10 Tools to Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is not just for women. Men can – and should – benefit from it. I speak with too many men that don’t have any idea as to how to take care of themselves. When we talk together, the concept if self-care just isn’t there for these guys, let alone the ideas as to how to apply it into their lives.

Men need self-care. It’s an expression of the positive relationship with yourself that you’re fostering, which is essential as well as for stress and mood management. Knowing how to take care of yourself is a lifelong task, one that develops over time and with practice and know-how.

When I was in my late teens through mid-twenties, I really didn’t know what self-care meant. I mean, I exercised mildly, got the right sleep, but other than that, I didn’t practice really anything else to create well being for myself, and an optimal life. I didn’t quite wrap my head around the idea of self-care, let alone practice anything I found myself doing religiously ten years later in my current life.

Self-care takes time, both to understand how to do it and to implement it into your life. It means knowing, or learning about, yourself, and how you work. Often, it takes one step at a time, and each step builds on each other as they get introduced into your life. They create a symbiosis, interacting and building on each other.

10 Tools to Take Care of Yourself:

1. Practice positive self-talk: Neutralizing the self-critic inside your head, and transforming it into a voice of positivity is a great first step to self-care. If you’re speaking kindly and validating yourself, you’ll be able to integrate other self-care tools down the line. If you berate yourself, and speak hardly to yourself, you’re going to not feel good enough about yourself to start practicing the habits and activities that you need to take care of yourself and support yourself. You might start-and-stop things that are good for you, never seeing them through to completion. You might undermine yourself, which is self-destructive and the opposite of self-care. Speak positivity towards yourself to start your self-care practice.

2. Eat well, and healthily: It needs to be simple. The famed author and food writer Michael Pollan writes this basic mantra about eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” If you can base your diet off of that, and start to steer clear of foods and drink that pollute your mind and body, you’ll start on the track to self-care.

It’s o.k. to indulge in fat and sugar at times, but if you make healthy eating a priority, it’ll pay off dividends for you, and trigger a chain reaction of healthy lifestyle choices. It will moderate your weight, maintain your blood sugar level, and boost your mood with the right foods.

I also consider when I eat, because this has a lot to do with my mood and well-being. If I eat too late, or eat too many carbohydrates, I’ll crash, and will get irritable, tired and generally feel low. I steer away from most of them, except for on the weekends.

Experiment with how you eat, what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat. Stay away from or minimize fast food, sugar, tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and too many
carbohydrates (especially refined or processed) if they affect your well being and mood, or just for better physical health. Again, you’ll have to spend time seeing what works – and what doesn’t. Tune into your body and use it as a test site. Challenge yourself about how you eat, because a lot of the unconscious eating we indulge in is emotional, or reflective of messages we’ve inherited from childhood and growing up, or from media.

3. Seek out friends and connections: Men have a bit more difficult time in this arena. When family and work come first, sometimes friendships get left and unattended to. Don’t let that happen to you. Having reliable friends, people who you can trust, are essential for men. Women have practiced this, and often find it easier to be social and be more socially-integrated than many men. Stay connected, and foster friendships and new relationships. Network. Stay plugged in to people and prioritize relationships.

Good mental and physical health are byproducts of social connections, but those connections take time and energy. If you’re not great at keeping friendships going, think about what role they play in your life. If they’re important to you, you might want to spend more energy and time growing them. It takes two to keep a relationship going, but if you’re the only one working at a relationship, it may be time to reconsider how it’s working for you.

4. Stay connected to family: This is really important. You may not be on the best terms with family members, or you may be very close. Either way, I think maintaining the family connections is practicing self-care. Go out of your way if there’s bad blood or a burned bridge to try to salvage a lost family relationship if it’s worth it to have that person in your life. Family creates meaning. Relationships create a sense of purpose and belonging, something that is a premium in our world these days. Do what you can do to go out of your way and tell the people that are close to you that you care about them and love them.

