Warning there is a reference to suicide in this blog. If you need help call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Mates in Construction on 1300 642 111.

I’ve challenged myself to do five blogs in five days for men’s health week. This is day three and I want to discuss emotional regulation.

The common misconception of us blokes is that we are not the emotional gender. That’s our sisters right! Actually I don’t think this is the case. The gap between our emotional responses is wider than we care to acknowledge. There’s the silent guy whose feeling are all bottled up who is susceptible to self-harms or suicide and everyone including his mates are surprised. That’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other is the enraged man who flies off the handle at the smallest thing or uses violence or the threat of it to resolve their issues.

I’m no stranger to unregulated emotional man syndrome. My teenage years were dominated by an anger, the cause of which I’ve never really got to the bottom of. It manifested itself through fighting and verbal aggression. My genetics are Irish and my hair red so you might put it down to that. Temperament is hereditary but the way it’s acted out isn’t. Myth busted! The explosion of testosterone at the onset of puberty could be another explanation, but that angry man with an axe inside didn’t go away when the Clearasil was no longer needed. 

Both types of individuals, and those in their orbit, suffer as a result. The emotionally barren or emotionally under-developed struggle to form meaningful relationships and through lack of social interaction mental health problems often arise. However the ‘rugged individual’, a romanticised term derived in Hollywood which is a much lionised archetype, likewise comes at great cost. 

The cortisol and adrenalin created from the fight response (sympathetic nervous system) when in overdrive has serious long-term effects on the body. There are the obvious mental health impacts of anxiety and depression, as well as physical health detriment of heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, cholesterol increase, memory impairment and learning difficulties.  In many cases our home-grown solutions to curb these excesses and responses to stress in themselves are harmful. Here excessive alcohol consumption, drugs and other addictions like gambling may become our panacea. Often the angrier we are the greater the panacea has to be and we all know that moderation is the key to most things.

So here’s some suggestions, from my own experience, for dealing with your inner man with an axe: 

  • Seeking professional help. We tune our car, so tuning the bloke that drives the car is a good thing;
  • Move  your mindset from ‘hard’ to ‘tough’. A hard man is often admired but this is most often to do with physical prowess. Anyone can go toe to toe. A tough man does things that no longer involve a confrontation and demonstration of brawl-craft. A tough man does stuff that would generate derision from a hard man.
  • Recognising that you are not impervious to stress – in fact you might even be more of a stress sufferer than the average bloke!
  • Share your feelings with family and mates.
  • Meditation- too woo woo? Don’t knock it until you try it. It’s pretty tough actually.
  • Exercise and diet – yeah these old chestnuts again. Actually, on the subject of nuts; walnuts are good!
  • Accept your emotions and control them but don’t look to repress;
  • Use breathing as a tool. 4-7-8 is great for this. Breathe in 4, hold 7, out 8..repeat;
  • Reframing – looking at the situation in another way. Perhaps the problem that someone is causing that’s giving you grief isn’t about you at all? Perhaps they are having a real bad day too?
  • Use a trigger taming tool. For that moment when you feel your adrenalin about to kick in try this:

Stop – whenever you feel triggered just stop. This allows a different path to be taken. Don’t use the trigger as a justification for the usual inevitable outcome.
Breathe – focusing on breath holds the pause and calms the body. Special forces use this technique before smashing through that door!
Notice – get a sense of what part of your body has reacted to the trigger.

Reflect – try to determine where the emotion is coming from. Is there history here?

Respond – think about what your response should be to achieve a positive outcome.

This doesn’t come easy or naturally. Like playing State of Origin lots of practice is required to build muscle memory for when the crunch comes.

  •  If you have an employee assistance scheme use it. Reaching out for help is the domain of the tough man.

We are all works in progress and to get to good mental and physical well-being it’s necessary to go on the journey of self-improvement. It might be a long one but it’s worth the effort.