By Danni Levy
James Middleton has spoken about the negative impact social media can have on men’s mental health.
As we enter the final week of Mental Health Awareness Month, the reality TV star who tragically lost his 19-year-old brother candidly shares his happiness hacks.
James, who has 239k dedicated followers on Instagram, has spoken to Muscle and Health about the mental challenges he’s faced as a young male who’s always expected to be happy.
“The thing with social media is that it doesn’t care about your feelings. If you’re having a bad day and it’s your job to be posting stuff and being this upbeat, full-of-life positive person, it can be hard. I struggled with that initially because you realize that no one truly cares how you’re feeling. They just want to see you producing content as the guy who’s always happy and positive, and that’s not reality.”
“As soon as I started being more open and honest and showing my own vulnerability on social media, it not only dropped the barriers for myself but also helped to make other people’s expectations more grounded and realistic.”
James says being more open and honest with those around you can help to set feelings free and face mental health without becoming isolated.
“It’s all about being completely honest with people about how you’re feeling; whether it’s your partner, your parents, your friends, or your work colleagues, because most of the time when you say you’re going through something difficult or you’re having a rough day, people can empathize because they’ve been through the same sort of thing as you. I think once you bring those barriers down to let things open up, you also let people in and it becomes a much easier conversation to have.”
Born out of tragedy…
“I’d always been in a pretty good place until I lost my younger brother almost three years ago, which was completely unexpected. He was only 19, so it was something that completely flipped my world upside down.
“That’s when I realized the importance of looking after yourself because in those kinds of situations, you could go down a path of self-destruction and become angry at the world to numb your emotions, but I realized that I had to very quickly tap into the things that were already in my life, like my training, my friends, and my family, and use those as crutches. I think that was incredibly important in terms of me dealing with that grief.
Obviously, everyone deals with grief differently, but it certainly made me take a step back and realize that life is very different to how I was living it before. My values changed completely. I stopped caring about trivial things. I stopped trying to please people. I stopped trying to impress people. It stripped it back and I realized if my brother’s life can be taken away like that, you’ve got to live your life to the fullest every single day.
“There’s no magic pill to make you wake up happy. We’re getting constant dopamine kicks from TikTok, vaping and goodness knows what else. It’s hit after hit. There’s so much stuff designed to imprison us. I think that trying to step away from that as much as possible and live in your reality in the present moment and have true human connection is so important.
“The ironic thing about social media is that it’s connecting you to the world, but as a result of spending so much time online, a lot of people are lacking real connection. Instead of going out and being around people, they’re sitting on their phone on the sofa on a Friday night and just watching other people.”
“We need to also take the time to go back to how things used to be without all these distractions and spend precious moments with family and friends and be around people who actually mean something to us.”
“I think the most powerful thing we can have is human connection. And speaking on behalf of men in particular, we can often feel very lonely and isolated because there’s pressure on men to be breadwinners and support families and be these strong heroic characters. I’ve been doing a lot of research about this and for men to feel happy, they need to feel valued and appreciated.
I guess, what a man would say to a woman if she’s upset is, ‘it’s okay, I’m here for you’. But a man wants to hear, ‘look, I value you, I respect you, you’re worthy of who you are’. And so, on that basis, I think it’s also about trying to also find a bit of purpose in your life and make that purpose true to you.”
James shares his top 3 tips for optimal mental health and happiness
“Fitness has been a huge part of life for me. People often say, ‘I need to get my mental health right before I can start looking after my physical health’. But, if you look after your physical health, that will take care of your mental health. There are so many studies to prove that those who exercise, the fittest people on the planet, are the happiest people on the planet. And that’s not a coincidence. You can’t just tell someone who’s depressed, ‘get off the sofa and go for a run’. It’s not quite that simple, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have this issue.
But whilst therapy is great and talking to someone is great, why can’t we have some sort of program outside of that?
So do a therapy session once a week and go to the gym once a week or twice a week, and actually get people stepping into that environment, or training at home, wherever it is, and get exercise into people’s routines. Exercise as a prescription. Exercise is completely free, if you want it to be free. You can use your body, you can go for a run, you don’t have to buy fancy gym memberships and wear the latest Nike trainers. It’s free, but it’s not prescribed enough.
“Another big one for me is the food that I eat. Again, when bad things happen to us in life, I think for a lot of people the first thing to turn to is just eating crap food because it’s easy and it gives you that sort of imminent satisfaction like, ‘oh God, that burger tastes good’. You are what you eat, and I think people underestimate the impact of a nutritious diet on your mood. If you’re already struggling and then you’re eating processed foods, which are draining and sucking the life out of your body, you’re basically making it twice as hard for yourself.
“The third thing, and a big one for me, was almost kind of trying to understand what was inside my head. I started journaling and writing stuff down because when you write stuff down, it’s like a mirror, so you’re almost mirroring what your brain is thinking. If you write stuff down on a piece of paper, you’re literally seeing what’s inside your head. And sometimes people say to me, ‘’oh, but what do you write? There are no rules. You just write whatever comes into your head. It could be two sentences, or it could be four pages. Just write down exactly what’s going on in your mind.
“I started off just doing it once a day at the same hour when I woke up in the morning with a clear head because then you can get into a routine. Honestly, it’s the most satisfying feeling when you get stuff down on paper. And it’s weird, it’s like this release. And then further down the line you can then go back if you’re having a tough day, or during the times where you’re really struggling, and you can read those notes and you think, ‘wow, if I can get through how I was feeling on this day, I can do it again’.
“The problem with journaling is it can come across as a bit of a middle class, like ‘I’ve got my journal and my green tea and that kind of shit’, but you can just get a piece of plain paper and start writing. You can build on it and anyone can do it.”