Self Care for Men
By Dr Dan Hanson
As a man I can do so many things that can be detrimental to my health without even realising it. Like many men, I am at times task oriented. I get stuff done. I sometimes don’t talk about it, or even think about it. Like the Nike slogan - I “just do it.”
At times this works a treat and I’m proud of my achievements - whether it be hanging a picture on the wall, or opening up a new and successful business. However, at other times I can easily slip into repetitive behavioural patterns - such as isolating by fending off too many emails (with the excuse being I need to work more); wearing a mask (with the excuse being I need to fit in to get along); and judging myself negatively (with the excuse being I shouldn’t feel the way I feel).
I’m not really what I’d describe as an anxious person. I’m usually happy, and content, and I’m passionate about my job and my family life. However, I do still get emotionally triggered from time to time. I’m not sure I’d want to meet someone who doesn’t ever feel frustrated, sad, happy, angry, or any other emotion from time to time. After all that’s what makes us human.
So, I was sitting with my personal mentor the other week and describing a situation during which I felt really anxious. I told her that my inner monologue was saying to me, “why are you feeling anxious? you shouldn’t feel stressed right now!”
She replied “what would you say to a friend if they told you they felt upset and wanted to cry?”
I replied, “I’d say all feelings are ok. Go ahead and cry.”
….. And as I replied to her, I realised the lesson. In telling myself I shouldn’t feel stressed, I was effectively telling myself that my feelings were not ok. I was treating myself worse than I would treat a friend. I was judging myself and in doing so, I was not being kind to myself.
Since that time, I have noticed other similar situations when I have been aware that I feel in a similar way. For me it often feels like a surge of heat in my chest, moving into my neck and I feel my jaw clench.
So what’s changed since that lesson with my mentor? Well, I still get triggered in the same way, but my inner monologue (or thoughts) doesn’t go to that place of judgement. Instead of telling me “you shouldn’t feel that way,” it tells me, “it’s ok, you are human and your feelings are valid.” Once this happens the anxiety or stress seems to just dissolve. It’s as though the acceptance of my emotions diffuses the situation.
So here’s my top 7 tips for self care for men:
1. Take a helicopter view
Become aware of the feelings inside. Don’t confuse them with thoughts. Feelings can be described in one or two words, for example. “I’m angry”, “I’m sad”, “I’m happy”, “I’m frustrated,” “I’m hurting”, “I’m joyful.”
After the awareness of the feeling arises, briefly consider the thoughts behind the feeling, but don’t turn in into a big story of blaming or make it complex. “I’m aware that I’m feeling anxious because I am about to do a job which I’m not comfortable with,” might be the thoughts you have.
After this, consider your needs. So in the example the above, “I have a need for further training or help with this job.”
So be aware of your feelings, express your thoughts succinctly and then consider what your needs are. This is a great way to reduce anxiety during a conflict with another, or even a conflict with yourself.
2. Know that you cannot and do not need to fix everything
Us men can easily become the fixers and doers in our workplaces and households. I myself have a strong “rescuer” in me. This means that if I’m not aware of what I’m doing I can end up stepping in to try to fix a situation when I might not be wanted or needed. Worse still I might try to fix a situation when it’s not in my (or the other person’s) best interests. Acceptance of the way things are and allowing others space, to do what they want to do can be liberating for me.
3. Eat foods that had a mother
If what’s on your plate is not in the form it was when it was growing, treat it with suspicion. Many of us men are so busy with so many tasks each day, that it is easy to make poor food choices which are often more convenient. Eating whole (non refined) foods is key to great health.
4. Breathe through your nose, during the day and while you sleep
This is a big topic, and as a Buteyko breathing educator I could go on all day. However, by being aware of how you are breathing and keeping your lips closed (except for when you speak) can be life changing. Visit www.sleepystrip.com to learn more about how you can sleep more easily with your mouth closed, and learn to snore less.
5. Spend 30 minutes every day on your self
This could be reading a book, having a snooze, doing some exercise, or enjoying a hobby. If we don’t take time to nurture our own self, we cannot be present with our self or with others. It may seem selfish to take this time every day, but if you do it, your family and friends will thank you for it…. even if it’s a shock to them at first.
6. Design an exercise regime and commit to it in the same way you commit to your work and your family
Make this non negotiable. Choose days and times that work for you, your work, and your family. Never substitute these times for other people. The only excuse is a medical emergency, or a one off family event - like your son is in a school play, and your role as a great father dictates that you must be there.
7. Be yourself and consider taking off your mask
This is a big one for me. Many of us have many masks. Sometimes we need our masks to get us through certain situations or play certain roles in the workplace. However, when it is safe to do so, allow yourself to be yourself. Don’t act in ways to purely please, impress, or fit in. It can be a great relief to take the mask off whenever possible. If you’re interested in ways to take your mask off, come along to ManShine 2016. I am part of the organising committee and will look forward to meeting you there. “Men’s work” is one of the best things I ever did.
Dr Dan is husband to Rach, holistic dentist and breathing educator at www.healdentalcare.com.au, co-founder of www.sleepystrip.com, international lecturer, and trainee facilitator at www.menswellbeing.org