Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Stress

Cloudy skies

Stress can feel like there are storm clouds overhead.

Stress is an unavoidable part of our daily lives. It can motivate us to get things done, but it can also overwhelm us if we don’t know how to manage it. It is said that about 20% of the population will suffer from serious stress issues at some point in their lives. Pressure at work, trouble with relationships, and our own expectations can all lead to increased levels of stress. Chronic stress can lead to disease and therefore it’s important to learn to manage our stress in healthy ways.

Stress can lead to a number of physical problems and in the long term even damage blood vessels, contributing to heart disease, high blood pressure and various other ailments.

Stress can also really affect your thinking and feelings. We have likely all had stressful thoughts and feelings at various times during our lives, but if they persist, they can lead to something more serious like depression and anxiety, which will need professional help.

Below are some examples of thoughts and feelings that might be an indication that stress in your life is becoming unmanageable and that you might need help:

  • You may have persistent thoughts about things going wrong and can even have panic attacks. You may believe you have screwed things up in your life or feel like a failure. You might feel full of doom and gloom about your life and find yourself waiting for the worst to happen.
  • You may often feel unwell and tense.
  • You might feel as if you have no energy for anything. You slow down.
  • You might be more irritable and you may be quick to lose your temper.
  • You’re not able to concentrate like you used to.
  • You might not sleep well or you can’t “switch off”.
  • You may also feel worthless or hopeless. You cry a lot.
  • You find yourself drinking too much or using other substances to cope.
  • You might avoid certain places in case something bad happens. You escape from places when you feel tense. You retreat from life and try to protect yourself against the world.

These things can come on either slowly over time or suddenly after a major life crisis. It can be like a vicious downward cycle that feeds on you – there is a close link between stress, anxiety, panic, depression, poor sleep, and substance abuse. Anxiety and depression are very commonly found together.

Like many things in life, these feelings and conditions can be either mild, moderate or severe. If you feel it is all too much, you need help and you need to talk to someone about it.

Did you know? Although women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, men are 3-4 times more likely to die by suicide.What can be done?

There are many things in general that can be done to defeat or manage stress symptoms.

  • Talking to someone is a great way to help yourself! There is no shame in being vulnerable as this can also help others to reach out to you.
  • Exercise has been demonstrated to reduce the effects of stress and has the spin off that it can make you feel healthier and feel good with the release of all those “feel good” chemicals.
  • Write down a list of stressors in your life. Often the very act of writing down the stressful things can give you a more realistic view and you might see ways to reduce your stress that you hadn’t thought of yet.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol as both can worsen stress and anxiety. Caffeine can increase jitteriness and anxious feelings and alcohol can make you feel depressed. In the long term, alcohol can make you anxious and even lead to panic attacks.
  • Healthy eating and good nutrition has also been shown to be helpful in combating stress, giving the body the energy and nutrients it needs to fight stress effects.
  • Take a “one thing at a time” approach to help you get through the tasks of the day and to stop you from running everything together and going over things again and again.
  • Focus on the positive and try to find at least 5 things each day to be thankful for. Gratitude works in changing the conversation from negative and self-deprecating to positive and grateful.
  • Try yoga and meditation. Maybe it’s time to join a group and change up your life and learn some new things. Research shows that meditation is very useful in helping people cope with stress. People can learn that they are ‘not’ their thoughts and that thinking and self are different. This can help combat negative thoughts.
  • Avoid isolating yourself and think about doing things for other people. Helping others helps us to feel better about ourselves. Join a group of some kind to give you an interest that is different from family and work.
  • Go to a counsellor. There are many well-researched thought and behaviour therapies that can help people re-imagine their lives for the better.
  • Talk to your doctor about your stress if you are having trouble coping. There are ways that your doctor can help with anxiety and depression.

Some people can become so stressed that they may even consider suicide.

If you have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death you need to speak to your doctor and counsellor immediately. I know what you’re thinking: “But I’m a man, Jim, I shouldn’t ask for help.” I’m here to tell you that you can ask for help and that it makes you an even stronger man for doing so. You can call a crisis line and talk to someone there confidentially or seek emergency help by calling 911.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Emotional regulation – why I’m pretty sure I’m a cat person

Puppy

Although hard to believe that anyone could get frustrated by this adorable face, Nick found grounding techniques really helpful when dealing with the frustrations of housebreaking his puppy, Keto. Grounding is a great tool to shake off negative thoughts before they get out of hand.

I’ve just gotten home for what used to be my lunch break. I’m standing outside in the rain. I’m tired, stressed, and I was already irritable before I got home. I am repeating a phrase loudly and evenly. A phrase that apparently only has meaning to me.

KETO, COME!

The puppy looks at me long enough for me to decide that she has heard me, decided that she wants to make me angry and waste my time, and then resume her attempts at inhaling the pine cone in front of her.

KETO, COME!!

I don’t have time for this. I have a bunch of emails to return, education to plan, and an errand to run before I scramble back to work. Keto has now approached me slowly, but right before she mounts the couple of stairs leading back to the house, she suddenly prances into the thicket in my backyard and starts to roll in what I’m sure will be an aromatic pleasure to remove from her fur and my carpet.

KETO, COME!!

It is decided. I already know the picture that my wife will choose for the “Missing Puppy” poster. I’m kidding, of course!

Here’s the thing: when Keto finally does listen and come to the doorstep, I need to be able to greet her and praise her and use positive reinforcement to help her learn to associate coming back to me with a positive memory. I need to be able to separate my busy schedule, work and life stressors, and frustration from the fact that this is a puppy just being a puppy. She is not deliberately trying to get on my nerves. In fact, most things in my life have not been set in place just to get on my nerves.

