There is no doubt that more and more of us today are succumbing to the pressures of modern day life and experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety and stress. Not only does this have a huge impact on the NHS, it also has an effect on our families and on our marital relationships as well as our productivity as a nation (the latter resonates less with me, since I feel strongly that we are not made to be living and breathing automatons whose role is simply to toil and provide, come what may).
Whilst this situation affects all of us, male and female, we may respond to this quite differently according to our sex, personality, culture or upbringing. I am a man and consider myself to be reasonably in tune with how I feel both emotionally and physically, and if I am feeling overwrought, I generally recognise this and look at possible reasons and causes and ways in which I can respond to this. However, this wasn't always the case, and I have probably learned this through experience and through having reached the ripe age of 54, though there is still room for improvement.
Everyone is different of course, and what might be the case for one person is almost certainly going to be different for another. But (I am inevitably going to generalise here), one thing I have become increasingly aware of is that many men, whether of a similar age or younger or older than me, are not able to easily shed that outer skin we so often wear and look at what is within. For this reason, men often suffer the effects of stress without ever really recognising it as that, until they become sick and then have to face their situation head-on.
I witnessed this recently in a conversation with someone I met in the course of my work. The person in question (a man, incidentally!) wanted some advice as he was having trouble sleeping, or more precisely with sleeping too long and then feeling utterly tired and lacking energy the following day. I asked him how long this had been the case and he told me it had been this way for some time. It turned out he worked as a prison officer. He felt he handled stress reasonably well, and was baffled as to why he felt like he did each and every day. When I asked him about his diet, he told me that he ate meat….lots of it. His typical meal of choice would revolve around meat and chips most days and very little in the way of vegetables or fruit.By this time, of course, I was able to build a picture which indicated the likely causes of his tiredness and lack of energy. He was working in probably one of the most stressful jobs on the planet and was almost certainly not consuming anywhere near enough of the necessary amount of nutrients required for most people to function properly. My guess is that this man was suffering from adrenal fatigue and that his body was trying to repair itself by going into sleep mode, only to be subjected to the same recurring pattern day after day.
Whatever the reasons or cause in this example, I believe this is fairly symptomatic of a general malaise in our society, especially amongst the male population. We live our lives in a way which puts our bodies and our minds under constant strain, subjecting us to repeated onslaughts of the fight or flight hormones which are released when we perceive a threat (no longer a wild animal, but something much more banal and less life-endangering!). When this becomes habitual, we are inevitably going to suffer the effects and this is when we begin to suffer from chronic stress, anxiety and possibly depression, as well as a whole range of potential physical conditions.
What if we were to recognise this and act on it earlier? Why do we constantly choose to ignore these signs and symptoms and only then act when we have begun to suffer in some way?
Perhaps this is what it is to be human in today’s world. We have lost sight of what it means to live well and in synergy with its natural rhythms. Instead, the real world has been concealed behind layers of technology and padding. We feel this is progress, but is it really? Haven’t we lost something special and spectacular, namely to be the best possible version of ourselves?
So, how can we do things differently? Where do we start? Perhaps, for men in particular, the simple answer is to stop hiding behind our macho pride and to acknowledge our intrinsic value, that we are worth taking care of, and to be able and willing to recognise what is at stake.
It undoubtedly takes courage to do this, but the benefits we stand to reap for ourselves and for those who love us make it worth the while..