A Man’s Guide to Self-Care STYLE's feel-good guru interviews two men about their understanding of self-care.

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Welcome to spring, readers. This might be a time to try something new, change up your recipes or simply just be outside a little bit more. I just signed up for a “circus arts” gym; I’m craving greens and ice cream (…separately), and I’ve opened my windows, even though it’s still a little chilly.

(Quick-and-dirty self-care tip: If you’re feeling overwhelmed by upcoming events like graduations, weddings, projects or more, take the biggest breaths possible for 60 seconds—really stretch those lungs!—and think only of your chest rising and falling.)

In this month’s column, I conduct another interview, this time with some newcomers to the term “self-care”: my dad and my brother-in-law. These are two people whose presences are my self-care—they are calm, lighthearted, and  wise and comforting. If you or someone you know are new to the idea of self-care and/or are a bit skeptical of the expression, please share/read further.

Mary: I’m interested in what “straight men self-care” looks like, because it sounds like it’s usually drinking beer and going to the gym. When you hear self-care, what are your initial reactions?

Sam Mills (brother-in-law): I had not heard about self-care until your column…and when I first heard about it, I scoffed at it.

MA: Do you scoff at it now?

SM: No, but when you told me you were going to interview me about self-care, I had to stop and think about what I do for self-care.

MA: Which is?

SM: The best self-care I do is play basketball before work every Friday. It’s awesome. It was something me and co-workers set up ourselves to do before work.

MA: That’s good. What about you, Mac? When I first started talking and writing about self-care, what did you think about it?

Chris Walters (dad): I had never heard the term before, and to be honest, it sounded kind of obvious to me. The thing I agreed with most in the last article you wrote is that everybody does self-care differently. I think relieving stress and being aware of what’s bothering you is self-care.

MA: What I’ve come to learn is that a lot of people embed their emotions—anger, sadness, etc.—and they don’t allow themselves to feel that stuff. That’s when I think an explicit knowledge of self-care is key. [Self-care] is becoming more mainstream, and I think that’s important to me because I want all people to process feelings when they are feeling them, instead of compartmentalizing or tamping down the feelings. Does that make sense?

SM: What feelings aren’t they processing?

MA: I don’t know! Like anger: If you have a fight with a loved one, for example, and instead of dealing with the anger, you decide to not talk to them anymore.

CW: Okay, I agree with that—if you’re stressed, angry, depressed…realizing that and doing something about it is a good idea.

SM: Also, though, I think deciding to intentionally not deal with [difficult feelings] in the moment and doing something to forget about it is fine, such as hooking up my Super Nintendo and sitting in the basement by myself with beers, playing video games. [Pause] Or maybe that’s just a poor decision for my health. I don’t know, one or the other.

MW: That’s what I might call compartmentalizing.

SM: I’m just saying you don’t have to deal with everything in that moment. I usually say, “Okay well that’s the problem, I eventually need to deal with it, but now is not the time. Right now, I’m wrestling downstairs with the kids or I’m going to sit here and watch the hockey game and only think about the hockey game.”

MW: That makes sense. Sometimes clearing your head and waiting to deal with a difficult thing is caring for yourself. So, do either of you have special routines that you do, that you like to repeat every day, week, etc.?

SM: I use the restroom at the same time every day. I don’t think I define anything I do as self-care unless I’m talking to you and you’re asking me if what I’m doing is self-care. I do things because I want to or because I have to.

CW: I like to eat chocolate every day. But I don’t wake up in the morning thinking: “I have to eat chocolate today for self-care.”

SM: When I want to be away from people, I don’t think, “I need to get away from people.” I just go down in the basement and watch TV. [Pause] I had a hard time with self-care two weeks ago because the Caps had an off week and then I didn’t have anything to watch on TV [Laughter].

CW: Well let me ask you a question, Mary: So, we just pointed out that we don’t care much about the term or pay much attention to the term, but we do take care of ourselves; you indicated you’re trying to reach those people who don’t act to help themselves or who suppress their feelings. So, maybe those people need something more than self-care?

MA: I feel like, as times are changing, people need the actual term now. In the past, although I would watch TV, exercise and do some of the actions we’ve defined as self-care, I never told myself I deserved to do those things, and I suppressed a lot of feelings growing up. Obviously, I turned out okay. But in the past year or so, in learning more about self-care and about self-kindness and especially in the context of fighting for human rights or living within the current political climate…I just think [self-care] is becoming more important. I think it makes us better people, those who intentionally take time for self-care. And so I’m interested in self-care as a movement and spreading awareness.

SM: I think being able to define things we do as self-care is handy—in other words, I think self-care is useful for folks who have full schedules and who need to justify their use of [time] with a tangible outcome. Like the idea of, “I’m going to go out and have a few beers with my buddies” … that doesn’t “accomplish” anything, but the idea of, “I’m going to have a few beers with my buddies for my self-care” … now it’s something you can put in your planner and it will have a tangible outcome. [Pause] Oh, so guess what? Since Kate [Sam’s wife/author’s sister] got toe surgery she’s had to soak her feet in Epsom salt baths and I’ve been joining her. And since reading your articles, I’ve identified that as self-care. [Laughter]

MA: That’s good! So, would you guys ever recommend self-care to someone?

SM: I would recommend people soak their feet in Epsom salt. [Laughter]

CW: Yeah, maybe. Like I said before, and what I got out of your most recent article: self-care looks different for everyone. That’s why I think a syllabus is going to be a difficult task, because you can’t prescribe anyone’s self-care…however, I think you throwing out ideas for self-care in your columns is helpful. That’s what I think you should continue to do, because if nothing else, it helps people to consider what self-care looks like for them. [Pause] I can see someone in my life telling me about a problem they have and me recommending they go outside, they relax, or they get whatever is bothering them off their back somehow…and nowadays, I would follow up and say, “Hey, by the way, my daughter would call that self-care.”

 

There you have it, readers. My hope is that whoever this column reaches—the believer, the non-believer, the skeptic—will take a moment when they’re taking care of themselves, whether that’s while watching a hockey game, allowing a difficult feeling instead of suppressing it, or  eating a piece of delicious chocolate, and think, “Mary says this is self-care ,and it’s important.” Naming self-care is powerful because not only does it “justify” the time you’re spending taking care of yourself, but it’s also just plain nice to be aware that you’re taking care of yourself.

If you’d like to tell me about your self-care, I would LOVE to hear about it. Email me at [email protected]. Remember to trust your gut and be good to yourselves.

Mary Adelle

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