In my opinion, more men should feel that they are able to open up about their mental health and appreciate and acknowledge the support they can gain. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, we all have our struggles; it definitely shouldn’t be a taboo subject. There are great opportunities to raise awareness and tackle the issues of men’s health. I feel that part of the stigma that still exists around men’s mental health is that many men have greater difficulty talking about their own struggles than women do.
Over the last 12 months or so, I have seen far more talks, more blogs, and more online content on the subject from women than men. However Wim Hof openly and honestly speaks about his mental health. This is admirable and hopefully will encourage more men out there to share their stories, making the subject a ‘normal’ conversation. He is also founder of the TheWimHof Method that is set to change mental health care forever.
It is essentially an ice-cold method; ‘A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away!’ This is to enable us to access the depth in our physiology – the way we were all built which makes us alive. Hof’s theory suggests that the wearing of clothes and comfort zone behaviours have stunted us; we don’t live by nature anymore, but our nature still lives within us and it wants to be fed. Hof has found a specific way to stimulate this through breathing techniques that awaken our deep physiology; it takes away cellular stress on a biological level. The vascular system is stimulated and invigorated and this helps the heart rate go down by 20-30 beats per minute, ultimately the stress will go.
I feel that this should be a gradual thing; I would say never take on every aspect of the method immediately. It is advised to do the breathing exercises that make your body alkaline first and then your body can control and react directly. Hof states, ‘We are made up of 100,000km of capillaries, arteries and veins and their function is best stimulated by a cold shower.’
I image that natural cold waters in the outdoors would be the most effective and also the most enjoyable. In turn, the heart becomes healthier because it does not need to work as hard as there is less cortisol in the body.
I particularly admire Hof for striving to help treat mental health, particularly anxiety and depression. Hof admits that nature healed him from his depressed state.
He is currently working alongside pioneering neuroscientists aiming to beat conditions like bi-polar, depression, anxiety and trauma. In brain scans he has showed how to activate certain parts of the brain which enable us to tackle such out of balance conditions. I have learnt that it is all due to inflammation – coming from the gut and going up into our nervous system, through the blood, into the brain and through the brain barriers, and then we call it depression. It deregulates hormonal homeostasis and knocks us out of balance. They now have a way to rebalance that and reactivate those parts of the brain – the prefrontal cortex and insular. Whenever stress comes into the brain, they are able to look at the stress, be with it and make change – from stress to stress-less beings.
He also advises simple techniques for somebody with anxiety or bipolar to incorporate into their every day. For example, whenever they feel the condition coming on, doing the specific breathing techniques (that can be found on his website), they will be able to manipulate the pressure rising and alkalise the blood. The whole idea is that through simple breathwork techniques, people learn to control their pain and their brain activity and can beat mental disorders.
In a large number of Hof’s talks and interviews, it seems that there are common themes that have got him to where his is today. Commitment to all challenges life throws at us, even though he admits that he, ‘…never knew what the outcome would be for any of them.’ He now realises that the mind is a powerful thing and anything can be achieved through the mind being very determined and maintaining inner strength. My yoga/fitness teacher and friend always tells us that your mind always gives up before your body; you are stronger than you think you are.
One of Hof’s phrases that I found in one of his interviews with Balance Festival, sums this up perfectly, ‘Nature has the answers to what we still see as questions. We still see impossibilities.’
Soon, it will be professors and influential individuals like Hof who will be able to show people that we are all built to be happy, healthy and strong. I personally feel that self-awareness is the key alongside a deep connection with breathing.