Dads in particular are often juggling a huge amount and very rarely talk about the impact of life’s chronic stressors on their mental and physical wellbeing.
Some men may think of ‘self care’ as a candles-and-fluffy-slippers thing which has no relevance to them. Ironically, men need to work especially hard to take charge of caring for themselves. It is in fact the most manly thing of all to independently care for yourself, not just physically, but emotionally too.
Men defining themselves only in terms of productivity and work is old school. The alarming statistics around the physical and mental issues of modern men demands a recognition of the importance of self care.
4 Steps to Self Care for Men:
1. The first step is carving out time to replenish, to take stock and to allow the central nervous system to re-boot. It’s easy to fall victim to the idea that the most important thing to do is to provide for your family at all costs. But making self care a priority is actually the most selfless thing you can do. You cannot serve effectively from an empty vessel.
2. The second step is to engage with others, beyond the level of ‘beer and football banter’ in order to escape from day to day routine and have meaningful ‘aha’ conversations with people you relate to. Sharing aspects of your own life and feeling heard is scientifically proven to be one of the biggest factors in positive mental health.
3. The third step is to embrace physical and mental changes that will help you feel happier and more energised. Are you feeling stressed with work? Do you find it hard to get a good nights sleep? Do you have back pain, postural tension or headaches that stop you doing things you enjoy? Taking the time to learn wellbeing tools like diaphragmatic breathing, stretching and mindfulness meditation can make an enormous difference to how you handle daily stressors and how well you age.
4. The forth step is to recognise burn out signs and act on them. For example, do you feel completely wiped out by the end of the day to the point where you can’t enjoy spending time with your children? Do you get irrationally angry with careless drivers or maybe a colleague who didn’t finish a work task on time?
Acceptance is the key ingredient of change. Admitting to yourself when you’re exhausted can help you decide to make self care a priority, hopefully before reaching a state that may take a long time to recover from. It may be that you just need to ‘reset’ by taking a short walk outside in nature each morning. It may be that you need a mental health day doing something you enjoy outside of the ‘norm’. Maybe it’s just reading a book in bed!
Mike Stephens was a busy Dad like many others. He has a fairly stressful and busy job. He has three kids, a wife and elderly parents. He doesn’t get to see much of his friends apart from the odd dinner party or boys weekend away. He used to run when time permitted but often other commitments got in the way. He considered himself fairly fit and healthy though.
Then at the age of 45, shortly after entering his first marathon and at a particularly full on time at work, he had a heart attack.
After surgery, Mike had to start from scratch. His fitness was non existent and his ego had taken a bashing. There was a sense of shame around his body ‘letting him down’ at such a young age.
Luckily, the local heart recovery programme he was on meant he connected with other men who he could talk to and who understood.
He was forced to stop working for awhile and as he slowly regained some fitness, he started daily ‘chi’ walking in nature. This is like combining tai chi with walking – a style of moving meditation.
He learnt a yoga breathing technique and a series of postures he could easily remember and now finishes his walks with ten minutes of stretching and conscious breathing.
He researched dietary changes he needed to make to optimise his heart health and is now a vegetarian and consciously drinks less beer (still enjoying the occasional nice red).
Profoundly, this event gave him the clarity to shed work responsibilities that weren’t ‘heart friendly’ for him and steered him towards training as a CBT councillor, with the aim of bringing a deeper and more holistic service to the leaders he works with.
He aims to help others dealing with stressful responsibility within work and family life to recognise burn out signs, then equip them with easy mental and physical decompression tools.
The kind of tools that have helped enormously with his recovery and which he wishes he’d known earlier.
Mike now also ‘co-teaches’ Men’s Stretch & De-Stress Yoga classes. He demo’s the online classes while his wife Linda teaches. (Btw, if you can’t commit to regular classes but know that stretching would be a positive ‘self care’ step for you, having some Men’s Yoga Videos On Demand to follow anytime may be your solution).
If you recognise that you are juggling too many plates and that it would be wise to stop, de-stress and re-boot, then joining in some yoga classes designed for Men would be a great first step.
Gifting yourself a proper break would be a second step! Mike is also co-leading a 3 day ‘Re-Boot’ Getaway to a boutique spa resort in the Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh next March 10th-13th
The 3 day wellbeing getaway has been designed with modern parents in mind and will set you up to create a healthier version of you; plus you’ll bring home yoga, mindfulness, movement and meditation tools to keep you on a positive self care trajectory.
Wether you can ‘getaway’ or not, it IS time for men in general to take stock and recognise if life/work/stress levels are out of balance and unhealthy. As said before, recognition then acceptance is the key ingredient to change. In yoga, this is known as ‘santosha’.
We’re at a pivotal time in history right now. The world needs men who can create a safe space for others but who also know how to express their own true concerns and desires.
Men who have the self awareness to live life guided by strong boundaries and values.
Including, valuing important self care.