When it comes to maintaining my wellness and dismissing negative thoughts, generalizations, and distortions, I often find it helpful to use a tool called grounding. At its core, grounding helps to reorient me to the present and keeps me fixed in reality. It lets me shake off some of the negative thinking before it gets out of hand and I end up acting on thoughts that aren’t helpful to me.

My personal favorite way to do it is a simple exercise where I work my way through my five senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) and list 3 things that I perceive with each sense. I deliberately focus on each item for a couple of seconds before moving to the next. I can work my way through this exercise in just a minute and nobody around me would have any indication of what I’m doing. When I’m done, I find that it helps me come back to reality and lets me be effective. Sometimes, I need to do the exercise a couple times in a row.

The great thing about grounding is that there are many different ways to do it. Some people like the exercise I described, other people will do things like run their hands under cold water for a few seconds. Others will keep a smooth rock in their pocket and run their fingers over it, focusing on the way that it feels, the weight, whether it is warm or cool. Essentially, you are interrupting yourself before you get carried away with unhelpful thoughts. By choosing an exercise and practising it before you’re in the midst of a really stressful event, you can add another tool to your coping skills that will help keep you well.

So, on days where the housebreaking is failing and Keto has decided to try to eat the only bee stupid enough to be outside this early in the season, I remind myself to be thankful for all this practice I get to have with my grounding and coping skills.

If you would like to try grounding, I would recommend looking at the links below or inquiring at a Northern Health Mental Health and Addictions office. I hope you find it as effective as I have!

Grounding info and exercises:

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Freeing yourself from anxiety

A dark cloud representing anxiety's effect on a person.

Anxiety can cloud your thoughts if you let it.

People suffering from anxiety have to relearn how to trust their own thoughts. They have to trust that they can attain peace from within and stop running from their thoughts. One difficulty with this might lie with acquiring new thoughts, either in a state of anxiety or under the influence of medication.

The truth is that freedom from anxiety may indeed lie within.

The fear of fear itself can be crippling and isolating, leading to unusual behaviours that are aimed at keeping the fear from returning. Repetitive hand washing or staying indoors, self-medication, and /or substance abuse are just a few examples. Sadly, these behaviours can make anxiety worse. Anxiety and panic can also increase a person’s risk of suicide.

If the person knows what he or she fears, that person can unlearn that fear by letting the brain’s chemicals do their job and, after witnessing that they have come out the other side of it alive, eventually realize that an unusual feeling (like the state of anxiety mentioned above) will not harm the body because the body is acting normally. The scary thought will no longer have power over the individual.

I would make a bold statement and say that there are as many approaches to therapy as there are individuals and not all work for all people.

One well-researched, recommended self-help and cognitive behaviour therapy is the practice of mindfulness. The key to this is to become aware that:

Your thoughts and the you which observed them are not the same thing.

If you can learn to observe and see your thoughts as just thoughts then they will lose their power to trigger the adrenaline rush into the darkness of fear. I would go further and suggest mindfulness or some similar form of spiritual practice can be helpful in experiencing wellness and illness prevention in an increasingly stressful world.

I made it sound simple but there’s a lot more to it. Don’t be afraid to approach a healthcare provider or counsellor if you are suffering from stress.

For more information, please visit Healthlink BC and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Shine a light on men’s mental wellness (and win a prize!)

Nick's Movember facial hair

Nick’s Movember effort!

Alright, so who would like to win a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 or a 16 GB iPod Touch? I am calling on the creative forces in the north to christen a monthly blog I’m writing about men’s mental wellness. See, the thing is, northern men are some of the most resilient and hardy folk out there. We have a habit of not going to the doctor until things start turning green and falling off. And we don’t use words like “anxiety” or “depression.” A lot of the time we might not have a word for it. Feeling tired all the time, chronic pain, not being able to remember things, lacking a sense of satisfaction. In our culture, we might shrug it off and joke about fist fighting too many grizzly bears or say if a man isn’t irate about something he’s not doing his job.

The reality is that depression affects 840,000 men in Canada each year. That’s a lot of us. Furthermore, 2800 men in Canada commit suicide every year. Now, I don’t want to spend time mired in the problem. I’m starting a monthly blog update, with contributions from men living in the north, about how we stay well mentally. You don’t just walk up and bare knuckle box the bear. You spend time training. You curl some weights, you take some boxing lessons, you eat three chickens a day. Maybe you box a couple of smaller animals like a goat or a bobcat with a limp. Then, when the time comes, you have the tools you need to tackle that bear to the ground and make him tap out with a flawlessly executed guillotine choke hold.

The bear is a metaphor.

I’m calling on you to help me name the blog. Something you think encapsulates northern men’s mental wellness. Send in your submissions to menshealth@northernhealth.ca.

My goal is to be able to share some info and resources in a fun and positive way so that we, the men in the north, can stay as well as possible and have the tools we need to do it. Which brings me back to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 and the 16 GB iPod Touch. I’m calling on you to help me name the blog. Something you think encapsulates northern men’s mental wellness. Send in your submissions to menshealth@northernhealth.ca, and on January 9, 2014, a committee consisting of myself, two men working in the field of mental health and addictions in the north, and two community members will announce a winner, a runner-up, and a name for the blog. The winner will receive the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the runner-up gets the iPod Touch.

I’m looking forward to your submissions, make sure to include your name and contact information! Please share with your friends and colleagues and let’s have some fun!

 

References:

http://ca.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health

http://www.cmha.ca/public_policy/men-and-mental-illness/

 

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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