Self-Care for Men: It Ain’t Only for Women and Sissies Anymore


This idea of ‘self-care’ started floating around a number of years ago. Or at least the new name. Back in the old days, it wasn’t so cleverly labeled. We just called it taking care of yourself. Now, generally, I like giving things a name. But this one made me bristle a little. I’m not entirely sure why. I guess, for some reason, it felt a little too girly to me. Things like moisturizing at night or bikini wax. I understood those things existed, but they didn’t apply to me, so it was easy to dismiss.

A Well Respected Man

And being an ambitious and busy young man, I may have dismissed a great variety of other, more reasonable, personal care activities, as well. Like, for instance, healthy eating, consistent exercise, and regular doctor visits. Which reminds me, I really need to schedule my annual physical. It’s been a couple of years. How often are you supposed to do those?

By the time my marriage ended at 50, I was 40 pounds overweight, had been living with a double hernia for years, and had a dead, discolored tooth that made me look like a carved pumpkin when I smiled. For all of those reasons, I had long since stopped smiling. I was far too busy handling the responsibilities I had assumed and being the man others needed me to be at the expense of my own health and well-being. I wasn’t being well cared for. And my own behavior was at the root of it.

Personal Sacrifice vs. Personal Care

This is a super important point as it is very common among the nice guys of the world. We often take care of everyone around us, expecting they will take care of us in return. We give others what we want for ourselves and assume they know that reciprocation is the bargain we have made in our own heads (without letting anyone know the deal). All too often, we end up feeling cheated that we don’t get what we want, despite having never articulated that true intent. More on this another time.

The result for those of us so determined to sacrifice for others is our sacrificing ourselves. In particular, our physical and mental well-being in service to being the awesome selves of our dreams. This is not to criticize the lofty aspirations of nice guys becoming good men, rather to encourage a better balance between personal sacrifice and personal care.

What Is Self-Care and Why Should Men-Care?

The thing is, you are granted one body, one mind, and some limited resources for this life. And you have to make the most of it. Actually, you don’t HAVE to do anything. You can get frustrated and quit the game anytime. But most of us want to make something good of our time here and truly hope that it will be a long life of happiness and meaning.

Spa Treatment

Self-care is a term that has been used in the past to describe things like taking time for yourself, eating well, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, etc. For a lot of men, it sounds pleasant and obvious or even a little luxurious at times (like a spa treatment, which I have never done, but I picture a massage with cucumbers over the eyes), but not a category of personal development worthy of deep thought or commitment or discipline. For most of us, it falls well within the ‘yes, I know all of that’ category of personal development.

However, it is arguably the single most fundamental aspect of our life, caring for the physical vessel and consciousness of being that constitutes life. So obvious, it is barely worth mentioning. We know to eat well, exercise, get good sleep, blah, blah, blah…can we move this along, please.

And for most of us, this is the first category of our lives that gets robbed for lack of resources required to do other things. If you want to have more weekend fun, stay out late and reallocate sleep time for fun. Self-care takes resources that can be used for other more fun, exciting or pressing needs, so it is often the go-to supply for easy access to time, money, and energy.

Why Is It So Hard?

The idea of caring for yourself sounds pretty nice. Eat good food, drink water, relax more, and get a good night’s sleep. It sounds pretty nice; what’s hard about that? Well, it shouldn’t be. I can see that, but it is hard for many of us. In large part, because we don’t place it as a priority, more of a baseline. Like, breathing and digesting don’t get much conscious thought either; it seems to fade into the baseline of existence. We have a track to lay and bridges to build and aspirations that transcend an organic spinach omelet, requiring something more caffeinated. So we pick up something on the way to work.

It’s kind of manly. I’m proud of the stuff I do and the sacrifice I make to create a better life for myself and the people I care about. And so it goes a thousand times a year. One small sacrifice for a better life for ourselves and others, stealing some small amount of resource from some other part of our life. Getting up early, partying too hard, eating way too much because it was so good. And none of it is fatal. None of it is even dangerous, really. However, like compound interest, dividends accrue as do withdrawals.

