Why more men should practise self-care

For this month’s Health & Wellbeing Update we’re looking at men’s health and wellbeing.

We spoke to men across the APM Group’s health businesses and asked them about the importance of self-care for men, and how they maintained their own wellbeing.

We also asked our team what advice they had for other people looking to improve their self-care.

Together they shared valuable insights, advice and experiences of how everyone can better support their wellbeing.

This month's contributors are:

 Andrew Liu, General Manager Finance & Business Performance, APM
Brent Luckman, Area Manager, Konekt Workcare
Charles Masuku, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, MCI
Harry Key, Head of Global Specialist Services, CIC
Justin Simmonds, Principal Consultant Psychologist, Communicorp
Leigh Conway, General Manager WA, Generation Health
Marc Rowley, Regional Manager, Assure
Philip Paysden, General Manager, APM WorkCare
Simon Brown-Greaves, Chief Executive Officer, FBG

How do you practise self-care?

Andrew: I try to exercise most mornings – try to vary what I’m doing up to keep the motivation up and not get bored, between running and swimming to interval training with a training buddy. The main thing is to get up no matter if I had a good night’s sleep or if I had a couple of sneaky wines the night before.

Brent: I make sure that each day I include some time – whether it be five minutes or an hour – where I can switch off from work or anything causing stress in my life, almost like a form of meditation. For me this might involve exercise before/after work, going for a walk around the block (without my phone) at lunch time, or listening to a podcast on my commute without any interruptions.

Charles: I find the gym helps me in two very important ways - physical health and mental health. So I am an avid gym rat. Time in nature also helps me not only de-stress but also to reflect and that reflection is such a tremendous lifelong learning practice for me.

Harry: I practise self-care by doing the things I enjoy, sometimes alone and sometimes with loved ones, with the clear intent that this is for my benefit and to meet my needs. For this I need to take time to think about what my needs are and allow myself to meet those needs and enjoy myself. Self-care can be contradictory too, sometimes it is a healthy meal and taking a walk, sometimes it is an indulgent meal and laying on the couch!

Justin: I do a range of things. Firstly, I am very comfortable with prioritising it - I have a family and a range of commitments, both work and personal. But I know that to play all of the various roles in my life well, I have to be in good shape, both mentally and physically.

I play tennis a few times a week, as well as a couple of gym and stretching work outs, and as it warms up I definitely get into the surf each week.

I’ve got a great bunch of mates I catch up with regularly, and I’m really working to get the right mix each week of work, downtime and family time. I’m getting really good at saying no to things that don’t fit with what the priorities are!

Leigh: I try to generally live as healthy as possible by eating well, exercising often and spending plenty of time outdoors whether that be enjoying a hobby or simply catching up with close family and friends. I also try to listen to my body and identify when I am tired and need a quiet night or weekend just to rest and recharge.

Marc: I think one of the key words here is ‘practise’. Self-care is similar to most everything else in that the more this becomes a ‘healthy habit’ and part of your routine the more likely it will happen and the better at it you will be. I try to make sure I monitor myself and ‘check-in’ to see how I’m going.

This can remind me if I have let my self-care get slack so I can re-prioritise some of the basics (which shouldn’t be underestimated) – sleep, exercise and nutrition!

This is particularly important given all the changes in routine we have had with COVID-19 and the upcoming changes potentially with hybrid working.

Philip: My younger self would have struggled to understand what that meant, now I realise that I played a lot of team sports and found support and community engagement that way. After the last couple of years in particular, I have become disciplined in seeking self-care time and activities.

I use exercise as a key stress reliever, and ride to work most days along with a couple of PT sessions, I also ensure my weekend diary has some space in it. In the last few years I have become involved with the local surf club, where I am a life saver and work with nippers, this gives me good community connection and as an added bonus this year I get to patrol with my son!

Simon: From a psychological perspective, I was trained early in my career as a psychologist as to the benefits for processing things immediately and within a cognitive behavioural framework.

I am heavily influenced by the Greek Stoicists and my first contemporary reading on this – Albert Ellis, A New Guide to Rational Thinking.

From a physical perspective, I have played basketball all my life and still get joy from my weekend 'old man’s' run arounds! My true love - but as a Melbournite in lockdown severely restricted - is to go for a surf. My boards are lonely at the moment having survived lockdown in North Bondi without me!

Why is self-care important for men?

Andrew: I think there’s been slow shift in what we perceive to be what’s expected of a man compared to the reality. The idea of pushing through and just sucking it up is starting to give way to a more open conversation around it being ok to not being ok.

Brent: Self-care should be important to everyone, not just men! I feel in our industry in particular it is important because you can’t properly care and support others, if you aren’t looking after yourself.

Charles: I think it’s important because of how much we tend to undermine it. For some reason or the other I see a tendency amongst us men to believe we are invincible and can walk through anything unscathed – until we are forced to learn that this is not the case and sadly that’s when something goes wrong.

Self-care peels back this invincibility fallacy and allows us to experience the wisdom of vulnerability. It allows us to be present more, to be more self-aware and to manage our mental and physical health for the betterment of not only ourselves but our families, friends and colleagues.

Harry: Because we are human beings! Just like all animals we need space and time to rest and heal our minds and bodies. Self-care to me is rest for my brain, it is like any other part of my body and it takes time not pushing it to repair. If you hurt your leg running you’d give it a day off, the same goes for our mental health too.

Justin: I think it is important for everyone, but for men I think we have not necessarily taken it that seriously over the years.

Self-care is going to be different for everyone, but we all have demands and pressure on us to some degree.

If we don’t actively address self-care and have a plan and intention, it often just doesn’t happen.

If we’re going to navigate the challenges that will inevitably come our way, we need to be fit, thinking clearly, and making good decisions on a consistent basis.

