It’s no big secret that males make up a small population of the military spouse community. As a result, they face some unique challenges and situations which female community members may not even be aware of. Because of these challenges, male spouses can be affected emotionally by the lack of resources and community to the point where they feel excluded. This is detrimental not only to mental health and relationships, but also to physical health. Too often I see male spouses struggling to find their way, unsure of their role within the community. These feelings are not exclusive to males of course, but the resources specific to these situations are much fewer and far between than they should be. Because of this, I want to tackle a few things that are entirely within your control that you can start improving today to help lighten the load you carry.
As a certified personal trainer and natural bodybuilding coach, I can talk forever about the benefits of resistance training and general physical fitness on overall health. I see all too often other male military spouses not keeping up with their physical fitness. This affects not only physical health but mental health as well. It’s no secret the better shape you are in, the better you feel about yourself. An article from Psychology Today discusses the benefits of resistance training for mental health. Though strength training is discussed, any movement is beneficial unless your medical care provider has told you otherwise. You may not always have access to a gym or expensive resistance training equipment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be active. Go for a walk or go cycling or running. An object at rest stays at rest. For every one thing you can’t do, there are at least three things you CAN do. Just get moving.
As a disclaimer, I am not a mental health professional. As a man who suffers from ADHD among other things, I had issues communicating my true feelings to others, for fear of being judged as “weak.” Traditionally, society has placed heavy criticism on males dealing with emotions. Men are too often ridiculed for speaking their true feelings, even by their fellow men who experience the same issues but choose to hold them in. This practice almost always affects the rest of your life, including relationships with your husbands or wives. Read this then do some searching on your own. The notion of men seeking help needs to be normalized so men can discuss what is bothering them in a healthy way. Holding negativity in slowly poisons you and those around you.
I may not be able to tell you what the professionals would say but I can discuss one of the tools presented to me, which is communication. This may be communicating with your spouse, children, family, coworkers, or even your best friend. No one can read your mind, so unless you tell them what you truly think and feel, they will never understand what you want, need, or expect. If you are honest about your feelings with people, the relationships will be much healthier. Even if they don’t listen, you know that you did your part in the communication process. Give it a shot this evening when you are lounging around with your friends or family. You may not be able to control what society thinks, but you can help set the stage in your own home.
ESTABLISH A ROUTINE
For someone like me, a routine is essential in my day-to-day life. Meals occur at roughly the same time, training sessions are planned and tracked, and bedtimes rarely change. Having a routine can greatly increase the efficiency of the tasks you must complete every day. This way, there is little to no guesswork involved throughout the day. Life will sometimes throw you a curveball, especially as a military spouse. Just try to remember that the world won’t end because an appointment caused you to skip a gym session or a flat tire made you miss an activity. Sometimes the best you can do is make a plan and do what is within your control to stick to it.
You may even find that now and then something will happen which will necessitate a rewriting of your routine. This may come in the form of a deployment, a recent promotion, or a health issue. This does not mean to abandon your plans, it just means they have to be modified for the challenges and tasks you face at that time. I encourage you if you don’t already have one, to sit down with your loved ones today and begin mapping out a routine. You may find it difficult at first, but it gets easier and it will help in the long run.
LET GO OF ADDITIONAL STRESS
I used to play a lot of shooter video games and watch a bunch of fast-paced action movies. I still do on occasion, don’t get me wrong, but I realized that while doing so my heart rate increases and I feel a bit on edge. Without launching into my life story, I will say my previous employment was very stressful and it left a lasting impact both mentally and physically. Because of this, it is very hard for me to truly relax. By eliminating as many stressors as possible I found I have increased energy, optimism, and overall happiness. Stressors look quite different from person to person. Think about things that can be eliminated that cause you even a little stress. Think of your capability to handle stress as a bowl or cup. Your cup may be larger than someone else’s but we all have a limit. The more liquid we can remove from that cup, the less likely a spill will occur.
Growing up I was bullied quite a bit. Because of this I was quite lonely at times and would hang out with pretty much any kid who gave me the time of day. In doing so, I developed the unhealthy habit of overlooking negative traits within people’s personalities. As I got older the bullying stopped but my failure to acknowledge the toxicity in people did not. Before I knew it, I was an adult and half of the people with whom I was socializing were negative people who brought others down out of jealousy or other horrible motives.
Eventually, I was able to recognize the problem, and boom, just like that, seemingly overnight I had ended years-long relationships that were keeping me moving in slow-motion. I’m not talking about the people who need to vent after a rough day or the odd case of misplaced anger. I am referring to the people who, rather than acknowledge their own biases and shortcomings, pass the blame to anyone but themselves. The ones who always have to find something negative in anything that excites someone else. You may not realize it, but those kinds of people can hold you back from achieving your goals by planting seeds of doubt. Think about who those people in your life are and give serious thought as to whether or not they deserve a place in your life.
At the end of the day everyone has their own way of dealing with day-to-day stress. For me, it is through physical fitness and research. For you, it may be model airplanes. Whatever it may be, just make sure it is a healthy way of coping. Slamming a six-pack of beer every night is not healthy and can even lead to a long-term worsening of both physical and mental health issues. Study after study shows that men are less likely to acknowledge issues and seek treatment. I have been. So please, if you are dealing with something, get help today. Think about the big picture and don’t let ego get in the way of your overall wellness.
Toby is a military spouse, father, and physical health advocate. As a personal trainer and natural bodybuilding coach, his focus is improving mental wellbeing through physical fitness. Gaining control of your mental and physical health is key to the successful navigation of the stressors you face daily.