moved on’, which was good, because we all know that bullying will continue if no one does anything about it.
Which is why being a bully, is the perfect metaphor for anxiety.
It can put you down and make you feel like you’re not good enough. It finds your weak spots and prods at them, on a daily basis. Many people stay quiet and suffer its attentions in silence … and arguably that just means anxiety’s bullying continues and gets worse.
Which brings me to my point: you have to call out your bully.
Because if anxiety was a real person, constantly pushing you around, controlling you and telling you that you were a failure, why would you tolerate them?
The answer is you wouldn’t. You’d find some way of dealing with them, for self preservation.
I know it’s not that easy, you can’t exactly punch anxiety in the face, or run away from it.
But you can face it. Talk about it’s shitty attitude to a colleague or a friend. And take steps to give yourself a break and some much-needed self care.
Ultimately, bullies are cowards. They hate it when someone calls them out.
Right now I’m suffering from man flu brought on by being a bit stressed about looking for work, so this weekend I went into full ‘self care mode’ and found some great tunes, care of the Tune In app.
The All Lounge Experience is a super chilled listen with various mixes available, thanks to different guest DJs. It’s perfect (in turns out) for plugging into as you read a good book under a blanket on a Sunday. I was listening to Episode 58 with guest DJ Spike Deep.
Oh, and while I’m at it, if you are a sci fi nerd like me, you could do a lot worse than this book (at 99p on Kindle, an absolute bargain) which goes really well with aforementioned radio show:
The wealth of the rich is growing at a much faster rate than that of the poor.
But what does this mean?
It means that the wealth disparity between the haves and have nots is at an all time high.
And with the arrival of the pandemic and millions of people losing their jobs, often blue collar jobs, this disparity is going to grow even more.
When you consider that socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and poverty are correlated with a risk of mental illness, it’s truly concerning.
So what are the government doing to handle the mental health? I don’t think they are doing enough. In fact this article details a sad lack of meetings between the Health Minister and mental health organisations during the Covid crisis.
Sorry to write such an annoyed post, but this is an area I think that we as a society need to be doing better in.
And I’m going to think about all the things I can do personally to push the government to act.
One thing I love to do is go running in the local country lanes.
They say that exercise is superb for lowering stress and anxiety, so I look at running as a way of keeping myself calm.
The other day I just had one of those runs where you feel like a sack of potatoes being pushed up a hill. I was puffed and felt like my legs were deadweight.
But then I realised that I was overthinking it. I was thinking about how far I had to go, how steep the hill was, and how hot it was.
So I changed my thinking. I thought “one step at a time, it’s cool”.
And this strikes me as a way to tackle over-worrying about the future. If you spend too much time worrying about how difficult it will be to get a new job, or how much effort it is to plan a wedding or how much home renovating you need to do, you will stress about it.
The better way to live is to not worry about how far you’ve got to go. Or the effort required.
adjective. Meaning not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous.
It’s something many people are facing right now.
And I’m one of them.
I only just found out this week that my company is making me redundant. With redundancy comes ‘consultation’ where you fight your corner after getting scored against your peers at work. It’s a stressful, and mentally challenging thing to go through.
If you suffer anxiety, it’s worse.
Because you have to fight against the critical opinions of those on the other side of the redundancy Zoom call, and then fight the critical voices in your own head, too.
“See?” they say, “this is what you were thinking, that you’ve failed. And here’s the proof!”
I’m not going to lie – I have got really pissed off and worried over the last few days. Getting emotional at times like these is to be expected. You shouldn’t push it away.
It’s difficult to deal with, but it did force me to make a pact with myself. That I’m not going to let this take my confidence. I’m good at what I do, and I’ll fight my corner. I’ll move on, and keep checking in with myself – letting myself know that this was not my fault.
And in the end, I’ll find something better.
Our anxieties make things difficult, but they also challenge us to think our way through things. They can make us consider all options and (for me) be creative people. But they can also overwhelm us, like feedback from a speaker that just gets worse until your ears bleed.
I’ve been fighting self-critical thoughts for much of my life, but at times like these, the stakes are high… so I need to fight, to not let those thoughts win. So, I’ll be spending some quality time over the next couple of weeks sorting out the shit thoughts, from the ones that hold me up.
This is just a speed bump for me, and if you’re going through redundancy right now, it’s just a speed bump for you, too.
I promise we’ll get through, and we’ll know ourselves better because of it.
If I think back about my first two months in lockdown, I’ve spent them pretty well. Gutting my garden… pulling six tonnes of concrete out of it. Drawing illustrations for buyers. And doing my best to be a decent father. My daughter who has just turned 13, looks after her own time mostly…. and even has a colour-coded schedule in excel (she didn’t get that from me!). My son though, needs interaction… he’s more extravert and misses his school friends. So I’ve had to adapt to being his friend as well as Dad. We have played Lego, thrown a frisbee, shot at wood blocks with a nerf gun, gardened, played hours of PlayStation game Subnautica together discovering virtual oceans.
Still, it’s been hard to measure time and so the days just seem to have disappeared.
One day it didn’t go so well, and we fell out over a game we were playing, with him swearing at me and then me getting angry at him … I became my Dad and shouted a lot. We were so angry… I shouted and he shouted back and I felt like a loser for losing my temper. And then 30 minutes later we were okay with each other.
But it was enough to make me want to write again because I think, as a man, there is so much you don’t share for fear of looking weak, because you were taught that to share your feelings wasn’t what was expected of you, to get a grip. At least, that was true for my generation (Gen X) whose parents grew up in the war and recession and weren’t really taught about mental health.
My Dad became so isolated when he retired. He just used to sit and drink. I finally figured out that he had anxiety after he admitted to me that he was on medication. But he drank to not feel anything because his generation were never taught to talk about how they feel. Men need to be stoic and strong, and they shouldn’t feel.
But we do feel. And holding on to all that stuff isn’t healthy. I’m not talking about everyone wearing tie dye pants and acting like hippies. I’m talking about just being straight with each other now and again…. at least the ones that love us.
So I talked to my boy later after our argument, but I didn’t chastise him further. I just explained my feelings that led to me shouting, because he needs to know that men can share how they feel and still be strong.
You see so much rage out there on and offline these days. And I am convinced it’s partly because of the male attitude that exists … they simply won’t communicate when they have thoughts that they perceive to be weak. I am no different, and find it difficult.
But, even if we talk about feelings, we can still be men. Good fathers, good workers, good soldiers, good people.
Yes it shows strength when you ‘buckle down and push on’, but not at the cost of your mental health. Because the truth is, that a healthy mind makes you stronger.