Self-care is buzz talk in the modern women’s circle, with many opportunities to try self-care practices that positively impact their lives. For men, however, the concept of whole self-wellness seems slower to take hold. Media and society reinforce the stereotype that men’s power and prowess lie strongly in their physical strength, so it’s no wonder that men’s self-care often only involves an exercise or diet routine. It’s time for men to start attending to their holistic needs and develop self-care practices that benefit their mental, social, spiritual and emotional health, as well as their physical wellness.
Dr. Aaron Smith is a local family physician and population health expert who expressed his belief in the importance of men’s self-care. He noted that men can struggle with societal beliefs about masculinity that prevent them from focusing on their whole self-health, but strongly advises men and society to think differently about this important topic.
“Men in our society live shorter lives and are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.” He cautions, “Until we effectively engage men to attend to their own health, our communities will continue to be less healthy than they otherwise would be.”
To shift our thinking about men’s self-care, Dr. Smith encourages us to consider two major themes.
First, men must attend to their physical well-being and, to do so, they should develop an exercise routine and maintain a relationship with their healthcare provider. By developing this relationship early, men and health care professionals can consider how to best promote physical well-being through preventative measures rather than waiting until health has already deteriorated.
As a healthcare professional, Dr. Smith considers preventative care to be of the utmost importance and gets excited when patients talk to him about healthy eating, exercise and disease prevention. “Those encounters are the most professionally satisfying ones in my medical practice.”
The second self-care theme Dr. Smith considers is mental, social, spiritual and emotional health and strongly encourages men to cultivate this aspect by embracing relationships, developing social connectedness, contributing to their communities, and getting in touch with their need for inner happiness.
To highlight this point, Dr. Smith mentioned he attended a talk recently about resiliency and happiness. “The speaker challenged me to think about my personal well-being as a balanced stack of rocks. Just as you always start to balance rocks with the biggest most important ones at the bottom, then add the smaller ones later, we have to balance our lives by prioritizing the things that bring us the most joy and happiness first, then build upon that stable foundation to accomplish the things we want to in our professional and personal lives. Without careful nurturing and gardening of this stable base, the other things start to tip and fall off.”
Dr. Smith discussed his own self-care practices and recognizes that it can be difficult to put yourself first in the face of personal and professional challenges. “Unfortunately, as time demands or stress grows, sometimes the first thing I fool myself into letting go of are these other more holistic health producing factors. I have to constantly remind myself that, especially when times are stressful and busy, I should be embracing these aspects of healthy living, not cutting them out.”
Dr. Smith considers his self-care practices to be a work in progress but prioritizes his relationships, exercise routines, and community involvement. At times of stress, when he is tempted to pour himself into work and deadline demands, he has recognized the value of turning to his family for fun, silliness, and relaxation. He has discovered that stressful times are exactly when he needs to attend to the things in life that make him happy.
Jim Pomeroy, CEO of the Pictou County YMCA, echoes Dr. Smith’s belief in the importance of self-care for men. He recognizes that men have difficulty prioritizing their whole self-health, but believes that men must make time to attend to their wellness, not only for themselves but for the benefit of their friends, family, and communities as well. He advises “self-care is making time for yourself to ensure you are able to be there for others.”
“Until we effectively engage men to attend to their own health, our communities will continue to be less healthy than they otherwise would be.”
— Dr. Aaron Smith
To develop and maintain a self-care routine that will positively impact your life, Jim recommends taking the following questions into consideration:
- What makes you feel rested,
re-energized, and happy?
- When and how can I intentionally schedule my self-care in?
- Should I do this on my own or who
can I invite to join?
Upon reflection, Jim sees that connecting with nature to calm down and destress, volunteering his time in the community, training on his bicycle, and expressing himself through music are what truly makes him happy. “Creating something from nothing is pretty awesome and it’s always a great way to release what’s on your mind.”
Jim recognizes that the routine that works for him could differ from what is best for other men and advises that it’s important to focus on one’s individual interests. The YMCA offers a wide variety of activities and classes that suit the need, interests, and abilities of any man seeking to better themselves through self-care.
While Jim strongly believes in the benefits of self-care, he cautions that trying to make too many drastic changes can be counterproductive. “Be gradual in what you do, because if you try to do too much at once, it’s easier to give up. If you are gradual, it’s easier to want to add more on.”
While Jim and Dr. Smith are seeing more men seeking preventative and mental wellness strategies, Cindy from the White Lotus in downtown New Glasgow is also seeing a difference in her clientele – more men seeking wellness products and services. “Men are taking yoga, practicing meditation, using singing bowls and buying products that will help calm their busy minds.”
Cindy also notices men following women’s suit and focusing on their skin and hair health. More men are buying supplements and products to look and feel youthful and healthy. Cindy is excited that men are delving into this aspect of self-care because “when we look our best, confidence follows.”
Though there are many improvements yet to be made in men’s self-care practices, the whole self-wellness community is starting to recognize that a shift in thinking is taking place, which bodes well for the future of men’s wellness.