Results from a large survey by Miraval Group and StudyLogic, released this week, indicate that men are expressing a growing interest in engaging in self-care practices. In the study, more than 1000 men over the age of 18 were asked about perceptions of self-care and perceived barriers to self-care. Almost 60 percent of men who were surveyed acknowledged participating in more self-care practices over the past five years. Increased energy and clearer thinking were some of the primary benefits reported. These results lend to the importance of self-care when it comes not only to physical health, but mental wellbeing as well.
The World Health Organization defines self-care as, “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote, maintain health, prevent disease, and to cope with illness with or without the support of a health care provider”. Some men may have trouble with self-care because independence and self-sufficiency are usually associated with male role expectations. Gender norms assume that men want to take care of others, often at the expense of taking care of themselves. However, a study in the American Journal of Men’s Health showed that many men are indeed interested in feeling supported and socially connected.
The great thing about self-care is that it can be practiced anytime, and anywhere. 4-7-8 breathing is a technique that can help reduce anxiety, and can be done at work or at home without anyone knowing. Taking a walk during a lunch break is a great way to connect with nature and to practice mindfulness during the day. Substituting an afternoon coffee for a cup of green tea may provide a caffeine boost without the jitters; green tea is high in L-theanine, which may help promote a calm but alert state. Driving to work with the radio off and the windows down is a great time to offer gratitude with the dawn of a new day. Self-care practices like massage, wellness retreats, spa, and meditation classes are gaining more appeal among men; and especially millennials.
Recently, I participated in a panel discussion on the State of Men and Self-Care at the SXSW Wellness Expo in Austin, Texas, where many of these ideas were addressed. You can watch the panel here. Understanding that cost may prohibit some men from certain wellness practices, I am inspired by workshops like Yoga for Men: Forging Resiliency that introduce yoga to men (with a focus on men of color) at an affordable price. POCA is another organization that offers community-based acupuncture classes.
Feeling well is often a process without one simple solution. Men are realizing that setting aside time for self-care allows better productivity and an overall improved sense of wellbeing. A study by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance showed that the number of men practicing yoga is on the rise as well, increasing from 4 to 10 million between 2012 and 2016.
We all know that self-care is beneficial for the body and the mind. However, self-care and wellness often compete with Big Pharma for recognition as standard-of-care practices for conditions like major depression and anxiety. This is why high-quality studies are so important. The more studies we can gather to support that wellness and self-care work, the better chance we have for recommending specific self-care practices as an evidence-based approach to recovery. Antidepressants do work, but sustainable wellness also requires a lifestyle that includes self-care, even if you are a man.
Let us explore some additional statistics. Women are diagnosed with depression twice as often as men. However of the 40,000 Americans who are victims of suicide every year, three times as many men commit suicide than women.
So how do wellness and self-care relate to psychiatry? The wellness industry has a profound impact on mental healthcare, and in many ways is inviting people to understand that it is okay to pursue practices that benefit physical and mental wellbeing. If mental health professionals foster an environment where patients don’t feel judged and we honor their intentions toward self-care, then wellness can be more of an ally than a nuisance for mental healthcare. Man or woman, young or old, wellness has a place for us all. Miraval’s results are encouraging, that a new face of self-care, one that includes more men, is on the horizon.