As the last millennium was flipping over, everything in my life was flipping over (and upside down.) I was going through a very difficult divorce and had major economic and health problems. My mother and older brother’s health was rapidly declining (I was responsible for them). I was trying to raise four young sons, finish part-time College, and to make ends meet, I had three different part-time jobs. To accomplish all this I had to navigate through L.A. traffic each day like a dam UPS or truck driver! I was on both heart medication and anti-depressants to keep afloat. To put it mildly, I was stressed!!!
On one of those stress-packed, surrealistic days of the god-awful year of 2000, I was sitting in my undergraduate psychology class, “Crisis Intervention for Social Workers.” Frankly, I loved the class. The woman Ph. D who taught it was intelligent, beautiful (I was single), and the material fascinating. The professor distributed an industry standard psychology test to measure personal “Life Stressors” and their impact. The “Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory” test scored these “life events” and guaged the likelihood of a subsequent major health crisis.
I started checking off all of the boxes of the “major life changes” that had happened in the past 12 months (moving, downsizing, losing a job, starting new ones, divorce, health problems, money problems, etc., ad infinitum, the list was endless.) I then calculated my score. The test indicated I should be dead by now, or at least dead by the end of the week.
After class, I approached the beautiful Professor and showed her my astronomically high score. I suggested the test may be aberrational, and that I was not willing to toss in my towel in the fight for life just because some dam psych test told me I was a goner. She smiled, but then looked at me very seriously. She asked, “What do you do for stress reduction? What and whom do you have for a support system?”
GOOOOD Questions! My response was limited, but it was what it was. “I do martial arts, attend church, workout, and perform Spoken Word poetry on stage weekly.” She said, “O.K., who do you confide in?” That one stumped me. “Myself?” Bad, and a “very male” answer. She said, “You mentioned you are having some economic problems. I want to recommend some local therapists for you to check out who are free or low cost.”
Therapy? Dam! I had only gone to “marriage therapists,” and that had not worked out so well. I eventually called one and started seeing a therapist. It certainly helped, but did not “cure” my stress. I was then advised by a Ph. D medical researcher friend of mine to seek natural or wholistic remedies to address my medical issues and depression. He said there had not been enough longitudinal studies done on these meds to know their true long term effects.
I then learned about Qigong and Tai Chi. I picked up a crappy book on the subject and randomly strung together a seven-minute morning routine. Within a week my symptoms had dramatically declined, to the point where in less than a month I was able to cease all the meds. I got hooked on this stuff, eventually got certified to teach it, and even wrote a book about it for people in my situation who did not have a lot of time to mess with it.
Are you feeling stressed? Below is a random and non-scientific checklist of your “mental health-hygiene.” Whether you are overstressed or not, we all should assess our current mental health and stress reduction resources. In no particular order, think about some of these questions below:
*What, (if any) activities do you engage in just for fun? (not hobbies you are trying to “master” or make money from, just healthy things you do for fun.)
*What is your current level of physical activity? (Softball team, running, martial arts, yoga, hiking, sex, anything?)
*How much quality sleep and physical rest are you allowing yourself?
*Do you have a strong support system of people that really care about your well-being?
*How much alcohol are you drinking, and are you drinking more (consciously or unconsciously) to cope? (You knew that question was coming!)
*Are you still smoking cigarettes and tobacco? (Come on man, give it up. 90 % of the cases in ICU and the emergency rooms come from smoking. Chew gum or bite your nails already.)
*If you use marijuana medicinally, how often are you doing so and is that increasing?
*Are you overstressing on news and “current events” in addition to your own personal struggles? (consider limiting exposure, or “fasting” from negative news that does not involve circumstances you can immediately change. You are not the savior of the dam world. “Save yourself,” then worry about other things when you actually have resources that can generate change.)
*How often are you saying that glorious word, “no?” (to more responsibilities, to areas of excess, to your own mind when it starts devolving into an unhealthy rant or “negative tape” repeating in your head.)
*What are you eating? Is it really nutritional? When is the last time you at a home-cooked “clean” meal? (This is critical.)
*How often do you go outside into nature? (Powerfully healing!)
*How often do you read for pleasure? (not just business, work, or school.)
*Are you willing to see a therapist? (If not, why not? If so, interview three before picking one. A call or visit will take just a few minutes. This is like getting a mechanic for your head, so choose a good fit for you.)
*What are you exposing yourself to for “entertainment?” Is it overall positive or negative? (Violent movies and video games, pornography, horror films, heavy metal music? Taste is taste, but gauge and be mindful of how these media exposures actually affect your body, mind, and attitude.)
You know in your heart what you need to do more of — and less of. I personally hate this word; “Moderation.” It sounds so corny, boring, and “grandparent-ish.” Yet, all the ancient mind-body medical systems (Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, etc.) hold this concept as central for health. In essence, even something overall bad for you will not kill you if done very infrequently. The flip-side is also true, even the “best” healthy things, if done to excess, CAN kill you (running 15 miles a day? Over the top workouts? Fad diets? Be careful. American’s overdue everything.)
I am not a “health professional,” doctor, or whatever, so none of this is medical advice. Do not quit your prescriptions, or see a Voodoo practitioner, or whatever. I am just another man who has tried to honor their own existence through a radical commitment to self-care. As a result, I am feeling stronger, healthier, and better each year as I change. Not “older.” The numbers on your Driver’s License mean nothing. It is about lifestyle and capacity.
For men, self-care is a cultural taboo — to be so “weak” that you take a moment to care for yourself? Yet, not only do our lives depend on it, our lives’ contribution to our loved ones is at stake. Go ahead, break a cultural norm! Do that everyday. Have the courage to love and honor yourself. Honor your mental health, physical health, and spiritual health. We get one body and one shot at life. So make it a dam good shot.
Previously published on FrankBlaney.com
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