With another national lockdown announced on Halloween, I think it’s apt to reflect on just how scary COVID-19 can be for some. We cannot escape the effects of the virus at the moment. And for the virus directly, we cannot see it, we don’t know where it is and we don’t know what it will do to us personally. It haunts us every day. Movember reminds us about mens's mental health, and this month will be evermore testing for men in the UK. In support of mens's mental health I encourage men to feel their emotions rather than repress.
I’ve listened to people talk about the virus and how they feel about what is going on in our lives at the moment. There is anger and frustration with another lockdown, because of the effects on social contact, businesses, finances and quality of life. There is fear and anxiety from the uncertainty of getting ill, losing loved ones, losing jobs, losing sanity. Related to this is an enormous sense of sadness. Seeing people on TV who are in hospital suffering from the virus or who are caring for the sick. Mourning the loss of our own lifestyle that we took for granted at the beginning of the year. Will we ever get it back, or will our lives now be constrained to adapting to the effects the virus has on our lives?
Wherever we go, we cannot escape the impact of COVID-19, not only on our physical health but on our mental health which can be significant. As a man, I appreciate that acknowledging and recognizing how serious this impact is, can be difficult. The gendered stereotypes of what a man should be have defined my life. This has meant, that though stressful events internally arouse me, generating adrenaline and cortisol, externally I learnt to keep my emotions in ‘check’.
As a boy, I learnt the social expectations of what a man should be, helping to construct and shape my gendered mind, so that I would think, feel and behave as a man should. This meant ignoring fear and sadness. These emotions never went away. At times over the years, they materialised in anger and frustration, because I learnt that anger is an emotion that is acceptable for a man to show. By choosing anger though, I wasn’t processing the authentic feelings of sadness or fear. Left ignored, these powerful and natural emotions can have devastating effects on the mind, leading to mood swings, anxiety disorders, depression, isolation, a breakdown of relationships and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
Why am I telling you this? As I mentioned, our lives are so affected by COVID-19 in ways that we are conscious of, but there are always the unconscious effects. Take note of how you are thinking, feeling and behaving in relation to what is going on in your world. Are you discounting the level of fear that you hold about the virus, in order to protect yourself? Is your anger and frustration, more than would be expected form what is taking place, or is there some other feeling hidden underneath like sadness and despair?
Through my training and work as a counsellor, I appreciate the significance of talking about feelings. It can really help with alleviating emotional distress. But who controls whether you can talk about your feelings? You? Society? This is a fundamental question for everyone, not just men. By developing your self-awareness, you can begin to increase the amount of control you have over your mental health, this is why I'm with Movember and in support of improving men's health. Being more mentally prepared for stressful events, like COVID-19, leads to better health outcomes.