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World Suicide Prevention Day 2020: another day, another deaf ear for men

By Dr John Barry

Male suicide has increased since the year 2000. In fact male suicide rates are now at the highest level for 20 years, according to new figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS). Of recorded suicides in 2019, 4,303 were male and 1,388 were female. As usual for the UK since the 1990s, around three quarters of the deaths were male.

What might explain the exacerbation of this continuing tragedy?

According to the ONS: “Higher rates of suicide among middle-aged men in recent years might be because this group is more likely to be affected by economic adversity, alcoholism and isolation. It could also be that this group is less inclined to seek help.” Similarly, The Times newspaper suggested: “Male suicides have reached their highest level in two decades, prompting fears that some desperate middle-aged men are too proud to seek help.”

It is striking that although it is widely recognised that suicide is associated – especially in men – with economic adversity, alcoholism and social isolation, the ONS and Times highlight a lack of help-seeking by men as being the main issue.

The victim-blaming narrative is not only insulting to men and unhelpful in preventing suicide, it also misses the key point: men are not going to talk if society isn’t going to listen.

There are many ways which demonstrate that we are less likely to hear the distress of men than women. For example, when men talk about being the victim of domestic violence, they are often ignored or even laughed at, and when they express distress at not being given adequate access to their children after family breakdown, they often receive little help or sympathy (Liddon & Barry, 2021).

With the lockdown and economic depression associated with COVID-19, we can – very sadly – expect an increase in suicides, especially in men. And – very predictably – we can expect a chorus of victim blaming similar to that seen in recent decades.

We, as a society, need to become more aware of our unconscious bias against men in order to stop victim-blaming men and start helping them.

About the author

Dr John Barry is a chartered psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. His new book Perspectives in Male Psychology, co-authored with Louise Liddon, will be published by Wiley around the end of 2020.

If you are feeling suicidal, there are people who can offer advice and support. CALM offer advice on issues in general, and can be contacted here. For problems with domestic violence, contact the ManKind Initiative. For problems with family breakdown issues, contact Families Need Fathers.

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Regarding masculinity…

by John Barry

It was fantastic to have a chance a few days ago to talk with three legends of the men’s movement:

They were interested in the recent paper by myself and colleagues (Rob Walker, Louise Liddon, and Martin Seager) on the subject of people’s reactions to the comtemporary narratives about masculinity.

Being experts on men’s issues there were some very insightful comments and questions. See the 48 minute discussion here: ‘A Conversation with Dr. John Barry – Regarding Men’.

 

About the author

Dr John Barry is a chartered psychologist. His new book Perspectives in Male Psychology, co-authored with Louise Liddon, is out soon

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New book: Perspectives in Male Psychology

  • Should we believe everything that we hear about men and masculinity?
  • What role do evolution, biology and culture play in men’s behaviour?
  • Do we tend to blame men for their health problems more than is reasonable?
  • What can be done to reduce male criminality?
  • How can the standard approach to men’s mental health be improved?
  • What does gender equality mean for men?

A new book on male psychology will be available in a few months time, authored by Louise Liddon and Dr John Barry, and published by Wiley.

In around 300 pages this book uses evidence from science to shed light to some of todays heated issues around men and masculinity. A spectrum of the topics – including education, sport and the workplace – are explored, and questions answered.

More information will be available soon. To hear the latest, sign up to the free newsletter

 

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Reactions to contemporary narratives about masculinity

A research paper by John Barry, Rob Walker, Louise Liddon, & Martin Seager, of the Male Psychology Network, UK.

Published in the Psychreg Journal of Psychology, June 2020

Abstract

Background

Masculinity is frequently talked about in contemporary Western media as being in crisis, needing reform or even being ‘toxic’. However, no research to date has assessed the impact that this pervasive narrative might be having on people, particularly men themselves.

Methods

This cross-sectional online pilot survey asked 203 men and 52 women (mean + SD age 46 + 13) their opinions about the terms toxic masculinity, traditional masculinity, and positive masculinity, and how they would feel if their gender was seen as the cause of their relationship or job problems.

