Today is Father’s Day, which means that it’s the perfect day to recognize the men in our lives whether that be fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, or friends. It’s also a great time to debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding self-care. Self-care isn’t just for women. Although many of the influencers promoting self-care may be women, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t crucial for men too. In fact, with alarmingly high rates of depression and other mental health struggles in men (June also happens to be Men’s Health Month), self-care is more important than ever for men. While self-care alone won’t fix existing issues, it can greatly assist in creating an environment that promotes improved mental health. That’s why today we’re shining the spotlight on some self-care practices with men specifically in mind.
But first, a disclaimer: self-care isn’t something that you earn. It’s an important thing that you should prioritize in order to be a happier, healthier you. For more information on how practicing self-care tangibly benefits you, check out our previous blog: Why You Should Practice Self-Care. While the central goal of self-care remains the same, there are various categories which different practices fall into. At its most basic level, self-care can be divided into two categories: body and mind. Let’s explore how a blend of practices from these two groups can positively affect your life.
It’s hard to live your best life when your back is killing you or you have a splitting headache. Or maybe you’re just plain tired. The point is, you are at your best in many different ways when you are nourishing your body. Read on for some tips of how to do just that.
Get enough sleep.
While it seems simple enough, the act of getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night is difficult but worthwhile. Sleep helps with physical growth and recovery, of course, but it also has a large impact on your mood. If you are well-rested, that annoying setback likely won’t seem quite as annoying, and you’ll be more likely to think creatively to solve problems throughout your day.
Move your body.
While this tip does include regular exercise, it also involves avoiding excessive sedentary time. If your job involves sitting most of the day, a new self-care habit could be as simple as making a habit out of standing up and walking around for a few minutes every hour. A CNN study found physical benefits include lower blood sugar and cholesterol along with the mental benefits of increased concentration. This isn’t to negate the importance of getting to the gym but remember that on the busiest day, getting up and walking around your office or home can also bring some great benefits.
Don’t be afraid to treat yourself.
Those first two tips are pretty gender-neutral; I think we can all agree that practices such as getting sufficient sleep and moving our bodies are important for everyone. However, relaxation of your body is also important for self-care. This can include activities like having a massage, getting a pedicure, or taking a bubble bath. While all three have been stereotyped as feminine, the truth is that they can go a long way in promoting your overall health and happiness, and there’s no reason that men should be hesitant about taking part. Massages are both relaxing and purposeful; their benefits range from helping stem anxiety to improving flexibility and strengthening your immune system. They’re also particularly important if you work out frequently. And pedicures aren’t just for fun summer colors on your toenails; they can improve blood flow as well as general nail and foot health. Finally, while the bubbles are optional, a bath can soothe sore muscles (whether after a workout or long day at work) as well as improve your sleep and immune system.
While your physical health plays a large role in your overall health and happiness, the condition of your mind is often underappreciated for the role that it plays in your life. As a society, we are just now working to move past putting a stigma on those who have a therapist or take other measures to enhance their mental health. Men have also historically faced different norms when it comes to mental health and expressing emotions with many believing that crying demonstrates weakness and having difficulty verbalizing their feelings due to preexisting norms. However, we are finding out, as a culture, that it is incredibly harmful to bottle everything up. This next section focuses on how to enhance your non-physical health through practical self-care measures.
Set healthy work boundaries.
While most of us want to be good employees, there’s a big difference between working hard and being a workaholic. And sometimes, work can become an unhealthy obsession that comes between us and the rest of our lives. Even if you aren’t a workaholic, your mental health will most likely improve when you set some basic boundaries between you and your workplace. If you work for an establishment where coworkers frequently ask you to pick up shifts, practice saying no, kindly but firmly. This isn’t to say that you should never pick up a shift again, it’s just to remind you that you can say no (and should, sometimes). If you work Monday-Friday, consider not checking your emails on weekends, if your boss allows it. That downtime can work wonders for your productivity because taking breaks is actually really good for you, both at work and outside of it. These are just a few examples, but for more information on how to set some healthy work boundaries, check out this article from Career Contessa.
Don’t be afraid to talk it out. Or journal.
This one goes back to the way that men are often emotionally conditioned. Holding back your true feelings, words, or emotions can cause more problems than it solves. So, don’t be afraid to talk it out whether that involves a therapist or trusted friend. If you aren’t the “talk-it-out” type, consider using a journal. The main thing is to express yourself without bottling up emotions that may spill out in negative ways down the road or, at the very minimum, weigh heavily on your mind.
Work to reduce stress.
Cortisol is an important part of the body’s hormonal system, but too much of it can cause you to feel stressed (that’s why it’s called the stress hormone). So, how can you reduce the stress that you feel? Well, one way is to slow down. If you are constantly feeling stressed, take an “audit” of your life. Is there a commitment (or two) that you could cut out of your life to free up some time and reduce stress? Can you build in some daily time for prayer or meditation? What about spending time outside on a regular basis? There are also many changes to your diet that you can make. All of these are self-care strategies that can be used to reduce stress and help you to be your best self.
However, some stress-reducing strategies are even simpler. Consider helping yourself get ahead on things. Picking out your clothes the night before, meal-planning for the whole week, and creating a loose schedule for the upcoming day can all help reduce the amount of urgent decisions you have to make on an already-busy day, thus reducing your stress.
Make time to build social connections.
Finally, another important part of your self-care regimen should include others. Even if you consider yourself an introvert, having close relationships with a few people is critical for your mental, emotional, and relational health. Unfortunately, many men suffer from loneliness, particularly with the recent Covid-19 pandemic. This loneliness and isolation is not only difficult mentally but also physically. Lonely men are far more likely to suffer from depression and are at increased risk for other ailments as well.
The good news is that the solution is easier than you think! While finding a community can initially be tough, there are a lot of places to try and find a group of community. Check out volunteering groups, the gym, or an organization connected with a hobby that you enjoy, such as bowling or reading. You can also look around within communities you are already a part of such as your neighborhood, religious organization, or workplace. Then, all you need to do is open up and find your people.
It’s important to note that none of these tips are exclusive to men. Regardless of who you are, they are worth building into your daily life. However, since men have historically been sidelined in the self-care field, today is a day to recognize the obstacles to meaningful self-care that they face due to a lack of male visibility in self-care initiatives. Happy Father’s Day and don’t forget to take care of yourself, whether you are male or not!