A couple of weeks ago, my VA was looking for memes or sayings about self-care to post on my Social Media sites. (Yes, someone else does some of those for me. Part of my self-care routine—not to do things that someone else can do faster and better.) To both of our surprise, almost every one she found was printed on a pink background. Personally, pink is one of my least favorite colors. So, first, no.
Back in the 18th century, it was perfectly acceptable for men to wear pink. It was considered a less aggressive shade of red but still masculine. So, the use of pink for girls is a relatively new phenomenon. And self-care isn’t just for women. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. But the pink backgrounds suggest otherwise.
Unfortunately, men live an average of 5 years less than women here in the States. Up to 65% of men avoid going to the doctor unless they fear something seriously wrong. (Do not get me started on the time I watched my soon-to-be husband shivering on the floor with a high fever because he wouldn’t take an aspirin.) In addition, suicide and depression are leading causes of death for men and it’s getting worse during this increasingly difficult year. Asking for help is still often seen as unmanly.
This brings me to the concept of self-care. It’s defined as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” Nothing inherently gendered in that. And I’m not sure I can think of any time that is more stressful than right now.
But I also think there is a disconnect in how men see their role at this moment. So, I’m going to respectfully co-opt a common way of thinking. Men often put things in terms of problems to be solved. Wanting to fix things for your family and make sure everyone gets out of this as safely as possible is great. But in order to do that, you have to have the proper tools and be willing to use them.
Self-care is one of those tools. And it’s an important one. But it involves more than just checking out for a while. Self-care is an active, not a passive process. It’s about intentionally spending time doing something that fills your emotional and mental tank. Because, if you’re running on empty, you can’t bring your “A” game to the situation. Think of it like carb loading before a big race. You want those to be high quality calories, not empty ones that will get used up quickly and leave you spent before reaching your goal.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Slow down.Take a moment and breathe. The deeper you breathe, the more oxygen you take in which allows your brain to work better. It also slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure.
Get into nature. Research shows a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. It reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area that is active during rumination—repetitive thoughts associated with negative emotions. Extra credit if you make direct contact with the earth with your bare feet or hands.
Show compassion. Especially to yourself. Everyone is struggling in some way right now. Be aware of your self-talk. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Challenge your “shoulds” and actively let go of those that aren’t helpful.
Share quality time. Relationships are essential for good health—physical, mental, and emotional. It’s important to have a network of people who you can share your thoughts and experiences with and where you feel supported. This can be a challenge both for men in general and during this time of social distancing. But it’s a primary way to fill your tank.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com