Results

Most participants thought the term toxic masculinity insulting, probably harmful to boys, and unlikely to help men’s behaviour. Having feminist views, especially being anti-patriarchy, were correlated with more tolerance of the term toxic masculinity. Most participants said they would be unhappy if their masculinity or femininity were blamed for their work or relationship problems. Further analysis using multiple linear regression found that men’s self-esteem was significantly predicted by older age, more education, and a greater acceptance of traditional masculinity. Men’s mental positivity – which is known to be negatively correlated with suicidality – was significantly predicted by older age, a greater acceptance of traditional masculinity, and more education.

Conclusions

Implications for the mental health of men and boys are discussed in relation to the narrative around masculinity in the media, social sciences, and in clinical psychology.

See the full text of the paper here

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Gaslighting: How abusive people create self-doubting victims

by Andrew Pain

This blog is adapted from the article published in Psychreg in January 2020

The wine was flowing, the dinner party in full swing and she was holding court (as usual). She was describing her experiences undertaking a PGCE, with a work placement in a nearby town and she referenced the local drug abuse issues:

95% of the people there are drug addicts.

He shuddered. She always did this. She’d start off with a great story then take things way too far. The people around the table looked at each other in disbelief. No one dared say a word (they never did) and she carried on regardless. Later that evening, he summoned the courage to challenge her:

Darling, you were in great form last night, but … are you sure about that 95% statistic? It doesn’t sound right to me.

She glared at him:

You pedantic t**t”!

His mouth went dry and his heart was beating fast. As expected, she’d not taken this well and it was going only one way: rage then violence (it always did). He nervously reasoned with her that she’d lost some of the people around the table when she mentioned the 95% statistic and that maybe, with statistics, it’s just worth being absolutely sure they’re correct before stating them as fact.

Why can’t you just enjoy the eveningYou do this with the kids, always f***g picking at them: now you want to have a go at me?

He could hear his young daughter crying upstairs, woken again by her mum’s shouting … it was all his fault!

His wife stormed out the house and he breathed a sigh of relief: at least, he didn’t get hit this time, but he’d been SO stupid for having been SO pedantic. She didn’t lose the people around the table and so what if the stat was wrong: it probably wasn’t that far wrong, right?

Gas lighting: in abusive relationships, abusers skilfully take control of your every thought by pouring doubt into your mind, about:

  • what he said/she said
  • what your mum said
  • what your friends think / thought
  • events in the past … “no it didn’t happen like that, it was like this”.
  • your traits and skills: “No, you’re not talented – you never were“ or: “Yes, you have some talent but you’re so damn arrogant about it.

Bit by bit, the onslaught wears you down and the stories your abuser spins in your mind have two purposes:

  1. To ensure that you doubt yourself.
  2. To ensure that you trust your abuser 100% and follow their every command.

Some days you’ll think you’re going insane as you become your partner’s greatest excuse-maker, justifying his/her behaviour to yourself and to others, friends, her family, your family: but deep down somewhere in side you, you know something is wrong, but who’s fault is it? The wrestling and churning over in your mind is a spinning wheel which never stops.

She’s tired”,

The kids are wearing her out”,

She’s working through some stuff “,

She’s under a lot of pressure”,

She’s amazing to have got where she is”.

I can’t go on like this

If I was a better person, she/her wouldn’t keep losing the plot!

As a survivor of an abusive marriage, I struggled to make decisions on anything in case it was the wrong one: holidays, activities, decisions about the home, which route to take on the day-trip, what do with the kids. I always held back on what I truly felt and simply followed the opinions/ideas which fitted in with her, whether I truly believed them or not.

I became a manipulative liar, focussed entirely on preventing my wife’s triggers from being pulled, hiding my own mistakes, the kids mistakes, forward planning in absurd detail to out-maneouvre anything which might go wrong. I had become a control freak, ruled by paranoia and panic and I no longer trusted my instincts or skills.

The term “gaslighting” originated in Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play, Gas Light, where a manipulative husband drove his wife to insanity by causing her to question what she experienced. Gas lighting takes many forms, from convincing the victim that he/she is in need of counselling, or has mental health issues/major personality issues, to deliberately planting seeds of doubt about the victim’s appearance, before blatantly flirting with other people, including inappropriate levels of physical affection with friends, colleagues, contacts, just so the victim can see it, and feel it, and then when the victim challenges it, he/she is over-reacting, is too sensitive, always imagining things.

