Now in my post recently announcing my intent to get back to into the swing of blogging again I briefly mentioned a concept called ‘self-care’ which with the benefit of hindsight, and isn’t it a great thing, hindsight that is? That ‘self-care’ is something I should have taken time to invest in, particularly in the last 2yrs but more so in 2020, where it has felt week after week that the world is falling apart as we move from one crisis to another. Now full transparency, ‘self-care’ is a concept I saw posted around on social media the past few months which I personally thought was an exclusively female concept/fad if I’m being honest. That’s not me trying to derogatory, I’m just being honest with you on my initial thoughts. When you search the phrase on Google or social media platforms you’re likely to mainly find images of bubble baths and flutes of rose wine, vegan desserts a, and yoga poses that defy the laws of gravity and give you a muscle pull jut thinking of trying to contort your frame into them. Oh, and let me not forget the myriad pastel-hued quote cards offering wordy reminders to “breathe” or “create space”.
The thing is, that isn’t what self-care is. Now, I’m not going to claim to be some great health and wellness expert. But if you haven’t noticed the world is going through some shit right now, and learning what self-care is is more important than ever, something I continue to do daily. Statistics on mental health aside, now that almost all of us are relegated to our homes, it is more important than ever to begin practising self-care.
What Is Self-Care, Really?
To understand the importance of self-care, the first step is to separate it from the marketing that has attached itself to the term. As commodified as self-care has become, all it really means is taking the intentional initiative in maintaining your own well-being — physical, mental, and emotional.But while relaxation and even indulgence can certainly contribute to your well-being, self-care goes a lot deeper than fizzy wine and “healthy” chocolate … or their traditionally male counterparts. (Say, craft beer and organic potato chips?) Self-care starts with finding things that renew your soul and rejuvenate your engagement in life. Along with treating yourself, self-care can and should sometimes involve a healthy dose of a personal challenge to reach a goal that is meaningful to you. ”
That said, it’s important to bear in mind that reaching a goal, even a meaningful one, is not the point. For those of us men caught in the cultural gristmill of professional and social one-upmanship, it can be a challenge to make time for something that doesn’t promise external validation.
But that’s precisely what makes self-care so important, says psychotherapist Dr Ira Israel. “There’s this self-righteousness about busyness — we think we’ll be more respected by other people. But unless you’re curing leukaemia, you’re probably just earning money. We delude ourselves into thinking that we’re being productive — it’s like this mania that we’re addicted to. As men, we’re not really taught that this hyper-competitive, winner-take-all society makes it very difficult to lead a balanced life.
Defining your worth by the number of hours you put in this week, the intensity of your hustle translated through your paycheck or level on the promotional scale ultimately cuts down on your productivity by cutting you off from the things that make you truly happy. This for me is blogging and as I age expanding from just talking fashion but also talking cultural and topical subjects.
Go Beyond “Optimisation”
Even for men who do make a priority of self-care, it’s usually exclusively in the realm of fitness and nutrition. While physical health is an important aspect of self-care, it’s all too easy to channel these efforts into yet another form of competition.
Build Out Your Bench
If renewing your soul looks like a bubble bath, no shame in your game. But experts agree that the key ingredient in effective self-care, especially for men, is human relationships. The health of your friendships is perhaps the best gauge of your mental and emotional health.
For that reason, Dr Spencer-Thomas recommends that men kick off their self-care with building out their bench.
“For a lot of men, as they age out of school and into their career, their social networks start to shrink. It gets smaller and smaller, the higher you climb on the ladder. It’s not uncommon for men to wake up in their middle years and think, ‘Where did all my friends go?’”
If that’s you, self-care should start with identifying your A-team — the handful of people whom you know have your back, whom you’d call at 3 a.m. to help you out of a jam. Fostering these connections doesn’t have to involve a lot of soul exploration — it can be as simple as cutting an hour out of your week to go on a hike or meet up for beers with a buddy, “any kind of activity where you can chat about anything freely.”
Reconnect With Your Hobbies
For many men, the only time they disconnect from work is in doing something mindless, like video games or Netflix bingeing. Oftentimes, it’s accompanied by a low-key vice, such as drinking or gambling. While those activities are pleasurable, they fall more under the category of distractions than true self-care. It’s important to have times for blowing off steam. But what many men don’t realise is that the best cure for professional overstimulation is stimulation in a new form — intellectual, cultural, or even spiritual. A hint is revisiting your childhood pursuits to see what you loved but now miss.
No matter what hobbies you take up, professionals recommend that every guy make a habit of journaling. No matter what form you choose to adopt (bullet pointing, freewriting, sketching, etc.), journaling trains your brain to search for positive things (gratitude, dreams, positivity) instead of focusing on the negatives or imperatives in your life. Over time, this habit requires your brain in a way that benefits every area of your life.
How to Start a Self-Care Regimen
Self-care is best pursued one step at a time. Rather than try to overhaul your life overnight, pick one area where you can build in a new habit. As you notice the benefits in this area of your life, you’ll find more motivation to shift toward self-care in another area. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
Instead of pushing yourself into “beast mode” every time you visit the gym, swap out one workout per week for a low-intensity activity like yoga, tai chi, or even just a slow, meditative walk through nature. Don’t think about “gains” or calories burned — instead, focus on building mind-body awareness while enjoying the benefits of improved blood flow and the rush of feel-good hormones.
Pick one day a week to prepare and enjoy a “slow meal.” This doesn’t have to be a complicated endeavour — if gourmet cooking isn’t your thing, keep it simple and try out a new slow-cooker recipe, re-create your mom’s legendary spaghetti, or just elevate a humble everyday dish like meatloaf or mac ‘n cheese.
Take one day a week to really pamper yourself. Visit a massage therapist or another type of bodywork specialist to work out the kinks, spend some extra time on your skin or beard-care regimen, or sweat out the week’s stress in the sauna, steam room, or an Epsom salt bath. (We recommend this bath soak from Bathing Culture, which enriches muscle-nourishing magnesium with relaxing CBD and groovy-smelling botanicals.)
Improving your sleep is among the most effective forms of self-care … and it’s one that you can do every day. Start by turning your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Ensure absolute darkness with a light-blocking shade or eye mask that signals your body to turn up the melatonin. Invest in a high-quality pillow that supports your head, keeping your airways open and nourishes spine health. When you’re ready to turn in, switch your phone onto aeroplane mode, block out any ambient noise with a white-noise machine, and pull up a weighted blanket to help settle any lingering nervous energy.
Set a reminder in your phone to connect with a friend or close family member once per week. It can be as simple as a text message that doesn’t have to do with “business,” but try to build in at least an hour or two of actual face time — meeting up to walk your dog, throw a Frisbee, or work on a project side by side. Don’t pressure yourself to “accomplish” anything during this interaction — what gets talked about is less important than the fact that it happens.