5. Get good sleep: This one may seem like a no-brainer, but deep, consistent sleep underlies everything. With poor sleep, health problems can abound. Poor sleep is linked to depression, detracts from memory, creates weight gain, and impairs positive mental health. Have you looked at the effects on your mind and body with good sleep, compared to when you sleep poorly? Do you incur a sleep “debt” – one that builds up over time with each night of bad sleep? Get to the bottom of your poor sleep patterns, and it may turn around your mood and well-being dramatically.

6. Practice relaxation techniques: I prefer yoga and mindfulness meditation, and there are a number of great resources, both on the web and in your town. In Phoenix, there are great yoga studios everywhere, that can teach you beginning yoga, meditation and other relaxation strategies that may be appealing to you.

Commit to doing something regularly, at least 2 or 3 times a week, and start small. It could be deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. It also could be a massage every couple of weeks or month, or personal counseling to work through your stress. It could also be walking, or getting to the gym to “blow off steam.” Maybe it’s acupuncture or tai chi, or just being out in nature on a regular basis. You need to figure out what works best for you, and more importantly, what you’ll enjoy doing and commit to as a habit.

7. Ask for help: This is hard, especially for men who think they can do it all or know everything that’s best for them. If you’re too stubborn to ask for help, you may be holding yourself back from taking care of yourself. Risk getting the help you need if you can’t, don’t have time, or don’t know how to do something that will benefit you, or that is critical to you in some way. Hire the right people if need be. Don’t succumb to old “tapes” that prevent you from getting the help you could benefit from, or may find essential to your well-being. Not asking for help when you need it is a form of self-sabotage.

8. Don’t overcommit: It’s almost become universal and encouraged to be “too busy” for things. We’ve become a “too busy” culture, which is now a cultural ideal to strive for. If we’re seen as “too busy,” I believe we’re seen as “important people” or special to others. You have to be fierce about taking care of yourself, and if you overcommit to things, people, work, obligations, etc., you’re not committing to yourself or meeting your own needs – body, mind and spirit. Overcommitting can drag you down quickly, so diagnose it and do something about it.

Take regular breaks. Don’t work on vacation – actually take a vacation. Carve out weekly time and block it out on your schedule for personal time, or “do nothing” time. Say “no” when you want to say “no,” even if it disappoints people, and don’t say “yes” when you mean “no.” You’re the only guardian of your schedule and your limited amounts of time and energy everyday. You have to protect what’s yours, so it’s not consistently given away to the demands of the day and to others who constantly need you.

9. Avoid “energy vampires”: You know who they are – the people who take time,
energy and spirit from you, and leave you feeling depleted. Energy “vampires” suck the essence from your well-being, so avoid them or drop them from your life if you can. These are people that don’t reciprocate, and just take from you without giving back anything.

If you find yourself attracting these people into your life, start building an invisible “forcefield” around you to repel or expel them from taking any more from you. If you find yourself feeling drained, resentful, constantly irritated or stuck on giving and giving to them, you may be relating to a vampire. Take care of yourself by keeping the people in your life who can give back to you, or appreciate you for giving to them – the relationships that actually feel easier, not harder.

10. Create good mental health: Good mental health is an ongoing process – it’s not a fixed thing. It takes work and energy to stay positive, and not succumb to irritability, negativity, anger, or depression, among other things. Practice the above items, and seek out experiences that affirm you, make you happy and make you feel good about yourself.

Create meaning in your life, whether it’s with your kids, your job, your hobbies or your day-to-day living. Exercise for mental health, or start a mood journal. Communicate with those you trust, and talk out the issues that are affecting you. Don’t hold it in – it only festers inside of you when you do and grows worse. Seek out therapy or counseling, or talk with your local religious person if you’re more comfortable.

Applying some or all of the tools above will help, but it’s consistency that’s the key. Devise a strategy or plan to regularly implement these items into your day-to-day, and come back to them often. Make time for them, because they’re not an afterthought – they’re the things that can make you or break you. Taking care of yourself will allow you to feel good, be happier and bring your best self forth into your relationships, work and into life you’re living now.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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