When you’re on the receiving end of gaslighting, it’s hard to see beyond it because your abuser knows you: your strengths, weaknesses and motivations and will consistently work to keep you unsettled and unsure of yourself, convincing you that you’re overreacting, imaging things, making it all up. But you’re not – and it’s not your fault.

–       If in doubt, try to take a step back and see the situation with a clearer perspective. If it was a friend in your shoes, experiencing what you are experiencing, what would you say to them?

–       Find someone to talk to who you trust, and is outside the situation. Abusers will isolate their victims so their gaslighting goes unchallenged but when you talk to someone who can help you see things for what they are, the walls built by the gaslighting abuser become more shaky, eventually tumbling down, the more you come to your senses and the dominance of the abuser simply folds in on itself.

I am happily remarried and repaired with all family relationships restored. There are no mind games now. There is no fear in my life anymore, just straight forward living. If I were to break my wife’s favourite wine glass today, she’d be disappointed if it held particular sentimental value, but my stomach would not be churning in fear, nor would I be desperately thinking of a way of hiding the evidence. I’d tell her and it would be OK. She is a rational, measured and loving woman. Living without that fear today is liberating and wonderful.

There is life beyond abuse: the separating and moving forward takes time and can be hugely challenging, but there IS life after abuse.

Further reading

Stephanie A Sarkis writes a concise and easy-to-read article in Psychology Today, outlining 11 key tactics of gaslighters to help people spot the signs. Included in the 11 tactics is positive appraisal of the victim, which serves the purpose of confusing the victims, so the dynamic gets blurred and doesn’t just become an onslaught of negativity https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting

About the author

Andrew Pain is a TEDx speaker (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HgPICMQLls&t=9s) whose talk, ‘Domestic Abuse – not a gender issue’ is one of the only TEDx talks to explore female perpetrated abuse. He is a domestic abuse campaigner, blogger and following his own experiences of domestic abuse, he co-leads a pilot project to support male survivors. Andrew is also a leadership coach, helping business leaders to get more done but without getting busier or burnt out, working with diverse organisations including the NHS, The Institute of Leadership and Management, The Association of Project Management and a range of schools and colleges. In his spare time, he is a father of 5, including 3 boys under 7.

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Time to change the outdated narrative that masculinity is the principle cause of men’s health problems

by Dr John Barry

It’s obvious that behaviours can impact health, and some health behaviours show sex differences. However the idea that masculinity is to predominantly to blame for men’s health problems is woefully reductionist when other factors that impact men’s health are not taken into account.

The term ‘victim-blaming’ refers to the tendency to focus on the individual as the source of their problems, without due consideration of other contributory factors, and approaches to men’s health that pathologise masculinity can be seen as victim blaming. This view of men can be seen as creating, or exacerbating, the gender empathy gap, and part of a wider unconscious bias regarding men called gamma bias. In contrast, approaches to women’s health are generally conducted with more sensitivity to the social factors that impact their health behaviour.

As of today, around 65% of coronavirus deaths are male yet very often the narrative in the media and in politics seems to be that although more men die, the main crisis is the inconvenience to women.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the response from academics and health agencies tends to be to presume masculinity and male-typical behaviour is a problem when it comes to men’s health and the coronavirus pandemic. This week men’s greater cigarette consumption in China was given as an example of how men’s health behaviour contributes to their greater risk of death from coronavirus: over 50% of men in China smoke tobacco compared to only around 5% of women, and smokers are more vulnerable to respiratory conditions. However men are more likely than women to die from coronavirus in countries where there is little sex difference in smoking. For example, in Denmark around 35% of both men and women smoke, yet the death rate from coronavirus is around 65% higher in men (as of 30th March 2020). This suggests that in many countries, men’s health behaviour isn’t a good explanation for men’s susceptibility to coronavirus.

