Men are not great at dealing with their emotions. Let’s get it out there. It’s a fact, and not a new one. So, what is new then? Well, the fact the issue is being talked about more and more. And it’s not going away.
Not sharing feelings leads to the build-up of unresolved issues. There are a range of social and cultural reasons why, overall, men find this harder than women, and the fact is backed up by some sobering statistics. For example, 75% of UK suicides are men. And perhaps even more staggering, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Just think about that for a moment. A modern, progressive first world society. It’s heartbreaking.
The need to ‘keep going’
This blog is not about suicide, but when you think about the most extreme implication of not opening up and talking when something is on your mind, then it makes it relevant. The simple matter is, whether at home or at work, men simply feel the need to ‘keep going’. The irony here is that for most men, the inability to pause, explore their feelings, and share, is the very thing most likely to halt them in their tracks.
The simple fact is that the act of prioritising our mental health is critical. But lots of work needs to happen to remove the stigma often attributed to it.
Masking their vulnerabilities
Workplaces have traditionally demanded ‘a mask’ and the need to ‘keep up’ at all costs. This includes the social side too. Those after-work socials at the end of the week (we all know them), when people go out and may or may not have a drink or two. Believe it or not, for all the smiles and chatter, someone in that group will be in some sort of pain or experiencing low mood, uncertainty, or sadness. It just doesn’t look like it because it’s safer to create the image of having a good time. Guys are pretty good at doing this, perhaps to avoid any show of vulnerability that could cost them their next promotion. Let’s face it, most of us have been doing this since we were young kids, having been told to ‘man-up’, ‘act like a man’ or that ‘boys don’t cry’.
We need to remember that we are trying to unpick centuries of men being actively discouraged in showing emotion, being open, or talking about much other than sport and banter.
Walking with men side-by-side
In my voluntary work for the men’s mental wellbeing initiative Dudes and Dogs, we offer a weekly walk and talk for men to meet up and share what’s on their mind. The key is to create a safe space. This is done by trained Dog Dudes, who develop a range of techniques to achieve it. We also have at least one dog around, and they bring a sense of fun and immediacy, acting as a pressure release from time to time.
But the other ingredient is walking– side by side. Yes, men find it easier to show their vulnerabilities by walking next to someone, not sitting opposite them. Sitting in front of someone is direct, potentially more intimidating, and requires eye contact – all things men run a mile from when feeling vulnerable. Walking next to each other is the opposite. And the effect is almost magical. ‘Tumbleweed’ moments never happen on these walks (in fact we consider any silence as golden), and I’m always amazed at how open the conversations are.
Societal change is going to take time (the best journeys always do). While many of us are quickly learning the benefits, it’s something that will require steady and meaningful progress, as opposed to a superficial overnight fix.
To anyone out there reading this, particularly the men, I would suggest you follow these basic steps. Here are the positive ‘starter’ coping strategies for the modern day:
- Talk to someone you trust when something is on your mind. Do it early to avoid bottling it up. Oh, and put the banter and sports talk with your mates to one side now and then.
- Get outside and exercise. Walking is amazing, and out in nature, it’s even better. You don’t have to go for miles, but every day if possible.
- Remind yourself often that showing emotion and vulnerability is a sign of strength, not weakness. Believe it. It’s true.
Remember above all that, no matter what you have been led to believe in this life so far, real strength is acknowledging emotion, not as we’ve been conditioned, repressing it. Adopting positive coping strategies will help you to travel further and faster than you’ve ever believed possible. And you will begin to enjoy more of the journey on the way.
This guest blog is written by Nick Poulton, founder and director of Liminal Steps Consulting Ltd. Nick is an Experienced leader and a published author of novels Podwitch and Hiraeth.
If you or any of the men in your team struggle to open up conversations around mental health in the workplace, book a chat with me here and let’s strategise how we can help each other.