There are many ways men try to cope with stress and anxiety; sex, drugs, alcohol, food, exercise, sports, porn, social media, and TV are some of the many outlets guys resort to, in other words, distractions.
When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure. —Viktor Frankl
I am no stranger to distraction. I spent much of my young adulthood drowning out my personal version of stress and anxiety (feelings of shame, insecurity, unworthiness and overall lack of direction) through many of these outlets. TV, sex, and alcohol were my vices du jour. They helped me feel better about myself. They worked, if only for a fleeting moment or two, then I would snap back to the reality of my inner state, which would now be compounded with, what felt like, a ton of bricks made up of guilt and even more shame. It was a vicious cycle I could not escape.
What changed? Well, I got tired. I got tired of running. I got tired of being self-destructive. I got tired of ignoring my inner state. I got tired of feeding a negative loop that was leaving me feeling more lost and confused than I was before.
It was clear none of it was working. So why could I not stop?
Part of the problem was that I had a created a whole (and seemingly functional) persona around my vices. I was social. I had a good job. People thought I was an overall happy and positive person. But that persona was no longer working for me. There were cracks all over it that were becoming unbearable to live with.
I knew I had to change, but what could I do? Who could I turn to? I had no examples of this in my life, and I did not feel comfortable opening up to anyone about the inner chaos I was experiencing. As a man, I did not want to appear ‘weak’ or as if I did not have my shit together, that would be way too much self-exposure that I felt I could not deal with.
So I started to secretly search for answers. I devoured every personal development book I could get my hands on. I started practicing yoga and meditation. I attended courses. I sought out teachers. I started to look within.
This was where my life began to transform. When I stopped running and really started looking at, and questioning, what I was running away from (uncomfortable feelings and limiting beliefs mostly), my life started to change in miraculous ways. I felt more confident and empowered. I started making better decisions. I began building a life I felt proud of.
As a men’s coach, this is a topic I have seen way too many men struggle with: how to, healthily, intelligently, and effectively, handle fear, stress, anxiety, overwhelm, and every other uncomfortable feeling and emotion that arises. I emphasize healthily, intelligently, and effectively because, as I mentioned earlier, the coping strategies of distraction simply do not work, not in the long run. All they do is further disconnect these men from the inner clarity that comes from reflection and self-ownership.
There is a reason why you are stressed, anxious or uncomfortable. These inner states do not just magically appear. So, if there is a reason, would it not be smart to find out what that reason is? Would it not be prudent to dig deep to see what is holding you back from experiencing a freer and more deeply connected life?
The problem is that most of you were never taught how to navigate your inner world. Instead you learned how to suppress, ignore and/or judge difficult feelings and emotions, hence the distractions. I am here to change that today. I am here to help you discover three ways men can process, and eliminate, stress and anxiety without turning to vices or distractions. Before I get into that, though, there are two pre-requisites that are absolutely necessary before any sort of processing can begin:
- Self-awareness: Self-awareness is the ‘lights on’ switch, without it you cannot see what is making the mess in the room (your inner state.) You can learn to superficially handle the mess, stuffing its contents into whatever corners you blindly fumble upon. But once the lights turn on, you will see that nothing has been cleaned, it is all still in there accumulating dust and dirt that you cannot un-see. In that moment, you become fully responsible for the mess.
- Desire: After the light of awareness switches on, you can continue to ignore what you see, letting more and more ‘stuff’ accumulate, or you can decide that ‘enough is enough’. When this happens, it is only a matter of time before you start finding, or coming up with, effective solutions that properly deal with the inner chaos you have been ignoring. Either that, or you remain in a state of victimhood, sitting on a pile of dirty drawers, complaining and wondering when it is going to end. The desire to clean up is essential.
With this foundation you are now able to move on to the:
3 Ways Men Can Process and Eliminate Stress and Anxiety Without Turning to Vices or Distractions
- Turn into the discomfort: Now that the lights are on and the desire to clean up is present, it is time to face the music, or the ‘mess’ in this case. This is the point where many men (and women too) get to and turn away from. They have created a lifetime worth of distracting coping mechanisms to keep them from feeling the pain or discomfort inside. Which is why this step is imperative. If you do not turn into the discomfort to see and feel whatever is there, you will forever remain a victim of your inner state, never taking any risks and never living up to your fullest potential. The inner chaos will remain unchanged. But if you turn into it, you can see the mess more clearly and begin to healthily, intelligently and effectively deal with it.
- Seek support: Often your inner room is in complete disarray. You are overwhelmed and do not know where to start or how to go about cleaning up. This is when outside help is needed. I would add that outside help is always helpful, and it comes in many different forms: books, videos, retreats, courses, coaching, open conversations with a partner, close friend or family member, and, for those who have suffered any sort of abuse or trauma, a mental health professional. The key here is the willingness to be vulnerable. Without this willingness, you will continue to close up and build up your inner armor that seemingly keeps you safe but that slowly destroys your soul. This is especially pertinent to men.
- Develop healthy habits: Once the clean-up begins, it is vital to develop healthy habits that keep the inner space as clear as possible. Some of these habits include:
- Explore the many forms of support mentioned above.
- Practice mindfulness a couple of times a day, bringing attention to your inner state and taking slow, deep belly breaths.
- Be in nature. This helps to clear the mind and connect us with our true essence.
- Exercise for health, not vanity. This is a major shift in how some of us view exercise and it is the difference between connection and distraction.
- Eat healthy, whole foods. This is a habit that many people overlook. What you put into your bodies has a direct effect on your inner state. The more processed foods you eat the more vital energy goes to the digestive process, putting major stress on the body.
- Surround yourself with positive and supportive people. It is difficult to improve any area of your life if you have someone in your ear constantly bringing you down. If you find it impossible to separate yourself from this person, try having a conversation letting them know what you will and will not tolerate. Set boundaries!
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this because we are all unique individuals with different preferences, personalities, and needs. As long as you are self-aware and have the desire to improve your life, it is only a matter of time before unhealthy and overly prolonged stress and anxiety give way to inner freedom, joy and happiness. And that is what we are ultimately after, isn’t it?
—Photo Credit: Flickr/Victor Semionov