Monday 18 December 2017

12 wellbeing tips for men

Men need to take time out for themselves
Men need to take time out for themselves

Áilín Quinlan

This week, our reporter talks to mens' health expert Dr Noel Richardson, who shares his top tips for male mental and physical wellbeing.

1 IT'S OK FOR MENT NOT TO FEEL OK

Men don't like to admit to themselves or to anyone else that there may be something wrong, says Dr Noel Richardson. "There is a perception that feeling upset or down is a weakness of some kind," he says, adding that it also jars with the 'idealised' or traditional stereotype of a male being in control.

It takes courage and a different kind of strength, he points out, to be vulnerable and to accept that "It's OK not to feel OK".

2 ASK FOR HELP

Many of the messages that we pick up as boys tell us that 'real men' sort out their own problems, says Dr Richardson, who explains that research has shown that men are less likely to consult a GP than women. "Thirty years ago there was a narrower view of what masculinity was about but very high-profile men like Bressie, Brent Pope and David Beckham have all talked about issues that 20 or 30 years ago would never have been aired." Asking for help in tough times is a sign of strength, he adds.

3 ACCEPT YOURSELF

Don't compare yourself to some ideal notion of the perfect male. "We all have a mix of strengths and weaknesses and that's part of the make-up of all men. Some of us are good with figures, some are good at DIY, others make people laugh," says Dr Richardson, adding that accepting yourself for who you are is crucial to good mental health. "Be proud of who you are. Recognise and accept that you cannot be good at everything."

4 NO MAN IS AN ISLAND

Sometimes, men are not good at keeping in regular contact with those who are close to them. Strong family ties and supportive friends can help you deal with the stresses of life, says Dr Richardson pointing out that the high suicide rate amongst middle-aged males, especially those in isolated rural communities, shows the need to maintain contact with friends and family who can make you feel included and cared for.

5 GET INVOLVED

Dr Richardson believes that volunteering in a local community project or joining a local Men's Shed can be of significant benefit to a man's mental health. The findings of new research, with which he is involved and which will be published shortly, into the potential benefits of the Men's Shed initiative for male members are significantly positive, says Dr Richardson. "They are the catalyst for forming strong social connections and bonds," he says, adding that men's sense of self-worth and self-esteem improved.

6 MEN ON THE MOVE - BE ACTIVE

Regular exercise can really give your mental health a boost. Find something active you enjoy - sport, swimming, walking or cycling - and decide when you are going to do it, recommends Dr Richardson, who is currently involved in an ongoing study on men and exercise being carried out by the local Sports Partnerships in conjunction with Carlow and Waterford Institutes of Technology. Preliminary findings from the first year of the three-year study of some 500 men, he says, show improved fitness, better social networking and improved self-esteem on the part of formerly inactive men who took up a form of exercise.

7 EAT A BALANCED DIET

Food is important for your mental health - but recent studies including the Healthy Ireland Survey 2015 showed that men's diets are generally less healthy than women's, with more fats, sugars and processed foods, as well as lower than recommended levels of fruit and vegetables.

"Your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body," he says. "A diet that's good for your physical health is also good for your mental health. Having a balanced diet will help the way you think. "

8 DON'T LOOK TO THE BOTTLE

Men can often drink alcohol to change their mood, says Dr Richardson, who warns that research shows a high proportion of men drink more than the recommended maximum.

"Some men drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary. When the drink wears off, you feel worse because of the way alcohol withdrawal symptoms affect your brain and the rest of your body," he explains.

9 SLEEP IT OFF

Sleep is a crucial part of our daily lives. It helps restore energy, keep memory functioning properly, and helps to heal our bodies. When sleep is disrupted or deprived, we don't feel as alert, we are easily agitated and all of our actions seem slow, Dr Richardson points out.

"Try to set a good routine to get the best quality sleep. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning," he says, adding that seven to eight hours is generally recommended. Avoid using mobile phones or computer screens before bedtime.

10 TIME FOR HIMSELF

Finding a good work-life balance means having things to do which occupy your mind or get you involved with other people. It's good for your mental health, according to Dr Richardson, who says a change of scene or a change of pace will do wonders. "A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some 'me time'. Taking a break may mean being very active. It may mean not doing very much at all," he says, suggesting taking a deep breath… and relax. Try yoga or meditation, or just putting your feet up!

11 FIND YOUR MOJO

Doing something you enjoy will help you feel better. "Concentrating on a hobby like gardening or the crossword can help you forget your worries for a while and change your mood," says Dr Richardson, adding that it can be good to have an interest where you're not seen as someone's dad, partner or employee.

12 INTIMACY

Both men and women can continue to have a satisfying sex life as they grow older. Sex remains an important part of a healthy lifestyle, even as we get older: "We shouldn't feel that sex is something that must come to an end when we reach a certain age," says Dr Richardson. However, he adds, men who find themselves struggling in the area of sexuality should realise how important it is to retain the intimacy in their relationship, even when desire and ability to have intercourse has declined.

* Dr Noel Richardson is a lecturer in IT Carlow, co-author of Ireland's National Men's Health Policy, and a keynote speaker at the Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, taking place on October 14. The event is set to be the biggest of its kind to take place in Ireland this year, and is open to everyone, from health personnel to the general public and the corporate sector. For more information on the summit, see mentalhealthandwellbeingsummit.com

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