Given this prevailing narrative, it was not unexpected that one of the first peer-reviewed publications on sex differences in coronavirus risk restated the mantra that masculinity is bad for men’s health due to increased risk-taking and reduced help-seeking. However the authors, Allessandra Buja et al (2020) from the University of Padua, Italy, went on to make three important points:

 

1/ “…men have a weaker immune response and have also been shown to have more chronic mucus hypersecretion, which may worsen their prognosis and increase the likelihood of death”

2/ “The association of sex with post-hospitalization risk is complex, and likely to be influenced by multiple factors”.

3/ “…there are few studies that evaluate the effectiveness of interventions that promote the access of men to primary care. A recent review found that physical activity, education, peer support-based interventions improve quality of life in men with long-term conditions. More studies are needed to understand what is successful in improving elderly men’s health and reducing the risk of readmission”.

 

Buja and colleagues are to be congratulated for breaking with the popular narrative by highlighting these points, which I predict will be far more successful in reducing men’s deaths than health promotion campaigns that run the risk of patronising and alienating men. Perhaps these three points will inspire other to think of how male-typical behaviour might be useful, not least in the emergency services, populated mainly by men, where risk-taking is to the benefit of other people’s health. It might also inspire others to seek out existing research demonstrating that harnessing traditional masculinity can improve health.

Of course there are examples of where men engage in risky behaviours that harm their health, but casting a negative light on masculinity doesn’t appear to improve these behaviours very much.

This article does not assert that men should take no responsibility for their health behaviours, but that it is time to investigate the ways in which male psychology can be beneficial to health. In the meantime I urge influential players such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be careful not to perpetuate a narrative that stigmatises masculinity, promotes victim blaming and the alienation of men.

I don’t think men’s health is going to benefit from another policy document taking a doubtful view of masculinity. We should take heed of the points raised by Buja et al (2020), and take the hard road of immunological research and meaningful research into how we can harness male psychology in order to promote better health behaviour in men.  In the meantime I would like to encourage health professionals, media pundits, and anyone else with an opinion to please consider retiring the tired old narrative that masculinity is the principle cause of men’s health problems.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1). His new book, co-authored with Louise Liddon, Perspectives in Male Psychology: An Introduction, is published by Wiley later this year.

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Do you underestimate the value of a good father?

by Dr John Barry

In a week that has seen two thirds of coronavirus deaths being men, we have heard claims that the pandemic is tougher on women.

In a week that has seen increasing opportunities for men to be good fathers at home, we have seen calls for the end to the traditional family unit.

Social isolation is not a recipe for good mental health, so in these times of social distancing and quarantine how can we make sense of this confusing narrative?

My advice is to decide to see the value in all of the things that men and women are doing. If you think fathers are of little value, then allow yourself to be surprised at the evidence that a good dad is of significant benefit to children. If you think men take too many risks with their health, then think of the huge risks taken daily by those protecting us in the emergency services, the delivery drivers and bin men too, and find out how traditional male values can benefit men’s health. And in doing that, let’s of course remember the massive value of the huge numbers of women who are keeping things together for us all too, the mums, the supermarket workers, and of course the healthcare workers.

Decide to take an opportunity to change how you see the world for the better.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

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Gamma Bias: A new theory

[This post is was first published on the BPS website (28th Feb 2020)  and reproduced here by kind permission].
Martin Seager and John Barry on ‘cognitive distortions’ around gender

A few weeks ago there was a heated but welcome discussion on Twitter regarding whether The Psychologist gave too much space to identity politics and left-leaning views (Relojo-Howell, 2020). Many seemed supportive of the magazine’s position on this question, but regardless of the balance of individual opinions, it was refreshing to see this level of debate and an openness to the idea that the British Psychological Society might need to represent a greater diversity of views. After all, cognitive bias is a common feature of the human condition (e.g. Beck’s theory of cognitive distortion in depression; Yurica & DiTomasso, 2005) and understanding cognitive biases is, arguably, at the very heart of what psychological science is all about.

Accepting that individual and group identities are a vital part of human psychology, and that different identities, voices and experiences can be unconsciously highlighted or hidden within certain cultures and narratives, we have proposed a new concept of cognitive bias called gamma bias (Seager & Barry, 2019). This builds on the existing concepts of alpha bias (the magnification of gender differences) and beta bias (the minimisation of gender differences) and shows that these two opposite distortions can operate simultaneously.

