Back in the day, I used to have a proper job, working in transport and logistics, and as a result I do I tend to find myself working more in similar male dominated industries (construction, transport, facilities management and so on). Industries where straight talking and banter tend to be the preferred communication styles – they suit me too!
One of the challenges I face working with so many men is the concept of self-care seems to have a bit of a girly reputation and yoga and tofu aren’t really their gig. I have to work hard to get them thinking about what might be a more “manly” alternative to the bubble baths with rose petals that often come to mind!
It’s not all about candles and sandals you know!
Self-care has never been more important
As we zig-zag our way through our extraordinarily uncertain times, self-care has never been more important. Male or female, we all need ways to manage stress and reduce anxiety but that doesn’t have to be meditation and camomile tea; it DOES have to be something that works for you and that you can commit to regularly. (Clearly if yoga and tea and candles and meditation IS your bag, go for it! Some of my bin men may not be tempted in that direction though so ….)
If we look more into the reason WHY men are perhaps so reluctant, some research I came across tells me that 64% of men fear being judged. As a consequence they will often bury their heads in the sand rather than seeking help – and one third of men prefer to ignore a problem altogether.
Other research confirmed that nearly two-thirds of respondents said they avoid going to the doctor as long as possible, and 37 percent said they withhold information from their doctors, It goes on to say that 20% don’t even mention specific symptoms for fear of what they might be diagnosed with ….
Men more likely tell themselves (and others) “I’m OK, it’ll sort itself out – I’m just a bit tired, had a tough week, been doing too much but I’ll be fine". I guess having grown up where they are told to suck it up, big boys don’t cry, stop being a girl and other equally helpful (NOT!) advice, this is the consequence?
So whether it is fear, the need to practice superhero syndrome, or the simple fact that vulnerability is not a comfortable state, men are often incredibly reluctant to be pro-active. Often will not want to admit they are struggling, or fail to simply access advice or help. Therefore men will only arrive at the professionals’ door when they are nagged by a partner, or because things have got so bad they either can’t ignore it any more OR have had a real “meltdown moment” – for example, screaming at the kids.
This can mean that what might have started as a relatively “straightforward” issue may now have become more complex and take longer to resolve. Not the best outcome really.
75% of deaths by suicide in the UK are male
We know that men generally (statistically speaking) will often find it harder to open up, discuss problems with peers or a health professional, and seek help. This tends to be further evidenced by men and women having quite different social circles – meeting the girls for a coffee tends to involve conversation and sharing of current issues whilst men tend to be a pint and the football/rugby scores, political news or latest car/bike/boat models.
Yes, I know I am presenting a very stereotypical view, but it’s a view I see most often so I guess it comes as no surprise to find that men often die younger and make up 75% of the number of deaths by suicide in our country. If men cannot easily talk about what is going on in their mind and body, how can they openly ask for help or be seen to be investing in themselves and their own self-care?
One of the greatest and best known speakers on vulnerability and how it takes great courage is of course Brene Brown. Brene tells the story of the “knight on a white charger” image that our society wants/needs/expects men to wear.
Never let them know that they have hurt you!
Even closer to home, as long as we hear rugby coaches screaming at young boys to “Stop crying! Stop behaving like a girl! Never let them know that they have hurt you!” (my own real life experience as a mother of a 7 year old boy) then we will always have a long way to go before men will willingly show, ask and seek necessary help.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that self-care alone can prevent those tragic deaths by suicide that we hear about on a daily basis, but I AM suggesting it goes a long way towards helping men feel better about themselves and their wellbeing.
It’s not about being weak or vulnerable
I do believe it is all wrapped up in that same difficult “brave face/soldier on/never let them see you are hurting” blanket, and we need to open up communication channels more, we need to make it perfectly acceptable to take better care without being seen as weak or vulnerable, to talk about how they are feeling and to ask for the help they might need – without fear of judgement or ridicule or that awful “who is worse off competition”, hopefully we can start to make progress.
So what might men consider as good self care, if candles and sandals are not their thing? Part 2 will follow soon ….
About the Author
Andrea Newton has been helping organisations develop the skill and confidence to have Confident Conversations and get comfortable with the uncomfortable for over 21 years. She has worked across a range of industry sectors and is happiest working in a way that is practical, down to earth, direct and uncomplicated. She prefers a mug to a cup and prefers places that call a spade a shovel! If you would like to benefit from her expertise and ability to make a room full of people comfortable with subjects as sensitive as suicide, then you can find out more about her at www.confidentconversations.co.uk or https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrea-newton-cc/