As I started writing this blog, I didn’t really know where to begin. Although I knew the message I wanted to portray, which is this:
Mental health problems ARE normal, men suffer from them too. By recognising that we ALL suffer from them, we can apply self-compassion and understanding to our journeys, which helps us to take proactive actions when we’re suffering, rather than suffering in silence.
So, who is this guy?
Hi, my name is Jonny, I’m a health coach and owner of Next Step Nutrition, focusing on helping people quit diets for good and focus on healthy habits for lifelong health. I’m also a podcast host, coffee and craft beer snob, cricket try-hard, musical theatre fan AND sufferer of mental health since my early to mid-20s.
Well, that’s when I first learned of these things, looking back, I most likely had episodes growing up too that I’d never been made aware of or knew enough about.
Like most blokes, I grew up never really seeing my dad cry or show a great deal of emotion. Sometimes I wonder if the stress from his work and anxiety caused was shared with anyone, though it probably was with my mum. Unfortunately, he passed when I was 16. So having these chats with him was never something I had the privilege to do.
Another reason I’m a health coach is that I saw someone work too hard, not exercise enough (or at all) and smoke like a chimney, until unfortunately, their body couldn’t take it anymore. I made it my mission that this wouldn’t happen to me, or any man, again.
So here we are, I’m 32 and I’m writing this blog for you. I’ve suffered on and off with bouts of depression and anxiety since my 20s. I think understanding that this isn’t something that goes away and comes and goes with the stresses of your routine, life and journey, is important to know.
We won’t make the clouds go away but we can improve our knowledge and our resilience of them and create bulletproof routines for our management.
This analogy from Headspace is one of my favourites, “The clouds in the sky will come and go but behind them, the sky is always blue. If you’re suffering right now, as I am, know this to be true.”
That’s right, I’m writing this to you now, not as a “healed” man but as someone who is acutely aware of his triggers, his tendencies, his weaknesses and how his routine keeps him going.
Mental Health Routines
I’ve mentioned routine a few times, haven’t I? And I’m not a mental PT who sticks to the same food and exact routine every day because that isn’t life. But I do have some daily non-negotiables I use to keep on top of my mental health.
The only thing that changes is when I do them and how long, based on what’s happening with my life. If I miss a day? It’s OK. These things compound over time and what you do most of the time matters more than what you do some of the time.
What are these? You ask. Great question, here you go:
• Daily planning and habit tracking (I use the clever Fox Planner)
• Journaling (I use the Mind Journal)
• Movement (not always the gym but always a daily walk)
• Gym (4-5x week)
• Sport or hobby (one of the most overlooked but important aspects of self-care. When was the last time you did something just for fun?)
And when I’m struggling more? I often seek help from a therapist or friend, as even a few short sessions can really make a difference.
Life is difficult. The cost of living is going up. We have TONS of responsibilities and as men, we often take on the burden of other people too and feel like we need to provide, care for, to protect our friends and loved ones.
But don’t forget to look after number 1 – yourself.
Does what you eat matter?
Of course, food comes into the picture for how well you feel but as an intuitive eater and health coach focused on holistic wellbeing, all I’ll say is, make sure you eat in a way that fuels your body and makes you feel epic.
The diet industry is worth £50 billion a year because those solutions sell you a lie and don’t work long-term.
Instead, focus on listening to your body, eat plenty of plants, drink water, move your body, eat when hungry, stop when full and cope with your emotions without food.
The Power of Self-Talk
The biggest thing to be aware of surrounding your mental health is your self-talk.
Negative self-talk is common and it is addictive. Even though it harms us, our brain gets the same dopamine response as it would from smoking a cigarette. So, if you’re a dick to yourself, you’ll find it hard to break this cycle.
The biggest issue about this is that our thoughts become our reality. I work with people on food who believe they’re addicted to food or that they can’t stop eating or only drink one beer. The issue here is the belief that this is the case – it makes it true.
If we’re constantly criticising ourselves, beating ourselves down, calling ourselves stupid, fat, lazy, a failure, whatever, unfortunately, we’ll begin to believe it ourselves and create limiting beliefs that stop us from taking action in line with our goals and values.
So how do we break this cycle? The first step is awareness of these negative self-talk patterns and naming them for what they are – unhelpful patterns.
In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, there’s an exercise known as thought recording and challenging, this is the best exercise for this:
1. Notice the thought and write it down.
2. What emotion do you feel this thought as you think it? Where did it come from?
3. Rate the intensity of the thought and feeling out of 100.
4. Now analyse the thought, what bearing of truth is within it, if any? Is there any evidence to refute this thought?
5. Replace the thought with a more compassionate one. What would you say to a friend in the same situation?
If you can do this each time you talk to yourself negatively, you’re going to see a HUGE improvement in your mental health.
Start Small for Consistent Progress
I’ve mentioned a lot you can do to help in this blog. I’ve mentioned food, routines, exercise, thought challenging and even introduced you to self-compassion.
The worst thing you can do is try and do everything at once at 100mph. This all-or-nothing attitude will just lead to burnout and feelings of failure.
Instead, take one piece of this blog that you like the sound of and apply it to your life. Start with an easy change that feels too easy, that way you know you can stick to it
The biggest issue people have with taking consistent action is just forgetting about it. So set reminders in your phone, use your calendar, put post-it notes around your house, set your environment up for success and put everything into this new change.
When it becomes a habit, you can add to it.
To sum up, some key areas for focus for coping with mental health are:
• Creating a mental health routine
• Eating in a way that makes your body feel good
• Applying self-compassion and challenging negative thoughts
• Taking it one step at a time
• Seeking support from an expert or support group
As I said at the beginning: you can’t change your thoughts, you can’t control the clouds but the blue sky is always there behind them.
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