Gamma bias operates within a matrix of four possible judgments about gender: doing good (celebration), doing harm (perpetration), receiving good (privilege) and receiving harm (victimhood). The theory predicts that within mainstream western cultures, masculinity is highlighted only in the domain of ‘privilege’ and ‘perpetration’ but hidden in the domains of ‘celebration’ and ‘victimhood’. This means for example that the heroism performed mainly by men (e.g. firemen) will be gender neutralised (‘firefighters’) by the inclusion of a small minority of women, whereas a much larger proportion of female perpetrators and male victims will be excluded from our highly gendered narratives and policies about sexual and domestic violence.

Such cognitive distortions, we believe, are leading to a systematic exaggeration of the negative aspects of men and masculinity within mainstream culture, and a minimisation of positive aspects. These embedded distortions could be having a significantly harmful impact on the psychological health of boys and men and therefore on our society as a whole, including the psychology profession.

We welcome collaboration with all those with a passion to research and study these vital issues and this theme will form one part of our inaugural British Psychological Society Male Psychology Section conference in June.

Martin Seager (Past Chair) & John Barry (Current Chair) 

The Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society

 

References

Barry, J.A. (2020). Would the British Psychological Society (BPS) be improved by promoting a diversity of views? Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://malepsychology.org.uk/2020/02/24/would-the-british-psychological-society-bps-be-improved-by-promoting-a-diversity-of-views/

Male Psychology Section Conference. Accessed online 27th Feb 2020  https://www.bps.org.uk/events/male-psychology-section-conference-2020/registration

Relojo-Howell, D (2020). Diversity, Oppression, and Decolonisation – Are There Too Many Social Justice Articles on ‘The Psychologist’? Created 24th Feb 2020, Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://www.psychreg.org/diversity-oppression-decolonisation/

Seager, M., & Barry, J. A. (2019). Cognitive distortion in thinking about gender issues: Gamma bias and the gender distortion matrix. In The Palgrave handbook of male psychology and mental health (pp. 87- 104). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1_5

Yurica, C.L. & DiTomasso, R.A. (2005). Cognitive distortions. In Encyclopedia of cognitive behavior therapy (pp. 117–122). Boston, MA: Springer, US.

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Would the British Psychological Society (BPS) be improved by promoting a diversity of views?

By Dr John Barry

The past two days have seen some intense discussion on Twitter about the alleged obsession with social justice issues and left-leaning views in the BPS magazine, The Psychologist. I would like to add these thoughts to the discussion, based on answers I gave to a BPS survey a few weeks ago.

The survey asked: “… we would like to know what changes and additions you would prioritise and like to see in the BPS of the future. …Please give us your top 3 suggestions”.

These were my suggestions (edited a little for clarity):

 

1/ Promote a diversity of views on gender

Diversity is a good thing, but the BPS needs to think about how diverse it is in the gender ratio of members, especially among clinical psychologists, of whom around 80% are female.  At present men make up a minority of clients, and this might be in part related to preferring to talk about some issues (e.g. sex-related issues, or domestic violence) with a male therapist. But more important than the sex of the therapist, is the therapist’s outlook on gender issues. As a profession – men and women – we need to consider moving away from views such as the notion that patriarchy and traditional masculinity are a major cause of men’s mental health problems (for example, as shown in pages 124-8 of the long version of the PTMF ). Although these views about patriarchy etc might resonate with some male clients, I suspect they could alienate many others.

 

2/ Diversity of sociopolitical views

It is a fact that – generally speaking – psychologists lean to the left in terms of their sociopolitical views. To the degree that the general public know this – and I think many do – the BPS might consider the impact of this on the therapeutic alliance  and how likely clients with other views are likely to see a therapist if their views are likely to different strongly. I don’t offer a solution to this, except that the BPS might reflect on how this large trend to the left might be seen by the general public and potential therapy clients.

 

3/ ‘Hard to reach’ clients

We need more flexibility in thinking about how to reach ‘hard to reach’ clients, and the therapeutic approaches that are likely to work for them. My two previous points are relevant here.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

 

 

 

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Man Make Fire – and five reasons why you still should.

by Tom Gold

What is it about sitting around a campfire at night that is so special?
Is it the light? The warmth? The sparks twisting away into the darkness?
Perhaps it’s feeling the cool breeze, or looking up and seeing the treetops and the stars beyond them.

