Men and Self-Care
June is National Men’s Health Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to talk about the importance of self-care for men and the benefits it can have on both mental and physical health. One mental health topic that tends to get overlooked, particularly when talking about the male population, is trauma.
Men often struggle to address past trauma, but this is an important topic in recovery. In fact, data collected from over 500 of our male patients at The Star (our men’s program) suggests that nearly 50% of the men we treat are experiencing symptoms of trauma when they first arrive. In addition to the therapeutic groups and counseling that patients participate in at Lakeview Health, self-care is also a great way to help ease some of the symptoms and triggers associated with past trauma. These activities help to ground patients and refocus their energy while maintaining overall physical health.
Men Do Not Typically Prioritize Self-Care
Starting with the bad news: Males are generally terrible at practicing routine self-care, which includes seeing to healthcare needs. At Lakeview Health, we see that our male patients often share common reasons for this:
- Reluctance to Ask for Help: It is no secret that men are more reluctant than women to seek help from healthcare professionals. In the study Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking, Michael E. Addis and James R. Mahalik looked closely at the role of masculine gender role socialization play in a man’s decision to seek help with his issues. Addis and Mahalik state, “… Many of the tasks associated with seeking help from a health professional, such as relying on others, admitting a need for help, or recognizing and labeling an emotional problem, conflict with the messages men receive about the importance of self-reliance, physical toughness, and emotional control.” They go on to also say, “… internalizing the ideological position that men should be tough, competitive, and emotionally inexpressive can have detrimental effects on a man’s physical and mental health.”
This mentality can also cause some men to be reluctant to open up in group settings after entering treatment. At Lakeview Health, we have found that our gender-responsive therapy is very effective at combatting this, and we have seen that men are more likely to share when they are in gender-specific groups.
- Underplaying Addiction: In addition to feeling uncomfortable asking for help, many men often feel as though their addiction is not severe enough to warrant treatment. One tactic for overcoming this is asking men to take an inventory of the areas of their live that the addiction has impacted. This inventory can be eye-opening for many, helping them to realize how far-reaching the effects of addiction be. This typically solidifies the need for treatment and the importance of accepting help from others.
- Family Obligations: It’s common for us to hear that men feel financially responsible for their families. Many hesitate to go to treatment out of fear that they will not be able to provide for their household. We understand that entering treatment can be daunting, but it’s important to realize that addiction is a disease that requires treatment—it will not fix itself. While 30 days in treatment can feel like a long time, because of the progressive nature of addiction, the time and money spent in treatment is small compared to the potential loss of a job, legal consequences, and health issues associated with addiction.
Education Can Help Overcome These Barriers
Now onto the good news: there is hope. Craig F. Garfield, Anthony Isacco, and Timothy E. Rogers discuss the issue of men’s health by stating, “Health care professionals can help men by acknowledging and normalizing their concerns related to seeking help. In addition, clinicians can affirm men for seeking help and reframe the experience as having the courage or strength to live healthy.”
As a therapist at Lakeview Health, one of my goals is to validate the immeasurable courage that is required of those who are making efforts to live a life of recovery, which includes routine practice of self-care. Reframing the ideas around the practice of self-care within the lives of men is essential if these trends are going to continue to grow. Garfield, et al. give multiple examples of what this might look like. For example, when working with men who have poor eating habits, clinicians can reframe the idea of healthy eating by using athletes as an example. Athletes typically are required (or highly encouraged) to eat in a healthy manner. This idea in combination with a healthy exploration of what an individual man’s idea is of identifying as masculine can result in a reframed idea of self-care.
Incorporating Self-Care into Your Day
One of the great things about self-care is that it can be worked into day-to-day activities to help manage overall stress levels and refocus energy to avoid trauma triggers. Some examples we suggest are:
- Practice grounding techniques, such as journaling or meditation
- Spend time with supportive friends
- Connect with your higher power
- Try a new exercise program like cycling, jogging, or yoga
- Recite positive affirmations daily
- Listen to or play music
- Read a book
- Watch a movie or your favorite tv show
- Play or watch your favorite sport
- Develop a healthy nighttime routine
- Become a foodie or coffee and tea connoisseur
As the month of June continues, I challenge you to do your part by bringing attention to men’s health and engaging in your own routine self-care (if you are not already). If need be, make efforts to reframe your own ideas of self-care. Especially you, men! If you are having difficulty doing so, please do not hesitate to reach out for support.
Treatment at Lakeview Health
Addis, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking. American psychologist, 58(1), 5.
Arias, E., Heron, M. P., & Xu, J. (2017). United States life tables, 2014.
Garfield, C. F., Isacco, A., & Rogers, T. E. (2008). A review of men’s health and masculinity. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2(6), 474-487.
Meyer, J. A. (2003). Improving men’s health: Developing a long-term strategy.
Webber, D., Guo, Z., & Mann, S. (2013). Self-care in health: we can define it, but should we also measure it. Self-Care, 4(5), 101-106.