June 05, 2020
There is an old saying that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical. Athletes, businesspeople and a host of accomplished individuals attribute their success to having a mental edge.
Psychology, whether applied in sports, business or understanding consumer behavior, is as dominant as ever. A recognition of the power and influence of the human psyche.
Further evidence of the tie between physical and mental health comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency says mental health, which it defines as our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing, is an important part of overall health and wellbeing. Among other things, the CDC states that one’s mental state determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.
Still not convinced on the importance of mental health? Consider this. Men account for more than 75% of suicides in the United States, with one man killing himself every 20 minutes. Combined with substance abuse and significantly less mental health utilization compared to women, this confluence of factors has led some to call the state of men’s mental health a silent crisis.
So, therein lies the path to a man’s health and happiness. Wellbeing, in whatever form it takes, is cultivated through a healthy state of mind. The challenge, of course, is the management of one’s psyche, much like physical conditioning.
Men are not known for embracing healthy behaviors. Adopting good mental health practices is an even greater stretch, particularly when you consider a man’s adversity to even seeing a doctor.
If cavemen never get sick, then they certainly don’t get depressed, feel inadequate, embrace new roles, feel lonely or just need someone to talk to. It is confounding that this culture, or certainly remnants thereof, still exist today in the context of a pandemic, the civil unrest which has gripped the nation, and what seems like a general rise in anxiety as our nation’s social and economic fabric is being torn apart.
If there were ever a time when a man needs to stop the suppression of emotions, embrace new roles and relationships, and generally ease up on the pressure to meet some 1950s image of manhood, the time is now. Just like the athletes they follow, and the business leaders they admire, men need to recognize – uncomfortable or not – that their mental wellbeing is a huge part of success in the game of life.
Fortunately, as with physical fitness, there are strategies that men can employ to build mental strength and promote resiliency. Think of them as the diet and exercise regimen for your mind.
To identify specific techniques, I spoke with my colleague Dr. Anthony Rostain who is board certified in psychiatry and serves as chief of psychiatry at Cooper University Health Care. I asked Dr. Rostain for three exercises a man can employ to stay mentally fit in these challenging times. Here’s his advice:
Men have a habit of suppressing their emotions, avoiding painful feelings and denying mental and physical fatigue. Check-in with yourself and acknowledge your emotions. Give yourself permission to be burned-out and confront painful feelings.
Open up to the fact that it is OK to move into this space and share those thoughts with others. Social media posts during the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated a growing willingness of men to share their human side. Videos of men playing with their children, expressing emotion and generally letting their hair down are signals that men are certainly capable.
Men are control freaks. Too often they can let themselves become defined by traditional roles centered on their economic responsibilities. Not everything is in your control, and happiness is not necessarily a product of control.
As an alternative, Rostain suggests adding daily rituals that can produce some healthy perspectives that extend beyond such old-school thinking. At night, before going to bed, think about what was good about your day. Try to identity just one, maybe two positives. When you wake, reflect on the day ahead and the potential for a meaningful or purposeful experience – no matter how it is defined.
This outcomes-based approach, whether the outcome is a business, personal or emotional experience, beats a fixation on control every day.
The world is rapidly changing. Economic realities have flipped responsibilities for child care from women to men, technology has been thrust upon a wide swath of individuals who heretofore were only novices and, through it all, many have had their lives redesigned in one form or another.
The lesson? Embrace the change. Welcome the new roles. Grow, expand horizons and reap the rewards of the new norm. While change can certainly evoke hesitancy and trepidation, it can also open the door to new, fulfilling relationships.
The worlds of sports and business are quick to acknowledge the importance of a mental edge. It’s a testimony to the critical role of wellbeing and a basis for all men to include mental and physical health in their lifestyle choices.
Gentlemen, time to take your game, the game of life, to a new level. Build your resiliency. Enjoy the fulfillment.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50."