Today is world mental health day. I wanted to take this opportunity to bring attention to an issue which is one of the most urgent problems of the 21st century.
The leading cause of death in men under 50 is suicide. As a man under 40 (22), this means the biggest threat to my life is me. A terrifying thought.
In my social circles, a few people I know (especially guys) have taken their own lives in the past few years. People who, from the outside looking in, have everything going for them – great jobs, partners and bright futures – yet couldn’t face living another day.
It’s so important to discuss mental health because it’s so difficult to understand. Every person will experience it in a unique way. Everyone has their own symptoms, triggers and patterns, so there’s no silver bullet to solve the problem.
At times it can seem as if a sufferer is recovering, when suddenly, without obvious cause or warning, another wave will sweep over, and all progress seems to be lost.
Thankfully, the conversation around mental health has become more open and mature over the past decade. We’re becoming more willing to discuss how we’re feeling in public, which opens up conversations and allows us to do something about it.
As I mentioned, myself and many others in my very close circles have suffered from mental health problems. And, although there may not be a silver bullet, there are some practical steps which I’ve seen to be effective in improving mood and outlook in almost everyone I’ve seen put them to use.
- Meditation – Meditation is one of the most effective ways to improve your mood, reduce stress, and to gain more control over your thoughts and feelings. I’ve heard it described as instead of being a chess piece, you become the chess player in day-to-day life. Mountains of studies show meditation to reduce depression, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep (keystone of good mental health), enhance self-awareness, and many, many more positive benefits. It’s difficult to overstate the power and positive impact mediation can have in your life. I’d recommend both the Headspace app and the Waking Up app as an introduction to meditation and a structure you can follow. I understand there is still a stigma attached to meditation, with some imagining chanting or sitting in the lotus position, but this is not what it’s about at all. Give it a shot.
- Exercise – This one might not come as a surprise, and you may roll your eyes, but exercise is one of the most powerful antidepressants known to man. Any form it comes in, whether that be a light walk, yoga, running, HIIT training, punching a heavy bag (recent personal favourite), or the thousands of other ways you can exercise. No matter who you are, raising your heart rate and getting your body moving, will inevitably release those good-feeling hormones in your brain, and lift your mood. Get out there and break a sweat, you’ll feel better.
- Cold showers – These can be a little bit brutal, but cold showers have been shown to reduce anxiety, and release endorphins. In the words of ‘The Iceman’ Wim Hof: “the cold is your warmest friend”. I usually have a hot shower, then for the last minute or so, turn the dial down to the blue. It’s a test of willpower, but I can confirm it’s extremely beneficial.
- Sleep – The benefits of a good night’s sleep are impossible to overstate. Your emotional and physical wellbeing are inexorably linked to how well you sleep at night. Getting to bed at a regular time, avoiding screens before bed, and creating a bedtime routine will improve both your sleep and therefore your mental well-being. A good mental health day starts the night before.
These four habits/practices will improve your mental health. If you can build them into your daily routine, you are going to enjoy a better state of mind.
However, it’s important to remember that no matter how many HIIT workouts you do, cold showers you endure, or good night’s of sleep you enjoy, sometimes you might still feel like life just becomes too much to handle. This is when it’s so important to open up, talk to your friends, your family, and possibly seek professional help. The world is more aware than ever of how many people are struggling with their mental health, and there are many people and organisations you can turn to for help. You’re not alone. Life can, and will get better.
Take care of yourself.