The recession-proof happiness guide for men

Blackmores
Friday, June 26, 2009
Image: Getty

How do men maximise happiness and limit low mood, particularly when financial stress is in the picture? Health expert Carl Gagnon tackles the triggers of poor mood and ways to become less Mr Sappy, more Mr Happy.

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What are the most common triggers for low mood in men, particularly given the current social climate?
One key source of stress is from work pressures, or lack of work and the money issues surrounding this. These can have a great effect on a man's self-esteem and cause him to re-evaluate his identity.

Most men tend to identify with work, money and their ability to contribute to others and society. When their potential for being generous and looking after others [financially] is affected, it deeply impacts upon mood.

Men often ignore the ongoing warning signs of stress until it becomes unbearable.

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How does addressing low mood in men differ from the way you'd approach it with women? Are there different factors at play?
Men will more likely to suffer in silence and mask things due to social stigma or worry about showing what they feel is a weakness. Women, by nature and upbringing, will seek help and talk to someone much sooner.

Often men will tend to deal with low mood from a very practical approach and look at what they can take first and talk will be the last thing on the list.

What lifestyle changes can lift mood in men?
Be active — even if you don't feel like it. Find an exercise you can do, no excuses, and enjoy. Weights, swimming, walking, cycling, surfing, Tai Chi, yoga and Pilates all have benefits. Give yourself small goals to achieve.

Focus on your relationships with family and friends. Don't shut yourself off. Being around others can often help you to feel better. Think of social activities that don't involve alcohol.

What nutritional strategy can men adopt to maintain optimal mood?
A diet rich in vegetables and fish will provide valuable vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Focusing on fish and lean meats will reduce saturated fat intake, as well.

A fibre-rich diet — containing muesli, wholegrain breads and vegetables — will keep the bowels moving and this usually improves mood. Decreasing alcohol is important! It can tend to distort or exaggerate mood and often has a depressive affect.

Even if you're tired, don't overdo caffeine-containing beverages and other stimulants. In larger amounts, say beyond two to three per day, has the potential to burden the adrenal glands, lead to dependence, and may also increase anxiety.

What herbs or vitamins might assist; and in what situations? Should these be taken during poor mood periods only; or every day for maintenance?
A multivitamin/mineral supplement helps to ensure adequate nutrients when your diet is poor. You should also aim for two or three serves of fish per week, but if you're your diet is inadequate in fish, consider supplementing with fish oil. Good omega-3 fatty-acid levels help to nourish the brain and nervous system.

St John's wort is a great herb that aids in the relief of low mood or despondency. It appears to impact a number of neurotransmitters which has an effect on mood and emotions. It can be used when needed for however long it's needed. I recommend speaking to a naturopath, pharmacist or GP to check interactions if you are taking other medication.

Any final great tips for addressing long-term low mood?
One of the best pearls of wisdom I've come across is from psychologist Steve Biddulph's book Manhood. He urges men to write a letter to their father. We unconsciously learn lessons in emotions, manhood and how to act from our fathers. Write down how he made you feel, what you learned from him and who you are and how you feel now.

It doesn't matter if your father is alive or dead, if he was around for you growing up or even if you send the letter, store it or burn it. It's more about the cleansing act of pouring out your honest thoughts and emotions on paper.

Is it depression?
Most people experience depression at some point in their lives. Here are the Black Dog Institute's guidelines as to how to spot depressed mood early. Signs include:

  • "Lowered self-esteem (or self-worth).
  • "Change in sleep patterns, that is, insomnia or broken sleep.
  • "Changes in appetite or weight.
  • "Less ability to control emotions, such as pessimism, anger, guilt, irritability and anxiety.
  • "Varying emotions throughout the day, for example, feeling worse in the morning and better as the day progresses.
  • "Reduced capacity to experience pleasure: you can't enjoy what's happening now, nor look forward to anything with pleasure. Hobbies and interests drop off.
  • "Reduced pain tolerance: you're less able to tolerate aches and pains and may have a host of new ailments.
  • "Changed sex drive: absent or reduced.
  • "Poor concentration and memory: some people are so impaired that they think they're going demented.
  • "Reduced motivation: it doesn't seem worth the effort to do anything; things seem meaningless
  • "Lowered energy levels."

    For more information, visit the Black Dog Institute at www.blackdoginstitute.org.au.

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