29 May 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2024 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Chibs Okereke

HCM People

Chibs Okereke

Almost 40 per cent of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health. There's a lot of suffering in silence

Okereke delivers meditation for men on the app photo: Mettle
Bear Grylls works on motivational mindset on the Mettle mental health app. Here with founder Neil Smith photo: Mettle
Almost 80 per cent of men have suffered with mental health symptoms photo: shutterstock/GaudiLab

Tell us about Mettle
Mettle was the brainchild of Bear Grylls and Neil Smith, who wanted to address a gap in the market for services supporting men with their mental wellbeing.

They came up with the idea for a mindfulness app incorporating meditation, breathwork and neuro linguistic programming (NLP).

Designed in conjunction with Imperial College London, the Mettle app is research-based and curated to appeal to the sceptical male mind. Men can be difficult to engage in this sort of activity and need to hear things in slightly different ways.

I'm in charge of delivering meditation, Jamie Clements is the breathwork expert, we’ve got Paul McKenna for the NLP and Dr Alex George and Bear work on the motivational mindset.

You already feature as an expert on the Calm app, what drew you to Mettle?
I'm still with Calm, but Mettle is an important project for me, as I've always wanted to help men with their mental health. The stats are pretty alarming: 40 per cent of men say they feel low or worried on a regular basis. Almost 80 per cent of men have suffered from mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and stress or depression, at some point in their lives and almost 40 per cent of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health. That's a lot of suffering in silence, so we need to get a handle on this issue.

Why do men find it difficult to talk about their emotions?
From an early age, men are taught not to express their feelings – it’s in our programming. If a boy falls over we encourage them to just brush it off. If a girl falls over we’re more likely to rush to comfort her. We need to become aware of that programming and then break it.

In the past men haven’t had role models talking about mental health, this is starting to change, with more male sports stars talking about their mental health difficulties.

Of course, the pandemic also had a negative impact for some and then technology causes stress and anxiety. Even though I love technology and AI, it does mess up a lot of people’s mental health, but we can harness it for the good of mental health.

The more conversations we have the better, but we can't just talk. We need to have some practical solutions and that’s where Mettle comes in.

How does Mettle target men?
Firstly, we’ve got Bear at the forefront and as he’s about as masculine as you can get, you can’t argue with his 'man' credentials! He's the perfect collaborator: everyone respects and likes him.

Beyond that, it's all about the language and it's very practical. So instead of saying breathwork, we introduce it as something the military use called combat breathing, which soldiers use to keep calm and in control of their body when their life is on the line. When we’ve done some combat breathing, I’ll tell them this is also yogic breathing, which has been around for 3,000 years, so they know where all these techniques come from.

How do you expect men to use it?
It can be used every day. It starts with an assessment to give the user a mental fitness score and then we use AI to send them in the right direction to build that score. This might be via a breathwork exercise, a meditation, a motivational snippet or a mind-hacking tool from Paul McKenna. The average exercise is about five minutes, although there’s an option to go longer. We wanted to keep it short, sharp, edgy and to the point. Meditation and breathwork are really useful tools, but most men don't know about them.

How much time does the average person need to devote to mindfulness each day?
Think of it as mental fitness training, so you need to work harder at the beginning to build the muscle – say 20 or 30 minutes a day. Once you’ve built up that mindfulness muscle it’s about using it to support your life, to become more aware – especially of the stress response – so you can change your behaviour.

For example, if I'm in the middle of an email, and I notice my shoulders are rising, I’m able to relax myself. And if I can’t, I know I have to break for five minutes and meditate. So for me it’s more about micro breaks, being aware of my stress levels and then using the skills to rebalance myself.

In my old life, I relied on unhealthy coping strategies to deal with stress. Now if I’m stressed I step up my healthy habits: I'll go to bed early rather than stay up late watching Netflix and eating snacks.

The other skill I’ve been able to develop is whenever anything bad happens to me, I'm think, OK, what lesson am I'm going to learn from this? Because I know every crap thing that's happened to me in my past has got me to where I am now. That's not just positive thinking, it's legit.

How can club operators engage with you?
The more conversations health club operators can have about mental fitness the better. I want to get Mettle into health clubs and we're aiming to build some partnerships. In my eyes there's no difference between physical health and mental health.

More: www.bemettle.com

Team Mettle...
MEDITATION: Chibs Okereke
photo: Mettle / Justin Oppus
BREATHWORK: Jamie Clements
photo: Mettle
photo: Mettle
photo: Mettle / John Breslin
MIND HACK: Paul McKenna
photo: Mettle

Originally published in Health Club Management 2024 issue 1

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