Throughout May, we're looking at different tools you can implement for Mental Health Month to help you choose new habits to support your mental health as well as others’, not just for this month but to take forward.
One in five of us will experience a mental illness during our lifetime, yet we all face challenges that can impact our mental health. It’s especially important to discover how you can look after your mental health during lockdown, and Mental Health Month’s 2020 theme is ‘Tools 2 Thrive’, encouraging a collective focus on “practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency regardless of the situations they are dealing with.” Since it is estimated to take 66 days (up to 8.5 months for some) for a behaviour to become automatic, we don’t wish to be prescriptive about what’s manageable for you, instead presenting various avenues in the coming weeks so that you can make an informed choice about what’s realistic to gently incorporate into your lifestyle.
Ben Goresky is a counsellor, coach and the Evolving Man podcast host based in Vancouver, specializing in helping men with addiction, recovery and relationships. He focuses on shadow work, men’s work, transpersonal psychology, and conscious relationship work to drive success in his clients. Ben also runs a men’s group for The Samurai Brotherhood, an organization that “connects men to their masculine core and leads the way for the evolution of conscious men”. We consulted him on which tools he’s using and teaching to thrive during lockdown.
How has your mental health been since the coronavirus hit?
I have been in good mental health throughout this crisis. Part of that is environmental and circumstantial because I have been able to continue working, and I happen to live near many forest trails where I can drop into nature any time. I’ve also set up a self-care routine and a circle of support that I have continued to connect to throughout these times of quarantine. Like most people, I’ve had to grapple with a barrage of media information, fear of the unknown, and the loss of my free-flowing daily life. But I live with my amazing wife and my best friend, and we can get through anything together.
Have your priorities changed?
I have a business in the hospitality industry, so that business is currently on death’s door. I have shifted my energy towards doing more online coaching for individuals and groups, and building online programs for release later this year. The main qualities that I have tried to nurture in this time have been the acceptance of reality, letting go, and listening for what the right next steps are. No matter what challenges life throws at you, it’s important to be flexible and adaptable.
What would you say to those experiencing guilt from not being productive enough?
I think a lot of people are experiencing a lack of productivity right now. Many of us use our computers to be productive, so we stare at screens all day. We watch movies on screens, and now we’re using screens just to be social with each other. If you want to see your friends, you are often seeing them through a screen. I think a lot of people are experiencing burnout from this. Staying inside and staring at a screen for more than a few hours a day drains our energy, and we don’t have our usual outlets.
Meanwhile, there’s a social script running that we should all be doubling down and getting everything done now that we all have so much time on our hands. But there’s a crucial piece missing in that, and it’s that we’re all under a lot of stress. We’re locked in our homes, our routines are interrupted, our gyms and yoga studios are closed, we don’t get the human contact we need (especially those who are isolated alone), and there's a whole lot of fear coming through the media. The financial future of the entire world is in peril, and we’re watching death toll numbers every day. We are all grieving. The world as we know it is gone for the foreseeable future, and that is a very hard pill to swallow. Humans are not well-versed at dealing with the unknown, especially in our own minds. So, on one hand, we’re scared, we’re grieving, we’re disconnected from each other, and on another hand we’re expecting ourselves to stay productive and healthy. It’s a huge challenge for so many of us.
So cut yourselves a break. Let yourself feel what’s happening. Call your friends and share your fears, and have a good cry. From there, I always suggest to my friends to get out for multiple walks per day (if you are allowed), limit your screen time each day, limit your news time each day, and dive into some personal practices that allow you to build a relationship with your gut, with your heart, with your fear, and with your busy mind. Meditate, try out Qi Gong, do breathwork (which by the way is fantastic for your immune system), or dive into a spiritual practice you’ve been wanting to. And figure out how to get your exercise. Bodyweight exercises work just fine. Put on some music and dance while working out. We need to shake ourselves back into our bodies at times like these.
As a coach, who do you turn to when your mental health is off? What gives you strength?
I turn to my men’s group. I run two men’s groups for an organization called The Samurai Brotherhood. We’ve got small groups of 10-15 men which meet in person (outside of COVID-19 times), and some groups meet online. I also have a group of leaders and coaches around me, and we support each other through everything in life. The men’s group isn’t for business or sports, it’s for life. These men sit together and tell the truth of their lives, and dig deep to support each other through holding space, and challenging each other. I know I can bring anything to these men. They have my back when I need them, and I have theirs.
People underestimate the power of a simple group like this. We like to think we don’t need it, and we don’t want to commit the time each week. We’re so busy, right?—or at least we used to be. But having a group like this makes me so secure in times like these, because I feel like I’ve got a squad of warriors behind me. They won’t let me fall.
What tools do you teach for when your clients’ mental health is low?
I help them let go of self-judgment and criticism. I hold space for them to feel their feelings, and then I ask them how they’ve been behaving in their lives. In all my clients’ lives, there are things they can do to manage their mental health; when they stop doing those things, their condition declines. So I hold people accountable to do the hard work of managing diet, sleep, exercise, social connection, and spiritual connection. When you’re optimally connected to those things, your mental health tends to optimize as well.
How can relapsing into addiction or unhealthy habits be prevented when there’s more idle time available?
We need to make the time less idle. We are all under a lot of stress in this changing time, so if we choose to sit around, bored, we will unconsciously seek to escape our feelings. The best thing we can do right now is dive consciously into our feelings. Feel them deeply, then fill our space with things that serve us.
So many people are drinking and getting high right now, because that’s what they were doing with their ‘spare time’ before the lockdown. This lockdown has given us the opportunity to own how we spend our days, yet many of us are quite unprepared. We’re used to being so busy that we don’t have time to check out and get high until the weekend. Now every day is a weekend.
We have to be intentional with what we are building right now. Do we want a life of inebriation or a life fully lived? Awake and aware, breathing fully until the last breath? Each day we make the choice.
Using this time to enforce boundaries versus rekindling broken relationships from afar: how does each enable or hinder us to heal?
We are all seeking comfort right now. We want connection. And, we need to remember to connect with the right people. If you’re seeking connection in a relationship that is broken, you’re draining your energy and making yourself sick. If you choose to nurture your relationship with yourself, to go inside and learn to love yourself, you are building resilience, self-esteem, and making yourself healthy.
I used to work at a wilderness treatment centre for addicted men. We would send these guys out on 72-hour “solos”, where they would be alone in the wild, in one spot for the entire time. At the beginning of treatment, when they heard about this challenge, they said “No way. I can’t be alone for that long. I’ll go crazy.” We coached them to face themselves in the quiet moments, and coached them through shorter solos until they were ready for the big one. In the end, these guys always said it was transformative. Learning to be alone with yourself is one of the best tools you could ever have.
How can a sense of purpose be forged during this time of employment/business uncertainty?
I believe we have to make that choice—to choose a sense of purpose. It doesn’t often come to us without invitation or without effort. These days, I have been recommending people read Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, because this man lived through the most hopeless time in humanity’s recent history, and lived to write about it. He learned that those who had a purpose to hold onto tended to be the ones who made it through the worst situation humanity has ever seen.
At this time, many of us must choose to pick ourselves up and pivot, and find a way to serve humanity in a different way than we were planning. To adapt to our environment is actually the most human thing. We’ve been so comfortable for so long. This is our wake up call.