Lockdown has hit us all, and there's no surprise, men are finding it challenging, juggling life, work and play, without the utterance of stress or seeking help. And, there's a reason for that, it's the art of being a man in the 21st Century, where emotion is a stigma, and even more so, admission of depression is viewed by certain cultures as a weakness.
Why should men be constrained by antiquated stereotypes of masculinity? What does it even mean to 'Be a Real Man' anymore? Shouldn't we all be celebrating a wide range of definitions of manhood? - Andy Dunn
So, what is masculinity?
Masculinity has been defined as a set of attributes, qualities and roles that are viewed as male in behaviour. Who's viewing men with this criteria? The definition seems quite outdated and needs revising. Over the years, we have created social constructs around what masculinity should look like through television and film, so we are in some ways, part to blame in setting up unrealistic pillars of what 'being a man should look like. It's fair to say, that it's probably time for the definition 'Masculinity' to be renewed to reflect the modern society we live in today.
There is a debate through research, that suggests masculinity is biological or socially influenced. Hmmm, the thinking emoji comes to mind, and that doesn't quite sit well with me. Thankfully we are moving towards a world that celebrates diversity, but there is no mistaking, that despite the great change, there are certain cultures and religious beliefs that resist equality, but over time, who knows.
Being a Man in the modern world is not easy, I can tell you, and the weight of expectations can cause men to feel anxious, out of step and out of sync. It's an internal battle of titanic proportions and any display of emotion, where tears are involved, is met with all manner of disapproval, so on one side, some say men are not emotionally available and at the same time, men are meant to turn off the emotion, and 'Be a Man.' It just seems confusing. Even a man's sexuality is judged in the court of life.
It's no surprises, that so many men, are so head bound, that they can often feel discouraged to talk about how they feel.
The Samaritans data report confirms that men in the UK are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. This is a real-life problem and it's based on an internal and emotional battle that men feel unable to share which must change.
Men stay silent
How do we help men to open up? Talking and sharing what's really going on behind the facade, is not an idea, men would wish to entertain. The term 'Mental Health,' is a well-known term and yet, so many men, are fearful of being labelled. May be that's why they'd rather zip it, then chat about anything.
There is a fear that disclosing their inner world, may jeopardise their career and be treated differently, denied a promotion or lose their job for exposing their truth. It seems sad, and tragic that men believe their emotional disclosure to an employer, would result in a negative outcome, regardless of the open displays of wellbeing literature and policy. The realities of a company not being proactive on mental health, simply isn't true, but men don't feel comfortable talking about it, so more must be done to change that perception.
I'm afraid, it'll take more than a fancy presentation to build confidence. Men need to know, their vulnerability will not be viewed as a weakness or the inability to do a role. These are just some of the reasons, why men are not prepared to disclose. This mindset will be a hard one to shift, if somethings not done radically to change it.
The Pandemic Volcanic Cocktail
Here's a quick story on cocktails, it initially started in New Orleans, where an apothecary, named Peychaud served up a mixed brandy drink in a French Egg cup. This drink was eventually called coquetier, which means eggcup in French. Peychaud became well known and guests who enjoyed the drink, shortened the name to 'cocktay,' and over time became the name we all know as the cocktail.
There's a story behind everything we see, but it all starts with our foundation and how we build our lives through the skills and experiences that garnish our world.
In many ways, we can be the explosive cocktail, with a sophisticated persona or a bittersweet glass that's half full. Anxiety builds over time and is not visible to the naked eye, but it is there. Unfortunately, our world has become obsessed with outward appearances or social validation, in the form of likes on social platforms that may seem harmless, which is causing insecurities among vulnerable people.
Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What's the solution?
If men are private and not willing to engage in the MH chat, how do we encourage a conversation? It's how we communicate and the varying ways they can get things off their chest without the worry of losing their dignity. Being put on the spot is a definite - no-no.
Men need to feel safe, seen, heard and understood in the presence of trusted people. Let's face it, if you work within an organisation that never talks about emotional wellbeing, and work hard to be open, transparent and welcome these conversations, staff will never talk.
Companies and those who lead them, need to be mindful of their approach to the conversation and how they communicate this internally. Perception is everything. It needs to be more than a quick chat or an internal email shot, as that never builds trust.
Honest and authentic conversations builds rapport and over time trust. That's what men need.
Michael Phelps is an American former competitive swimmer, who shares his story of emotional health. Mental health does not discriminate in any way regardless of success. That's something we must drive home to men, that with all the accolades, anxiety and feeling helpless affects men from all walks of life.
Getting back into nature and embracing mother earth seems like a good idea, not simply because of the sheer boredom of lockdown but also, the healing powers of the trees, grass and fresh air are known to heal our body and mind. They call it Forest bathing or the grounding effect, known to help us relax and destress from life's ever compounding issues and it's all scientific, so don't worry, you don't need to be a hippy to enjoy the benefits. And, there's nothing wrong with a hippy lifestyle, if that works for you, then awesome.
Our society today has come a long way, and it's a great time in our generation, to be a man, but we have to come to terms with the pandemic, and how it has caused great distress for everyone. So, we all need to help each other. Statistically, men of a certain age are feeling helpless and alone, especially in the UK and around the world. Everyone is feeling the pressures of life, and as humans, we have the natural tendency to compare. I get it, we see celebrities and we think, wow, they have it all.
Yes, they may have the financial rewards of their careers, but that alone does not bring happiness. When we are not engaged with the work, that sparks us, and I mean, work that you absolutely love, and are rewarded for it, with a sense of purpose, that's when the grey cloud hovers.
Robin Sharma is a Canadian writer, who is well known for writing numerous books including The 5 am Club. Legendary leadership and elite performance expert.
Never get into the petty habit of measuring yourself worth against other people's net worth - Robin Sharma
Robin Sharma works with millionaires and billionaires, who all have something in common, which he refers to as a singular mindset and perform at a level beyond the mediocre. But, if we fellow-mortals are to follow in the steps of the gods, the first step is the mindset shift.
If there was a manual for life, I think we'd all get the book on pre-order, but it doesn't exist, so we have to learn by reading and finding an expert to help reframe our thoughts and goals. That's, why many professional industry leaders, have coaches and therapists. Yes, I know what you're probably thinking, a shrink? I don't need one of those. Truthfully, no one is an island and gaining a different perspective could make all the difference.
We all need someone to talk to and that may be a therapist, a life coach, or a mentor, whatever is the best fit. It's not for everyone, but, give it a try, you might be surprised. As the world gets louder, it's easy to get lost in the waves of life. So, it's important, we exercise self-care. Every successful person has a story of ups and downs, but that never stopped them accelerating. They are no different from anyone, the only difference is resilience and self-awareness. Not everyone, we see, in the media was born with the silver spoon, but, it's the steps we take, to improve ourselves, will determine how the next chapter of our lives plays out.
Masculinity is not based on a set of archaic rules, but formed out of grit and character, that despite the odds, life brings, finds a way to climb back up and win another day.