In this article I want to reflect on some of the influences and experiences that can impact on young men, that may well trigger feelings of anxiety and depression. I hope to reach out to any young man struggling with their feelings and ways of coping that may not be helping them. To highlight to them that they do not need to be struggling and that it is OK for them to ask for help, and that counselling can be a place where they can start to make changes to their lives.
What is it like being a young man?
Life can feel so much more confusing these days for many of us, yet what is it like to be a young man trying to negotiate your way in the world? What of the pressures to belong and be accepted by your peers, let alone to do well in education, to get all the qualifications you are told you need, have a well-paid job and be in a relationship. Then what of the perception that everybody else is doing well and are living a fun life on social media – yet what is the reality for you? Do you feel you need to show the world you are OK?; that you are coping and that everything you post online says you are fun to be with and are happy? I wonder how easy is it to keep leading this life?
Experiencing anxiety and depression
Then things might start to change; you begin to feel an anxiety that cripples you in social settings. To cope, you choose to use alcohol and perhaps drugs, however, this only seems to work initially then the anxiety returns, and it feels a spiral of lesser returns for more of a need for a chemical fix. You dare not tell your friends that you are feeling anxious, and instead make excuses to not go out socially, for fear of being anxious. Thus the anxiety feels it is getting bigger and has a hold over you. You now feel depressed because you cannot face your friends, and increasingly make excuses not to meet up with them, and stay at home playing video games.
Another scenario could be that you become dependent on alcohol and/or drugs to be able to go out socially. Your need for alcohol and or drugs increases as you try to stop feeling anxious, however, you start to feel depressed, deeply unhappy and short of money. Your friends become increasingly concerned about you; they try to help you, yet get exacerbated by your continued behaviour and then distance themselves from you. You find you are left associating with young men who drink alcohol excessively and/or take more and more drugs.
Do either of these situations sound familiar to you, or someone you might know? While it could feel impossible to change how you live, I want to convey that while it might feel like you are stuck, it is possible to unstick yourself and to change how things are for you.
Is it OK to ask for help?
It may possibly feel this life can be tough to live, and that you should be strong enough to cope, yet I want you to consider how you judge yourself, and whether it is OK for you to ask for help? The first step to change how you feel and behave is through you wanting to help yourself. Then, asking for help would be the first and most important step you can take. Seeing a counsellor could be the best thing you could give yourself; a place where you can start to make sense of how you are feeling and to look at how your behaviour might not be helping you.
Deconstructing myths around masculinity
It can still be true for many men, that to be a man you feel you need to convey your manliness by showing the world you are tough physically and emotionally. Yet building a perfect body doesn’t make you immune to feelings, and you could be hiding how you feel because you fear what others might think of you. Well, let’s burst that balloon of perception; the greatest strength you can show to yourself and the world is that you are not afraid to talk about how you feel. Muscles can with exercise grow, and emotionally, with a willingness you might put into a gym workout, you can too become more emotionally able.
So let us turn this myth around that men need to be strong (and strength means not to show you are upset). Yes, you may have received messages growing up that men should not cry; well let me debunk that and consider it is a strength to show how you feel. To be healthy you need to be able to allow yourself to experience what you feel instead of denying your feelings. None of this is radical stuff, yet somehow old messages stick and possibly, how you might have experienced your own father’s behaviour could still be an influence – even if you have said to yourself many times; “I am going to be my own man”.
Wanting to change feelings and behaviours
Entering into a counsellor’s room could mean you are ready to consider your behaviour is no longer helping you, and are prepared to look at making changes. Then in some aspects, you are halfway to helping yourself, yet there is work to be done; and it does not have to be as hard as you might have imagined. Behind the anxiety you have felt, could be issues around how you have learnt to cope, and how you might have felt about yourself; but actually, sharing all this with a counsellor could feel like a personal liberation. It might not be rocket science to learn that if you do not reinforce feelings of anxiety through your behaviour, and instead start to face what is making you feel anxious, then your feelings of anxiety will begin to dissipate. And it could feel like a science you were not aware of before. You will need to continue not to fear your feelings and to stop avoiding situations that have made you feel anxious. With the help of your counsellor, you could learn how you can live more freely without feeling your anxiety has become you. Through all this work on helping yourself, you might surprise yourself and start to feel you actually like yourself.
This adage is as true now as it ever was; that a problem shared is a problem halved, so please do not suffer your feelings of anxiety and depression alone, there is help out there if you are prepared to ask for it.
Written by Lee Allen Registered Member MBACP
Verified counsellor or therapist