Stress is normal, in fact it’s essential for our survival. It’s the body’s way of preparing us for a fight or flight response. However, continual elevated stress can lead to dysfunction and often, as blokes we hit the bottle as a form of self-medication. Our first step should be to talk to someone and seek help if we’re feeling stressed, but historically, as blokes, we’ve been pretty poor at this. As a result of alcohol self-medication, we see twice as many men die of alcohol abuse, and men in their sixties are more likely than any other demographic to die as a direct result of alcohol.
It’s an unhealthy trend which unfortunately, is on the increase. Some of the most up to date data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that alcohol related deaths are at their highest since the late nineties. It’s a massive problem given that many of the issues that men self-medicate for (i.e. depression, stress and anxiety) are exacerbated by alcohol use.
It’s normal to avoid the uncomfortable sensations of anxiety through a range of different ways, collectively referred to as coping mechanisms. Alcohol is often used as such, but it’s an unhealthy choice.
Healthy Coping Strategies
There are strategies that are healthy and deal more directly with the underlying problems rather than just temporarily masking them, these include;
- Talk to a mate: Identify mates that you can really discuss things of importance with. Do this in the good times because it will present more of a challenge when you are already stressed. These mates might be a partner, peer or a mentor, but regardless of who it is, the research points to this being one of the most effective methods of support around.
- Exercise: The links between exercise and good mental health are undeniable. Not only does the body feel better but the mind does too.
- Watch what you eat: One particularly unhealthy coping strategy is comfort eating. If you have a raft of unhealthy eating behaviours, don’t try to build Rome in a day. Take one aspect like the use of salt or sugar intake and tackle them one at a time.
- Factor in time off: Regardless of whether it’s actual time off like a holiday, a weekend away, or just a mental break, via an activity like meditation or adopting mindfulness, giving ourselves timeout, is an invaluable form of healthy self-medication.
- Seek professional help: Whether it’s your GP, counsellor or a helpline, there’s a myriad of professional services to assist you if you’re feeling stressed and need advice on healthy coping strategies.
- Stay connected: The Act, Belong Commit message gets a flogging, but that’s because social connection is the most important and effective way of heading off many mental health issues before they start. Join a club, start a band or volunteer for a local cause, it all helps.
Self-medication doesn’t have to be a dirty word so long as we are making the right choices and taking the right medicine!
Glen and the Team
The Regional Men’s Health Initiative
delivered by Wheatbelt Men’s Health (Inc.)
PO Box 768, Northam WA 6401
Phone: 08 9690 2277