Three Ways Men Can Decrease Stress and Promote Mental Health Through Self-Maintenance
May 27, 2022
The terms “self-maintenance” and “self-care” are tossed around a lot. Yet too often promotion of self-care excludes men and male caregivers—and their unique needs. That lack of focus on men’s mental health is detrimental to the men themselves and those in their care.
Studies show that men are less likely to seek mental health care than women, so why don’t men do the self-maintenance that can help prevent mental health issues? In one word: stigma. Mental health stigma is based on the false notion that people who display mental illness symptoms are weak. Cultural influences may cause a person to internalize this stigma, so they believe that they are seen as frail because they have a mental health issue. This, in turn, leads men to not seek help. In addition, asking for help about a mental health concern may be seen as a sign of weakness. While stigma attached to mental health can be experienced by anyone, males tend to have more of it.
What happens without self-maintenance
When men don’t take part in self-maintenance or self-care, a number of consequences may occur. Self-care often centers on stress management. Increased stress can lead to feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and an inability to sleep. A lack of self-maintenance can lead to illness or loss of energy. When we don’t take care of ourselves it can also cause burnout, or exhaustion of motivation because of prolonged stress or frustration. Anyone experiencing burnout can find it very difficult to have the energy to help their loved ones.
Think of driving a car. Someone you care about has run out of gas down the road. But if you’re miles from them and your gas tank is also empty, you’re going to need to fill up your tank before you can help them fill up.
The importance of self-maintenance
It can be uncomfortable or even alarming to realize that we can’t help others when our tank is empty. But this highlights the importance of self-maintenance. Sticking to regular care for ourselves can help combat stress, improve our mood, increase energy, and help us to feel well-rested.
Here are three ways men can get started with self-maintenance.
- Speak with friends
Mental health stigma that exists in society may suggest it’s not helpful to turn to others with our problems. Yet, connecting with others about our struggles doesn’t have to be a monumental task. Start small and find a friend you trust. Reach out and suggest a meet-up. Even saying something such as, “Things have been pretty stressful lately. Do you have time this week to catch up?” could elicit an opportunity to connect with another person. Similarly, making yourself available to others could help build a connection with someone else.
- Practice breathing techniques to relax
Focusing on one’s breath can have stress-reducing benefits. While there are numerous ways to use the breath as a means to relax, try taking 10 deep breaths expanding through your belly. Count to 4 while breathing in through your nose and count to 6 while breathing out through pursed lips. Breathing in such a way causes the brain to tell the nervous system to relax and has been shown to reduce stress. Try it right now! How do you feel?
- Get outside and be active
Sometimes being indoors or in the same space for too long can affect our perceptions of ourselves, our lives, and the struggles we’re facing. Try and get outside and move your body for a portion of each day. Walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week can be incredibly helpful for the mind and body. Some people prefer going to the gym, a fitness class, or a jog. Even lookng out a window and stretching or standing outside for 10 minutes can make a difference. Any form of exercise—even in small doses—can help reduce stress. This will, in turn, enable you to be a better support for yourself and others.
These are just a few suggestions. Take some time to reflect back on your own experiences. Write down healthy things you’ve done in the past to help manage stress (e.g., regular game night, journaling, hiking, cooking, playing video games, therapy). Think about what kinds of activities might help you now. What’s most important is that a self-maintenance plan works for you. Implementing such a plan will not only help you feel better physically and mentally, but also enable you to care for those around you.
Kurt Morris is a volunteer with Families for Depression Awareness. To learn about Kurt and read more of his offerings, check out his website.
- Take our Caregiver Stress Test and get resources to manage your stress.
- Watch our webinar, Postpartum Depression and Maternal Mental Health: How Caregivers Can Help
- Learn from cousins, Perry and Harold, who share their story of living with depression