As a male therapist, I’m constantly surprised by my own hesitancy to ask for help. I know personally the benefits from checking my thoughts, regulating my emotions, and opening up to someone I trust about my inner struggles. As a man, however, I also know the unique challenges we face when it comes to seeking mental health treatment. Many men have grown up feeling the pressure to suppress emotions, conform to societal norms and maintain a stoic and tough exterior. Be vulnerable? Not today! Unfortunately, this leads many men to suppress valid thoughts and emotions. When we suppress thoughts and emotions, we miss out on the relief and freedom from not carrying them around and experience greater satisfaction in our work, relationships, and life.
When it comes to regulating emotions, here are several strategies both myself, and the men I work with have found helpful:
First, men need to develop an awareness of their emotions. We have them, and every emotion serves a purpose. This means becoming attuned to bodily sensations that go with certain feelings that arise in response to different situations. When you feel nervous, hurt, sad, or happy, how do you know? How does that emotion show up in your body? Are your shoulders tense, legs shaky, and stomach in knots? Do you notice a complete lack of energy? Your body is there to alert you to changes in the environment and taking 20 seconds to step back and acknowledge the change is the first step in gaining control and regulating difficult emotions. Additionally, learn to identify the prompts that set off your main emotions (i.e., sad, mad, glad, and scared). For example, stress at work, financial problems, or a heated argument with someone can (and should) prompt strong emotions. Your body is naturally wired to respond and let you know something is up.
Next, once you are aware of your emotions, your body response, and the common prompts, you can develop strategies to regulate each emotion so you can act effectively out of the data the emotion is giving you. In the work I do with men, we process what our main emotions are trying to communicate and determine effective responses. Anger, sadness, and fear are very useful indicators we need to respond to our world. But how? The key is knowing when to act on the emotion and when to do something different. For example, if an important goal gets blocked at work and you are angry, behaviors like yelling, becoming passive aggressive, or shutting down may not be effective. Learning to observe anger when it starts in your body, checking the facts, and then engaging in something more effective is tough and doable.
Finally, another important strategy for regulating emotions is developing healthy coping mechanisms. Mental and physical health are forever connected. It is amazing the benefits I see in my office from straightforward actions, such as addressing sleep issues, drinking water and eating a more balanced diet, and getting exercise once or twice a week. In fact, regular exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood in men.
Seeking mental health treatment is an important step for men because it is shown to reduce tension, improve gains at work, and build healthier relationships. I know it takes courage to seek help, and the benefits of improved mental health and wellbeing are well worth it.
At the Summit, we have an easy-to-use online tool to determine if scheduling an appointment with a therapist is right for you. Visit screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/SUMMIT to get your results and a recommendation for a counselor that can help. You can also learn more and schedule an appointment by calling the front office at 678-893-5300, or visiting us at www.summitcounseling.org.