It Requires Balance (One of Life’s Great Secrets)

I have discovered in my life that balance is a great secret. Smoking vs. not smoking is easy. You should not smoke because it is bad for you. You may still choose to smoke knowing this, as it is your choice. But there is no balance required, simply a choice. Eating healthy, that’s altogether another kettle of fish. First, how much? Too little, and you are malnourished. Too much, and you get fat. This doesn’t even begin to account for how delicious it might be or how healthy the food might be for you. Nutrition is an entire field of study. But who has time for all of that? So, we eat the tastiest stuff we can find until we’re full, and most of us live nutritionally out of balance.

Now, expand that concept to fitness, sleep, work, play, relationships, mental health, and other things. Holy crap! I’m starting to get anxious here. You have to find balance in many aspects of your life. Perhaps, most importantly, you have to find balance in your physical and mental well-being. It is central to the life you hope to live.

It Never Ends, And We Like Endings (Achieving Goals)

Some of us are goal-oriented, even if only mildly so. We can aim for something attainable, work at it, and win! Then, we can rest, basking in the glory of our success, knowing we did it, and we can move on to some new goal. Self-care, however, is like a goal that doesn’t end. I like it when goals end. Personal care is about sustaining rather than achieving. I’m not sure who was in charge of teaching me about sustaining, I’m guessing that was a Mom thing (as Dad covered ‘goals’), but I never got the memo about sustaining vs. achieving.

When Do You Need to Begin Taking Care of Yourself?

Yes, we all know we should start today. But knowing and doing are different. And young men are notorious for imagining they will never be balding middle-aged men with a substantial belly and several pairs of ‘fat pants’ for use until they get back into shape. So you ‘burn the candle at both ends’ and eat and drink like young men do. Twenty years fly by, and you are now your Dad. When do you start learning and practicing self-care? Best answer (like when to plant a tree): 20 years ago. The second-best answer is NOW! And it won’t stop until this game is over.

You can care for your body any way you want. It is a choice, your choice. But don’t disassociate with the choice you are making. I’ve known all kinds of people in their 40s who look like they are in their 60s because they enjoyed far too much sun in their 20s. That tan that made them look great for a season makes them look years older for the bulk of their lives. The sun example is good because it is easy to see the impact. Most of the time, it is more difficult to detect but no less impactful. It’s funny to see how many sunbathing young people cringe at all the wrinkly old people with leathery skin.

Why Is Self-Care Important to Men?

Self-care can be a difficult concept for many people. It’s not something that we are taught in school, and it doesn’t seem like the type of thing you should have to do on your own. But if you want to live an active life with energy and vitality, then taking good care of yourself needs to become part of who you are as a person. Women have their own struggles with self-care, certainly more guilt than men, but they do a better job of it. Lots of married men rely on their wives to make them go to a doctor, like a child. I shudder to imagine what is behind all of that, so I’ll just stop thinking about it and move along.

Self-care isn’t just about looking after your physical health; it also includes caring for your mental health. Your mind and body are the primary vessels you have been granted for this journey. When your health points are gone, the game is over.

How Can a Man Take Care of His Body?

1. Eat right – Don’t spend a lot of time reading articles on how to eat healthy. You know how to eat healthily. Reading articles on how to eat healthily (or any topic) is not taking action on the topic. It is simply Fixin’ To Get Ready. Just make a small effort to eat reasonable portions of good foods. Your Mom is not here to do that for you anymore and for the love of all things holy, don’t make the women in your life be your mother.

2. Exercise – Find something you like to do. A competitive sport, hiking with friends, something that is both fun and physical. The gym is good, and you can do a lot of great physical work there. But it is not necessary to be fit. I believe that a gym is work to have a better body, and for the more disciplined among us, they will reap the benefits. If that’s you, go for it. However, fitness doesn’t have to be work. It can actually be very pleasant while producing the same benefits as real work. That might be why many disciplined people don’t go on hikes. They have no time for such luxuries. Change your mindset on this. You need the mental break, the physical stimulation, and it deserves the resources (time, money, and energy) to make it happen.

3. Sleep 8 hours every night – Or so they say. Let’s just call it sleep, and we’ll all find our own sweet spot. When you notice you’re becoming more anxious or moody or angry or tired, lack of sleep is a common culprit. It is incredibly demanding on the precious resource of time. This is where most of us go when we need more time. We take it from sleep. And this is a pretty good short-term solution. Be advised, it can have an impact over the long haul.

