Traditionally, men are taught that they should be the strong ones, that they shouldn’t express emotions, and that they should be the stoic providers. Not only does this enforce negative and antiquated gender norms, but it leads to a lot of men struggling to push through and put on a brave face even when they are struggling.
This is not sustainable in the long term and is creating a significant mental health crisis among men, in particular, those between the ages of 16 and 34.1
Because of this, it’s important that men also take the time to practice self-care in order to maintain good physical, mental, and emotional health and stray away from the social norms that bring them down in the first place.
The Facets of Self-Care
Self-care is not just about soaking in a bubble bath and eating ice cream, even if that’s what a lot of the TV shows tell you. It’s a multi-faceted approach that includes work-life balance, diet, exercise, physical care, healthy relationships, and attention to mental health.
Building a Self Care Plan
A major part of building a self-care plan involves determining your priorities and finding ways to make time for them. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sticking to your working routine, struggling with time management skills, and forgetting to take care of yourself.
Many men do this. They fail to seek help and advice when they need it. Even if they plan to make time for themselves, it is this time that is the first to fall by the wayside when schedules become packed and life gets harder. Studies show that men tend to deny illness, self-monitor, and avoid medical professionals more than women do, which means that depression can be a major issue.2
These self-care challenges are not just an issue for mental health but also for physical health and recovery from serious illnesses, such as heart failure, and the management of long-term conditions like diabetes.3,4 Again, all of this information highlights why developing a self-care is important for both men and women, especially for men because they are less likely to do so.
A self-care plan should cover physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, professional life, social life, financial status, and mental health.5
For each of those areas, think about what it is that you are currently doing and how you could make things better than they are right now. For example, in the “physical needs” category, you could consider if you are getting enough sleep, exercising, and going to the doctor for periodic checkups. Financially, you could consider whether you have any debt right now and whether you have enough savings.
Some improvements could cover more than one category. Yoga could help with your physical and spiritual needs. Making changes to your social life by swapping evenings out drinking for joining an interest group could help socially, financially, and perhaps even with your professional or spiritual life as well. Once you start thinking about how the things that you do on a day-to-day basis really serve you, it becomes easier to live a happy, healthy, and productive life and get out of the rut that you may have been stuck in since leaving college.
Once you have assessed your current self-care practices and identified areas for improvement, it’s time to think about how you cope when things go wrong.
What do you do when you are stressed or angry? If you tend to turn to smoking or alcohol, get angry, ruminate on how you are feeling, or withdraw from people, then that is a negative way of coping. Positive coping strategies would be going for a walk, meditating, deep breathing, taking a relaxing bath with essential oils, or sitting outside and relaxing. Find positive ways to cope with difficulties, even if the negative ones might seem more attractive. Make some emergency self-care plans that will help you stop negative self-care talk and stay calm in a crisis.
Stay on Track with Regular Reflection
One common pitfall that people encounter is that they make a self-care plan but then forget about it. This is something that happens in other areas of life as well, but a plan that is not followed is no help to you.
Take the time to regularly review your self-care strategies. Are you really following them? Are they working for you? Are your goals realistic? If you told yourself you would go to the gym four times a week, and you are finding that you simply do not have the time to do that, then maybe you need to revisit your plans. Could you get up earlier in the morning and fit your exercise in then? Could you change your gym time for a jog so that you can still exercise but without having the extra stress of taking the time to travel to and from the gym?
Is there something in your life that makes you angry or stresses you out? Do you dread going to work every day? Are your relationships getting you down? Small amounts of stress can be helpful and a powerful motivator. However, long-term stress can be harmful to your health and make you more susceptible to infections and illnesses.6 Take some time to review your life and to identify changes that will help you stay healthy.
If you feel overwhelmed and basic self-care strategies are not helping you, then the option of seeking out help is always out there. There are services that can help people who are struggling mentally, physically, and even with practical issues such as finance. It is not just OK to ask for help, it is sensible to do so. Not everyone wants to confide in friends or family members, and third-party, confidential services can be a big help for those people. Remember that you are not alone and that there are people out there who care about you and want to help.
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