Glancing at any magazine tailored to men, you would think men’s health is solely focused on getting a superhero-like figure. Welcome to earth—where the stressors, disease risks and life goals aren’t very different than that of your binary and non-binary counterparts!
If you would like to discuss keeping your heart healthy, we have you covered in our “Food For Thought For Men’s Healthy Heart” article. For tips to follow for the annual celebration of Men's Health Month, check out our “Men’s Health Awareness Month” article. As registered dietitians with varying specialties and interests, though, we know what matters above all else is how you feel mentally and emotionally.
No amount of focus on your aesthetics or PERFECT meal plan will matter if you are feeling overwhelmed, tapped out and reaching for various ways to cope. Add in figuring out how to manage daily work, life, family and societal responsibilities, in addition to squeezing in the leisurely things you want to do, your life (and mind) may feel like a tornado of chaos.
Help prevent burn out, risk for disease and dimming your motivation with these tips:
Men & Mental Health
Sayings like “Suck it up,” “Rub some dirt on it and keep moving” or “It is what it is” ignores the humanness of being, well, human. It’s one thing to have a “Go Hard or Go Home” mentality when you’re in the middle of a sport competition, but life is more myriad than the black and white of winning or losing.
Some days are harder than others and to wear a mask as if this isn’t true isn’t going to help you be fine over time. Just ask anyone who has a life-altering medical emergency later in life after excess years of pushing themselves too hard at work and life. Your days are valuable. How you spend your time matters. How you feel about yourself throughout the course of your day matters. And that is where managing mental health comes in.
To Thy Self Be True
Many of us have family that rely on us and their schedules impact how we spend our days. BUT, carving out a bit of time every day for ourselves is essential for a self-check in. For example, going for a walk every day or journaling, provides the space, time and silence to reflect. Use this time to take stock if the decisions you are making at work or in your romantic life run parallel to your values or if you are operating out of the realm of who you truly are.
Daily alone time can help bring you back to what really makes you happy and what you’re passionate about. Checking in with yourself on the regular will help you from running too far off course from how you want to show up in all that you do. Normalizing daily self-checks will help prevent you from having to overcorrect the trajectory of your life by drastically switching careers or ending a relationship mid-life in pursuit of where you truly want to be.
Managing Stress with Exercise, Not Numbing
Exercise is not only a great way to get and stay strong, manage weight and help with self-esteem, it’s also a valve release for stress that builds up throughout the day. Without regular physical activity, you may find yourself reaching for other ways to cope with feeling stressed. For example, you may use social media excessively, binge television shows, eat more than your body needs, drink more alcohol than necessary, shop past your means, etc. simply to numb away the stress you’re feeling. Staying active each day will help nip these behaviors in the bud in addition to all of the other positive impacts it has on your overall health.
Whether its hobbies like wood-working, antiquing, painting or traveling, leaning into activities that you enjoy, that also help expand your curiosity, are excellent ways to take care of your mental health. Every time you’re learning something new that maintains your attention as it brings you to another new discovery, you’re able to be present in the moment. This experience is an act of being mindful without ever saying “Okay, I need to add a mindfulness practice to my days so I can manage stress.” Being mindfully present simply happens as an offshoot of giving yourself space to explore new hobbies. Bonus? You gain more skills and knowledge in the process to calming your mind.
Men & Emotional Health
Managing stress is the key to slowing your brain down enough to be able to process what’s going on within and around you. The within you piece of the equation can easily get ignored when following the chaos of an overscheduled life. By beginning to address ways to manage stress to benefit your mental health, your emotional health will reap the rewards…if you allow it.
Tapping into the Power of Emotional Vulnerability
There are plenty of discussions being had around the mental and emotional health of boys and men in the United States currently, but one thing is clear: The theory that men need to be less emotional simply isn’t panning out for the better for men.
Looking at statistics, men have a lower life expectancy than women at 73 years versus 79.1 Men over the age of 20 have a higher rate of hypertension than women, at 51.9% to 45.2%.2,3 Additionally, the number of men who receive mental health treatment (read: counseling, etc.) is significantly lower than women, at 13% versus almost 25%.4
Men go through the same human experience as their female and non-binary counterparts—whether loss of a loved one, daily disappointments or financial and medical hardships—yet they’re expected not to feel and fully process the hard feelings associated with these events as everyone else? Not only is that unrealistic, it’s also not very fair.
Regardless if you address your feelings directly or not, research shows your body will keep the score. At some point, you will become ill.5 Learn more about connecting with a therapist in our “Mental Health Awareness” article.
Sitting with the Uncomfortableness of Discomfort
When big feelings arrive, what’s one way to process them without ignoring what’s happening, just to store them away for another day (which never or rarely comes, right?)? Stay with them. Take a pause, maybe remove yourself from the situation you’re in—the meeting, a conversation, whatever it is—and take a breather. Taking a few deep breaths with long exhales is an excellent way to tap into your parasympathetic system to help invite feelings of calmness.
When you take a pause, you give yourself the benefit of a break to pay attention to what is happening in your body and what you’re feeling. Getting in the habit of paying attention to what happens to your body in certain situations and when specific feelings arise, without any judgment, is a stellar way of learning who you are. It’s also an amazing way to learn how to be more intentional with how you interact with those around you on a daily basis, versus reacting to the world coming at you.
Learn more about a breathing technique that you may helpful when taking pause here in our “It’s in Your Breath: Healthy Breathing Techniques” article.
You’re Allowed to NOT Be Okay
Although our specific society here in America may have years of telling you otherwise, it’s okay not to be okay. Not feeling happy, motivated or accomplished and feeling lonely, frustrated and stuck is absolutely expected as a human—regardless of gender. The silver lining? Feelings are fleeting, just like the clouds over head covering the blue sky. Feelings come and go, so let them. The harder you fight your feelings, the longer they will linger. Feel all the feels. Staying present when they come over you doesn’t make you weaker. It’s quite the opposite. When you allow yourself to feel, and you identify what you’re feeling, you give yourself the uncanny ability of self-compassion without judgment.
Having compassion for yourself inherently turns into compassion for those around you. Being able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes is one of the greatest qualities you can have as any human, not just as one who identifies as a man.
1 Arias E, Tejada-Vera B, Kochanek KD, Ahmad FB. Provisional life expectancy estimates for 2021. Vital Statistics Rapid Release; no 23. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. August 2022. doi: https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:118999.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. Men’s Health. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/mens-health.htm. Accessed 5/16/2023.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. Women’s Health. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/womens-health.htm. Accessed 5/16/2023.
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. Mental Health Treatment Among Adults: United States, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db380.htm. Accessed 5/16/2023.
5 Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.