"Self-care, that's all salt baths and spa days - right?"
Sure, if you want it to be. But in reality, it's so much more.
All too often, the idea of self-care is seen as 'pampering' - when really it's just looking after ourselves. And if it's not adverts for face masks and pedicures, it's some unreachable version of wellness; all silent retreats, ayahuasca tents and songs around the campfire.
Yeah, self-care for guys gets a bad rap. But we're here to set the story straight.
So what is self-care, exactly?
Self-care is anything you do to improve your physical body and mental health. This could range from putting the right food in your fridge and taking an extra-long hot shower to speaking to a therapist and sorting out those muddled thoughts.
It's not selfish. Or soft. It's essential.
Why is self-care important?
Despite what we may have been told, self-care is vital for everyone. Everybody deserves to live a happy, healthy life, which makes this practice gender-neutral. The only difference is that self-care has traditionally been associated with and marketed to women. That's it.
The thing is, we know this. And if it were that simple to break the association, we'd all be doing it.
Why men don’t practice self-care
While self-care is something we all need and deserve, some men still avoid it.
But why, though?
It's because, unfortunately, there's a long-running stigma that it's effeminate or not "manly" to look after yourself.
The good thing is that this stereotype hasn't gone unnoticed.
In the mid-1990s, Tony Porter, founder of A Call to Men, coined the term 'man box' to describe masculinity as performance. You're not a "real" man if you don't fit in. And if you're not a real man, there's a social price to pay. Boys learn from a young age that they must fit in the box to blend in. And as they grow older, they continue to try and prove their worthiness as men throughout their lives.
Although work's been done to shift this unhelpful trend, gender socialisation is still prevalent in boys and girls. Moreover, phrases like 'the modern man' or 'metrosexual' are sometimes used to mock guys trying to take care of themselves.
The problem is that this pressure to “man up” and “act tough” — physically and mentally — can lead to guys hiding their feelings. It’s why we go to the doctors, on average, half as often as women. This wouldn't be such a problem if we weren’t the most at risk - but we are.
Why men need self-care the most
Various studies have shown that men have a higher risk of disease, injury and death than women. What’s more:
- The average lifespan is about 5 years longer for women than men in the US - and about 7 years longer worldwide (Harvard Health Publishing)
- The male suicide rate in the UK was 15.8 per 100,000 compared to 5.5 per 100,000 for females in 2021 (Samaritans)
- In the US, scientists have reported that men are dying at twice the rate of women from COVID (The Harvard Gazette)
- One in eight UK males (11.9%) reported drug use in 2019-2020, compared with 6.9% of women (ONS)
- In the UK, 30% of men drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week compared to 15% of women (Drinkaware)
The issue is that even when men are struggling, many won’t ask for help. Research suggests that only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men. Moreover, nearly three-quarters of adults who go missing are men - as are 87% of the UK’s rough sleepers (Mental Health Foundation).
But it's not that we don't care, is it? Think about it. We service our cars, iron our shirts, and put in the work on the objects in our lives. So why don't we pay the same amount of attention to ourselves?
"Self-care is about being aware of your needs and making sure that you're doing what you can to be the best version of yourself, for you and those around you," says MindJournal founder Ollie Aplin.
Sounds simple enough, right?
It is, in theory. And there's a good chance you're already practising self-care without even knowing it. You might follow an exercise routine or make your bed each morning. Maybe you take a walk at lunch instead of eating at your desk. Or perhaps you pick up a pen and write in your journal before bed instead of endlessly scrolling through social media.
Of course, we're not all the same. And that's where things get a bit more complicated. There's no 'starter kit' for self-care; what works for one guy might not be your thing. But that's also what's so great about it.
What does self-care look like to you?
"Self-care can mean anything you want it to," says Aplin. "It's about handing yourself the tools to be happy and healthy and not living a life where you feel stressed or anxious."
Essentially, it's all about making time for you. How you choose to spend it - that's your call.
We'll get into what you can do to feel good shortly. But we should caveat it first by saying there is no definitive list of self-care activities a man should follow. If it works for you and enhances your physical and mental well-being, it counts.
The six types of self-care
A lot of guys think self-care is just physical exercise, like going to the gym.
That's not the case, though. A complete self-care routine covers body, mind and spirit. But even if pumping iron is your thing, giving your brain a workout or flexing your emotional muscles is just as healthy, challenging and rewarding.
Self-care generally falls into six categories: physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, professional or psychological. Sure, we're all guilty of focusing on one more than the others from time to time. But this can cause our lives to become imbalanced.
"It's nice to feel like you're doing well in your career, but it's no good if you're eating junk food every night because you're always in the office late," says MindJournal founder Ollie Aplin. "To achieve balance in all areas of your daily life, aim to develop a few healthy habits in each category that are easy to stick to."
1. Physical Self-Care
Our minds and bodies are more connected than you think. Investing in your physical health with a good diet and regular exercise can increase your confidence, reduce stress and even help you get some proper sleep.
So what can you do?
Start by keeping yourself hydrated and trying to get eight hours of sleep at night. Even taking a walk during lunch break instead of staying inside can give you a physical boost.
2. Emotional Self-Care
All of us feel angry, scared or sad at times - that's natural. But by investing in ourselves emotionally, we can recognise these emotions and work through them constructively.
So how do you look after your 'emotional health' in reality?
Talking to friends, family or a therapist about thoughts and feelings is one way to open up emotionally. Not comfortable doing that? Try using a journal as your outlet instead. Hobbies like art and music can also help scratch the itch and take care of your emotional state too.
3. Spiritual Self-Care
Spiritual self-care is anything that helps quiet a noisy mind. It's doing activities that nurture your spirit so you can zoom out, reflect and think bigger than yourself. Importantly, spiritual self-care doesn't have to be religious. Although for some, it is.
OK, so what does this look like?
Well, it could be as simple as taking a walk in nature or turning out the lights and listening to music. For some, it's going to a place of worship; for others, it's meditation, yoga and deep tissue massage.
4. Financial Self-Care
This is about creating the kind of habits that help you achieve your financial goals. Whether you're saving for a mortgage, looking to budget or managing your debts, financial self-care can put you in control and at ease.
What are some good ways to do it?
Start by checking your balance more regularly, keeping tabs on your income and other expenditures. Then create some financial goals and give yourself something to work towards.
5. Professional Self-Care
A healthy self-care practice can feel like something that only exists outside the office. But as remote working has blurred the lines between home and work, professional self-care is more important than ever. Try weaving a few self-care habits into your working life, and you'll restore some balance in your daily routine. Not only will you feel calmer, but you'll also likely become much more productive in the process.
What does this look like in real life?
Practice professional self-care and start making the daily grind work for you. Committing to not checking your emails at the weekend or after five is a good place to start. Or using your annual leave instead of letting it roll over.
6. Social Self-care
This is an activity that nurtures and deepens the relationships with the people you care about. Positive social relationships don't just build meaningful connections; they can also help us develop and maintain our social identities.
What sort of things can you do?
Going to gigs with mates, arranging a date, and giving someone in your family a call are all ways to partake in some social self-care.
Sound like a lot to do? Don't worry. There'll likely be some crossover in what you get out of each activity. For example, meeting up with a mate to run for twenty minutes before work isn't just good for your physical well-being; it also gives you a psychological boost. Those endorphins your body releases can clear your mind of any anxious feelings and give you the headspace you need to get on with your work.
Finding the right mix of self-care
Men who practice self-care, whether keeping in touch with friends, reading, meditating, etc., are 2.2x more likely to feel balance in their lives. Not only that, but the same research revealed they're also 1.6x more satisfied with themselves and 1.4x more satisfied with their partners.
So try and think about the last time you felt really good. What were you doing – going on bike rides with friends, hitting the gym by yourself or simply packing away the laptop for the weekend? Now consider what you need to do to make this a regular habit. Even better, write it down. That's a surefire way to remember and reinforce the steps you need to take.
What are the benefits of self-care?
Most of us spend our lives juggling a thousand things at once. It's a mixture of the big things we're aware of and the smaller stuff we do without thinking. The thing is, we are still doing them - aren't we?
Smashing it at work, maintaining a social life, drinking enough water, paying the bills on time, getting enough sleep - the list goes on and on. And without the zen teachings of a Buddhist monk, it's impossible to manage it all without a little stress.
Don't get us wrong, self-care won't get the kids to school on time. But it will put some extra fuel in your own tank.
Various studies have reported countless health benefits of self-care over the years, But one study, in particular, cited the main benefits as being:
- Enhanced self-confidence (64%)
- Increased productivity (67%)
- Increased happiness (71%)
But from a physical health perspective, self-care has also been known to reduce heart disease, the risk of stroke and cancer. And although self-care isn't an instant fix for more complex issues like depression or PTSD, finding strategies to boost your well-being can certainly help.
Essentially, putting a self-care plan in place can help you feel more in control of your circumstances - so everyday life doesn't seem quite so chaotic.
With all this in mind, what can you start doing today?