Leigh: Self-care is important for men as it allows us the time to put our stressors on the back burner and focus on improving our own mental, emotional and physical wellbeing which in turn helps us become the best version of ourselves both professionally and at home.

Marc: I think it’s equally important for anyone, but one of the more typical masculine characteristics is get on with things, tough it out, and that somehow to practice self-care is ‘soft’ or a sign of weakness. This can bring a lot of pressure and feeling of isolation if everything is not going well which happens at some time for most everyone.

I think this is changing through different generations and the work being done in changing our concepts of ‘masculinity’ but there is still work to be done.

Reframing the language to appeal to men is important - talking about ‘building resilience’ and encouraging males to have meaningful conversations with each other for example through RUOK initiatives also helps.

Philip: I am still learning to understand what this looks like for me, finding time to do the things that recharge your psychological and emotional batteries feels like the right interpretation.

Simon: Self-care is important for all human-folk – our mental health is something that we need to take responsibility for – rather than waiting for the universe to magically provide us with the answers to our (my) many neuroses.

What is one quick thing you do to boost your mental health and wellbeing?

Andrew: While it’s hard to control what is happening at work or with the family – I can control how I respond. Eating less crap, going to bed earlier, drinking less and exercising more can position me far better to deal with external pressures.

If I sense that things are getting away from me, I can usually identify the one (or more) things that I’m probably doing wrong.

Brent: Exercise has always helped me, especially exercising in a group or part of team sport. When I’m exercising regularly my mental health is great, and when I’m not I can certainly notice it declining.

Charles: Daily reflection. Whether journalised or just a moment to myself to quietly reflect at the end of the day makes a world of difference. Writing a very brief, often bullet point, reflection takes things out of my head and allows me to see them from different view perspectives.

Harry: A quick thing I do is a five-minute complete stop. Turn off my phones and laptop for five minutes, take a breather and clear my head – I often take this time to check in on my needs for the day. This is really useful when I am feeling overwhelmed or negative about myself and others.

You’d be surprised at the positive effects this can have in the medium and long term too, getting five minutes of this a day can have marked neurological benefits and reduce the intensity of our fight/flight/freeze response when stressed or anxious.

Justin: I have to let you know about two things! One is music – a few bars of some good uplifting tunes immediately changes my mental and emotional state and energy.

The second thing is gratitude. I feel extraordinarily lucky for many of the good things I have in my life. I’m very thankful for that and reflect on them often.

Leigh: When my mental health and wellbeing needs a boost I often try to get to the beach for a quick run and swim. Something about getting into the ocean, no matter what time of the year, helps to release stress and recharge your body and mind so that you’re ready to tackle life head on.

Marc: Take some slow 360 breaths and take a step back (literally sometimes) to get some perspective and concentrate on the parts I have control over (I realise that that’s actually three things but they are connected).

Philip: For the first time this year I took a short 'me holiday'. I love the outback and camping and in October I took the dog, a swag and headed into the ranges north of Adelaide. Even though it was only a few days I came back recharged and will definitely be making part of my annual plans from now on.

Simon: Cook something interesting for my family – always works well! Take a mate/colleague for a good coffee – it’s such a Melbourne mental health routine.

What advice would you give to men struggling with their wellbeing?

Andrew: I remind myself that it’s ok to feel not ok. I try not to berate myself around it. Talking to someone helps obviously but failing that, I think the struggle is real and that it comes up despite our best intentions. And that’s ok.

Brent: Find someone you trust and you’re comfortable with and speak to them about your struggles. It might be the hardest part but once you do this, you can really start moving forward and it may also feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. No one should struggle alone.

Charles: I would just encourage them to first understand what it means in general, then what it means for them. I fear most men don’t even know what it means. Secondly, I would strongly encourage seeking mentorship. The best decision I ever made was finding a mentor and she transformed my life remarkably.

Harry: It’s the simplest thing but often the hardest to do, talk to someone (or write it down, draw it etc.). If we try to just bash our way through problems or solve them all alone in our heads we’re working with limited resources, it is like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube/puzzle just by imagining it.

By sharing the situation with someone, putting it into language or something visual, we can see the problem from other angles, gain perspective or even just throw the whole thing away!

Justin: Firstly, to remind ourselves that it is very common right now. But that there are a number of things we can influence and control to change our situations.

We need a good plan, and to define what wellbeing means to us. That includes what our values are, and the various aspects of wellbeing that make up the whole person.

This may include health, love, worthwhile work and friendship.

We then need to figure out how to build this so that it is long-term and sustainable. We may be able to do this on our own, or it may help to talk to a friend, coach or counsellor to explore the process and commit to action.

We then need to build good habits to change behaviour for the long-term, so start small with one thing, make it achievable, and then success breeds success and we’re on our way!

Leigh: If you are struggling then find a close friend or family member and talk to them about it as you will immediately feel better having shared the weight of whatever is affecting you.

Spend time working out what type of self-care really helps you and then dedicate some time every day putting it into practise.

Marc: Reach out! Whether that’s to family, friends, colleagues or someone professional. Time and time again when I speak with males through the EAP, most of the time they wish they had reached out sooner. Many are surprised about how many friends or colleagues are going through similar issues and how supportive most people are. This doesn’t mean that someone else will make all the changes for you, it’s about using all the resources at your disposal to help you get back on track.

Philip: Give yourself permission to invest in the things that give you joy and a sense of connection.

Simon: Don’t struggle alone – reach out to a mate or colleague. And in the wise words of Guru Bob, when a worshipper came to the temple asking for change when he handed over a $10 note to pay the $5 dollar admission, 'at this temple we don’t give change, the change must come from within'.