After 40 we find ourselves wearing many hats throughout each day:
You can find yourself feeling thinly spread — failing on all fronts, not enough of You to go around. Stress Central.
I was in this exact position just a few years ago. And to make matters worse the overwhelm stopped me taking steps to look after myself in ways that could have helped, such as regularly exercising and eating at least semi-healthily.
The 3 Habits That Helped Me Out Of The Rut
I managed to lower my stress levels (which helped boost my low testosterone) in 3 main ways, none of which involved:
- meditating (I sucked at it)
- mindfulness (see ‘meditating’)
- medication (prescribed or herbal)
- scented candles
- whale music.
But I experienced dramatic improvements by developing the following 3 habits which suited the type of person I am and wanted to be, rather than the Zen Master we are often told to become in order to reduce Stress.
Habit 1 — Talking
Each generation of males in my family is getting better at talking about their stresses and mental struggles.
- My second world war veteran grandfather, blown up and presumed dead at 18 years old during the Normandy landings, and therefore ironically the male in my family with the most trauma and mental struggles to work through, said nothing. Stoic to the end.
- My father, although open to admitting he is under pressure, is still very much in the camp of (and you need to attempt an Irish accent when reading this, for the full effect…):
“Ah sure it’ll be alright, not to worry…”
whether he’s discussing a global recession, terminal cancer, or running out of milk.
- Then there’s me, very much an improvement on that again, able to admit that actually things are hard, and maybe it won’t be ok. But… I only do that in my own head. My wife, until recently, rarely knew if I was stressed.
So much of the stress I was under was self-imposed though.
I had a mental Should-Do List of everything I should be doing for everyone in my life — wife, kids, father, friends, clients, employees — in both a practical sense and with communication. For example:
- I should be talking with my kids regularly about X, Y and Z and taking them to their bajillion after-school activities
- I should be calling my Dad at least once a week, and seeing him regularly and helping him out with physical stuff
- I should be doing A, B and C around the house, making time for my wife every night to talk, and we should have a Date Night every month
- I should be checking in with coaching clients every 2 days, plus a call every week, plus any new training/diet plans they need
- I should call my friends more to stay in touch, and organize regular social things.
- I should paint that fence, mow that lawn, fix that light fitting, wash the car, call that guy about the construction work we need…
- Oh… and I should be eating healthily, working out, sleeping enough and not stressing so much too!
That’s just a sample too, my lists were so long I never stood a chance of getting through it, so I felt I was failing everyone.
Who had given me this list though?
I’d never asked anyone what they expected from me.
The first habit I needed to develop was therefore talking with the ‘Stakeholders’ in my life, about what they wanted and needed from me in terms of communication and practical assistance. Even my kids.
My Should-Do list shrunk enormously! Turns out, in the nicest possible way, nobody wanted to talk to me or have me help them as much as I thought.
My Should-Do list was instead split into Must-Do and Could-Do-If-I-Want/Have Time.
I no longer felt like I was failing everyone, and could easily manage what they really needed from me.
Habit 2 — Walking
I mentioned earlier how much I suck at meditation and mindfulness.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a sceptic. I’m totally sold on the benefits, and I know lots of people benefit from it.
My brain just won’t shut up.
And the more my attempts to quieten it failed, the louder that voice in my head got the next time I tried:
“Why are you trying this again?! It has NEVER worked. Are you insane? The kitchen needs cleaned up, and here you are trying to count how many seconds you’re exhaling for…”.
Yeah my brain’s an as*hole, I know.
Anyway, I knew I needed some way of getting out of my own head for a while and get a mental break from my stresses and worries. I came up with Active Mindfulness or Listening Walks (trademark pending — kidding).
I walk regularly to my training studio and back (25 minutes each way), and normally listened to podcasts and audiobooks. This felt smart as I was fitting in more knowledge while getting from A to B.
One day my headphones wouldn’t work so I just walked while listening to… nothing. Just:
- the wind in the trees
- some distant traffic
- little kids jabbering to their parents as they walked past.
It was wonderful. I arrived at my studio with the clearest head I’d had in months, smiling.
Of course at various stages of the walk worries had popped into my head, about one of my kids, or a conversation I’d had that I regretted, something that could have led to a 25-minute analytical spiral.
But just as with ‘regular’ mindfulness you’re supposed to come back to your breathing, I came back to the sounds around me.
These walks very much became my regular resets, like the cliché in IT where you turn it off and back on again so it runs better.
I recommend you find something similar that allows you to reset.
Habit 3 — Sleeping & Cortisol
I’ve written previously about my low Testosterone and Cortisol/SHBG issues.
Here’s the result of my blood test before I started focusing on, well, just looking after myself better:
Cortisol is high when stress (mental and physical) is elevated. For men this can decrease Testosterone too, and cause the various common symptoms of that (low mood/energy/libido, weight gain, muscle loss, foggy head).
I started to prioritize my sleep, conscious that by staying up too late too often to do ‘more exciting’ things like watching random Netflix shows (Bridgerton — Why?!) and scrolling on my phone, I was depriving myself of the physical and mental recovery my body clearly needed.
Priority one, before I even got into creating a ‘Positive Sleep Environment’ was just getting to bed at 10pm without fail Sunday-Friday. Then I’d read a book until my eyes were heavy.
Of course for the first couple of weeks it was hard to ditch the TV, and to not feel I was going to bed stupidly early before I felt remotely tired.
But eventually my body got the message, and this routine allowed me to get 8 hours sleep most nights.
This helped me:
- feel fresher in the mornings
- be less grumpy!
- become less liable to focus on Everything On My Plate, Poor Me,
- decrease my Cortisol levels (as per test 6 months later), and
- lift my mood and motivation to take care of myself considerably.
Which Habit Was Most Important?
To be honest, I have no idea which of these 3 habits did most of the Leg Work in decreasing my stress levels.
Sleep certainly ‘fixes’ a lot of things including Cortisol.
But by improving my relationships through talking to my ‘stakeholders’ I felt a lot less pressure from all directions.
Then getting those mental resets during my walks helped me jump off the Hamster Wheel of Worry for a welcome break regularly.
Interested to know if you do anything similar to cope with stress?
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
You may also like these posts on The Good Men Project:
|Escape the Act Like a Man Box||What We Talk About When We Talk About Men||Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race||The First Myth of the Patriarchy: The Acorn on the Pillow|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock