While self-care is high on the wellness agenda at the moment, we can't help but notice that it seems to be largely aimed at women. When male suicide rates are so alarmingly high and one in eight men have mental health issues, why do some men feel they can't talk about it?
According to research, men are less likely to tell friends, family and loved ones about their struggles, and are far less willing to seek outside help from doctors or therapists – only 36 percent of referrals made to IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies) are male. Men are also more likely to seek dangerous coping mechanisms, such as drugs, alcohols or getting into debt in response to distress.
The myth of masculinity – men should be strong, unemotional, powerful, successful, productive, Alpha Males – seems to persist, despite male writers who have struggled with depression such as Matt Haig being open and honest about their experiences.
We could argue that there's something empowering about taking charge of your own health and wellbeing. We don’t mean working up a competitive sweat at the gym, but taking time to think about how you really feel, finding the courage to walk into your GP’s office or talking to someone if you feel off. Making the decision to do things that make you happy instead of productive, occasionally letting go instead of having to be in control.
So, here are our five self-care tips for men – bearing in mind this is for preventative health or for those in recovery from burn-out. If you are really concerned about your mental health, make an appointment with your doctor or visit websites such as CALM.
1. Do a regular check-up
When we are stressed or maxed out with work commitments, we forget to check in on ourselves. It’s human nature to ignore pain so we can continue striding across the plains seeking food and shelter without keeling over and becoming vulture luncheon.
A lot of health issues can be dealt with if caught early. If you’re not tuned into your feelings, you might be ignoring all the signs that you are heading for a burn-out, instead pouring yourself an extra glass of whatever to help you sleep, losing your temper more often and getting irritated by your partner or friend who says they’re worried about you (listen to them: people don’t say that unless it’s screamingly obvious something is wrong).
Get ahead by taking responsibility for your own wellbeing. Twice a day, in the morning and evening, check in on yourself. Take a moment to ask how you are feeling. Or do a body scan – close your eyes and imagine a scan literally sweeping up from your feet to your head, stopping at each section of your body and noticing how it feels. There are practical meditation apps such as meditation studio or 10 percent Happier that guide you, they often take no more than ten minutes. Afterwards, take stock of what came up: Aching shoulders? Scrunch them up and relax. Tension in your jaw? Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth, and open your mouth as wide as you can. If you notice a persistent pain (emotional or physical) talk to someone.
2. Get to know your burnout signals
We’re all different. Some of us thrive on stress, but if it’s ongoing and there’s no resolution it can lead to a crash and burn scenario. Burnout is when your body or mind goes "no, that’s enough" and knocks you out with an illness (mental or physical) so extreme you are forced to slow down and take time to heal. In other words, you’ve crossed the line. Ideally, you want to avoid the crash by spotting the signs and slowing down long before it gets serious.
But your signs will be unique to you. Do you find yourself losing your temper, getting irritable at the slightest thing? Are you too exhausted to have fun? Book time off. Make time to relax and remind yourself what life is all about.
3. Take a day
We’re the Good Spa Guide, so of course, we’re going to tell you to make time for yourself on a spa day. The truth is, as our male columnist Mark Smith (aka The Spa Man) points out, more men are going to spas these days. Male grooming is the norm, and men are branching out beyond the usual sports massage to sample more interesting treatments. Read our guide here.
While the majority of spas have treatments for men, some are more comfortable for male users than others. Our favourites include Ockenden Manor for the male exec, Bovey Castle for the country gent, Champneys Tring for male groups, and ESPA Life at Corinthia for the mindful style guru.
4. Stay connected
Good relationships are known to be important aspects of mental wellbeing and long-term mental health. We’re talking about friends, family members, partners, or even being friendly to people you come across on a day-to-day basis. Conversely, people who are in troubled relationships are three times more likely to experience depression, so it’s worth checking in with other people in your life. Pretending everything is fine can make it ten times worse.
Make sure you carve out some time for people you care about, relaxing and doing something you love – gigs, matches, sport, spa – but also make time to listen to them, be supportive without trying to fix their problems or making jokes to deflect from the emotional content. Most people just need to talk and be heard. Try telling them something about how you feel, you might feel embarrassed (that’s your vulnerability) or be pleasantly surprised.
5. Find your passion
Sometimes we’re working so hard to stay afloat, we forget to splash about and have a bit of fun. You may be an adult, but you are allowed to do things that make you happy, whether its listening to music or playing Sunday football. Remember what used to make you feel happy and free when you were a kid? Taking a bike ride, camping out with your friends, helping your dad fix his car, or sneaking off to the cinema? Or perhaps you want to do the thing you’ve always dreamed of – take a photography course or (re)learn to play guitar.
Whatever you do, remember you are not alone in this. Make sure you keep talking to people and listening to yourself. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It takes courage to be honest and in the long run, you could not only save your life but enjoy it, too.
If you are worried about your mental health, or someone you care about, try not to keep it to yourself. Here are some useful contacts: CALM, The Campaign Against Living Miserably is working to reduce male suicide. Call their national helpline on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm to midnight 365 days of the year). The Samaritans are on 116 123. You don't have to be suicidal to call. The Mix offers phone and webchat support as well as counselling on all topics for the under 25s. Call 0800 848 4994.