Our early human ancestors discovered how to manipulate fire about 1.7 million years ago and it changed everything for them.

Eating meat that had been cooked in fire increased their protein uptake leading to improvements in  stamina and muscular strength.

Heating certain types of rock in fire made them easier to work into tools and fire enabled them to harden the tips of wooden spears.

The ability to create what we now know as the campfire gave people a means to offset the cold and to ward away predators. It was also a reason to congregate in groups during the hours of darkness.

It was thrive or die for our ancient ancestors but it’s hard to believe that even with all the hardship and uncertainties they faced there wasn’t a time when they all just sat in silence round the fire, each lost in his own thoughts.

While we have largely abandoned all the other elements of their hunter gatherer lifestyle this one still one works. It’s in still our nature, the great outdoors is still the environment we were designed and built for and when we’ve finally finished uploading our campfire pics to our social media channels and done griping about our jobs to all our mates there’s going to come a moment when everyone is just quietly watching the flames or the stars or listening to the wind in the trees (ask me how I know this). I believe that in that moment we’ve briefly ‘come home’. You don’t need to bare your soul or tearfully comment on the futility of your life, you only have to be there.

5 Reasons to get out there

1 Confidence
That’s right, learning to exist in nature and be ready for whatever it throws at you will make you feel awesome. If you can learn to split wood with a hatchet then build and ignite a fire then you’ve mastered one of the most game changing outdoor skills there is. You’d be amazed how easy it is and how few people know how to do it.

2 Decreased stress levels.
Whether it’s sitting by the fire, looking at trees, or going for a short walk around your neighborhood, time spent in nature can seriously help reduce your stress levels. In fact, researchers in Japan (where the concept of ‘forest bathing’ originated) have discovered that sitting in natural surroundings can drastically boost your immune system while simultaneously lowering your blood pressure and heart rate.

3 Shedding excess baggage
The natural environment has a way of steering us down the path of what we actually need to do and bring in order to stay healthy and productive or to achieve our objectives. Amazingly you can meet all your needs with what’s in your rucksack, even for an extended stay in the wilderness and perhaps, even more surprisingly, you can sometimes be happier and more fulfilled as a result. It can also serve as a powerful analogy for identifying elements of your life that bring you joy and get you closer to your objectives and which ones don’t.

4 Gratitude
The practice of gratitude is one of the most time-tested and proven methods for enhancing our resilience. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. That being the case it’s a wonder we make so little conscious effort to experience it. If there is a better way to appreciate having a roof over my head than spending time in nature I haven’t found it yet. If you’ve ever watched a storm roll in over the city of Glasgow from the heights Cathkin Braes or experienced fifty mile an hour winds on the footway of the Erskine Bridge you’ll know what I mean.

The more wild and inhospitable it gets the more I appreciate my couch and TV when I get back to them!

5 Green exercise
At this time of year might be thinking you’d rather be somewhere warm if you’re going to exercise.

Taking a rucksack and heading out into the trees, setting up camp, tensioning tarp lines, sourcing and processing firewood with saw and axe and collecting rocks to ring the fireplace are all forms of exercise. It might seem daunting at this time of year and it can be tough but crucially, unlike thrashing the  treadmill or the exercise bike or lifting weights only to put them down again, green exercise almost always benefits you and those around you and usually sooner rather than later.

It doesn’t have to involve bushcraft and you certainly don’t have to be alone. Scotland has plenty of conservation groups who meet regularly to plant trees, lay paths, clear brush and build picnic tables etc.
Or you could go to the gym, plug your earphones in and hammer the treadmill for an hour while watching Sky Sports.

 

About the Author
 
Tom Gold is a Life Coach who has worked with combat veterans, incarcerated offenders, excluded students, people dealing with a range of mental health issues and a lot of people who wanted to find out how the outdoors can change their lives.
He has an ICF Acreditted diploma in Life Coaching, a BSc Honours degree in psychology and is a qualified Bushcraft Instructor
He lives in a village just outside Glasgow with his two sons and his faithful lurcher Pippin.

 

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