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Breaking the Silence: Men, Anxiety, and the Path to Healing

In my counselling practice, I've observed a consistent trend over the years – the majority of my clients have been female. This pattern raises questions about why men often hesitate to seek help for anxiety and depression, a reluctance rooted in societal expectations and ingrained beliefs about masculinity.

Growing up, many men are conditioned to believe that true masculinity involves showcasing no weaknesses. The misguided notion that being "tough" means suppressing vulnerability has resulted in a culture of silence around men's mental health. Parents, regardless of their children's gender, may dismiss anxiety as mere worrying, attributing it to a lack of toughness rather than understanding its neurological components. This perspective is especially impactful when boys are perceived as strong beings who should not succumb to human challenges like anxiety and depression. It's like saying "men are not subject to human challenges and human neurological conditions".

Reflecting on a personal story before my formal training as a counsellor, I recall a dear female friend confiding in me about an anxiety attack at a party. Despite my caring intentions, my response was ignorant, telling her to calm down and there was nothing to worry about, underestimating the profound impact of anxiety, including the terrifying sensation of feeling like one is unable to breathe.

In the year 2000, just two years after surviving a major car accident, I unexpectedly found myself grappling with my first anxiety attack – a twist of fate or life's ironic turn. The sudden onset of breathlessness and overwhelming dread led to daily panic attacks, peaking at a staggering rate of 10 to 15 a day. At that time, professionals had limited knowledge and understanding of anxiety, exacerbated by the absence of brain imaging. Despite attempting various methods, including relaxation techniques and addressing underlying fears, relief only came through medication. Fast forward to today, armed with knowledge and tools, I've learned to manage these challenges that resurface during stressful life situations before they escalate into full-blown panic – all without medication. This personal journey not only deepened my empathy for my friend but also allows me to genuinely connect with clients experiencing anxiety, panic, and depression.

In my role as a counsellor, I guide individuals to overcome anxiety with pride in the fact that each person I've worked with has found success. This stems from my belief that individuals can take charge of their mental health with the right guidance and empowerment. Armed with two degrees in human development and extensive professional development, I share a wealth of knowledge with clients, preparing them for their unique mental health journeys. I advocate for the idea that individuals can effectively manage mental health challenges given the right tools and insights. My approach, drawing from continuous learning, crafts a holistic method addressing the root causes of anxiety while providing practical tools for effective management.

Creating a secure space for individuals to openly discuss their past is crucial for progress. A counsellor must embody non-judgment, empathy, and genuine concern. In counselling sessions, I am empowered with qualifications and knowledge and a wide array of personal experiences and challenges that I have dealt with and recovered from, over my life time. This blend allows a profound connection, establishing a safe and supportive space for clients to explore challenges, overcome obstacles, and move towards a fulfilling life. Additionally, in both my personal life and as a counsellor, I easily relate to men, fostering an environment where they feel comfortable disclosing and speaking openly.

Counselling is not about endlessly revisiting life challenges. Telling the counsellor once should be enough and then the focus should be on providing guidance to help individuals move forward and understand that challenges do not define them. Through the right knowledge and tools, individuals can navigate past hurdles, fostering personal growth and resilience.

Acknowledging anxiety and panic attacks can be particularly difficult for men, often rooted in fears of appearing less masculine or not tough enough. However, it's vital to understand that anxiety is a universal human condition, irrespective of gender, masculinity, strength, or resilience. Its origins are diverse, stemming from various childhood experiences and the stressors of daily life, falling under the umbrella of PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Examining closely, the common denominator is "stress".

Life situations such as divorce, illness in the family, workplace bullying, career dissatisfaction and/or pressure, financial burdens, parenting challenges, and even the loss of a beloved pet can trigger stress, leading to anxiety and panic. The perception that men bear the primary responsibility for the financial support of a family can result in immense stress, impacting their daily lives significantly. Furthermore, a poor diet and lack of exercise also contributes to this neurological condition. It's important to recognize that these struggles can arise from both major life events and seemingly smaller, yet impactful, reasons that create STRESS!

Understanding that the sensation of breathlessness during anxiety is a result of the body's "fight or flight" response is crucial. This instinctive mode triggers shallow and rapid breathing, preparing the body for action in the face of perceived threats. When the extra oxygen is not utilized through physical activity, a temporary imbalance in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood can occur, intensifying the feeling of breathlessness. It's important to recognize that, in reality, one can breathe; the challenge lies in acknowledging and regulating the breathing patterns associated with the body's response to stress. While passing out is a rare extreme with hyperventilation, it's advisable to pull over if driving and let it pass, with the reassurance that one cannot die from a panic attack. Beyond this singular piece of noteworthy information, there is much more to explore, and I am equipped with the knowledge and tools to assist clients in conquering and managing anxiety and panic.

Left untreated, anxiety and panic can progress to depression, a serious and potentially life-threatening mental health issue. Men must recognize the importance of seeking help for anxiety before it evolves into a more debilitating condition. Breaking the silence surrounding men's mental health is crucial, challenging outdated notions of masculinity and encouraging open conversations. It's time to foster a culture of understanding, compassion, and support, empowering men to prioritize their mental health. The journey towards healing begins with breaking free from the shackles of silence and embracing the strength it takes to prioritize mental health.

Written by: Jayne Green (B.Ed; M.Ed)




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