4. Drink lots of water – Actually, I think I read this on the internet. It’s probably true, although I did not fact-check it. My Father was cremated when he passed, and we were handed a very small package despite him being a big man. I accept the premise we are mostly water, so replenishing seems reasonable to me.

5. Manage stress levels – I, for one, can get myself worked up. Relationships, politics, work, that guy in traffic– sometimes I just fire up the outrage. These days, we all seem to be at DEFCON 3 and ready for conflict. But, it won’t make your life better or more meaningful. You can still take action to support the people and causes you care about without bulging veins in your forehead. Learn to ‘chillax’ as my daughter says (more on this in the mental health section).

6. Keep learning new skills – I have been blown away by how many people stop learning as if they know all they need to know and can make all the life choices they need to with the knowledge they acquired as children. Holy Crap! (That was for emphasis.) It is my belief that all of the accumulated knowledge of humanity is but a fraction of the reality that exists in the Universe. And we’re just arrogant enough to be ‘know it all’s’ after twenty years in a marginal education system (no offense to teachers, my parents were both teachers, you’re under-funded).

7. Grooming – You should do this. While the human body is a magnificent work of art and worthy of marble and canvas, they are at another level, pretty gross. Men, especially. I don’t get what women see. There is hair everywhere, literally, everywhere, and we excrete all manner of smelly wetness from all over. There are plenty of good YouTube videos on even the most sensitive of grooming subjects, so I’ll leave that for you to explore. I just suggest you find a minimum acceptable baseline for grooming and don’t fall below that unless you’re camping and fishing with your buddies.

8. Medical and Dental – Most of us dislike medical things. Some of us hate medical things. And then some of us get light-headed just thinking about medical things, so we try not to. That is a bad strategy, and you need to get past that. Mom is not going to make your doctor’s appointment anymore, so you need to. Living with a double hernia for years is not a sacrifice. It’s stupid, and no one should be expected to admire you for it. Most men take better care of their cars than themselves. But both men and cars should expect a little time in the shop getting looked at by experts.

How Can a Man Take Care of His Mind?

Our minds are powerful tools in life and, from my limited level of enlightenment, the way we experience life itself. The paths we choose and the happiness and meaning we find are experienced through our minds. And for this reason, caring for, nurturing, and developing our minds and understanding of the world around us is paramount (not a word I use much) to the satisfaction we create in our lives on this Earth.

What are self-care activities for the mind? Again, way above my pay grade, but I’ll share some thoughts. It begins with self-awareness of the mind and its role in everything in your life. People can have the same experience yet experience it so differently.

For instance, two young families are going to Disneyland. Neither Dad cares too much for Disneyland, having grown out of amusement parks long ago. The first family is having fun, albeit dad is ready to go after a few hours and is patiently tolerating the whole thing because he is a good Dad. But by 7:00, it’s time to head back to the hotel and get ready for bed, although he concedes to staying another hour because he loves his kids.

Dad two is totally getting a kick out of the kids’ excitement and remembers his own at their age. He is as excited as they are, but for a completely different reason. The kids are slowing down around 9:00, so it’s time for a brief rest at the sundae shop because Disney doesn’t close ’til midnight. Rested and sugared up, everybody has a great time and a great memory. The same experience from a different perspective wasn’t a sacrifice.

At every point in life, you get to choose how you experience it. Long ago, I was fired (laid off–they said as they were cleaning house). I was scared, but I knew it was best for me, as I was not happy working there. I have been happily self-employed for 30 years now. Seemingly bad things aren’t always bad. In fact, most are only bad if you choose to see it that way.

The human mind is an amazing thing. It is immensely powerful while massively flawed. Managing and processing breathing, digestion, and trillions of nerves while you take a nap is kind of impressive. And if it senses danger, it will wake you up and pump some adrenaline, so you can get away fast. But for this discussion, we’ll focus on conscious thought. That little voice in your head that talks to you all day like some overly chatty co-pilot.

1. Become aware of your thoughts – Self-awareness and an understanding of the conscious mind is important in life. That little voice in your head is not all-knowing, but he acts like he is. This guy is also under the mistaken impression that he is in charge, that he’s calling the shots. He isn’t, but he’s influential and worthy of your respect. He is also very accepting of your influence and attempts to expand his thinking and awareness. Your conscious thoughts are not you; that is only a piece of the entirety of you. Learn to work together.

2. Learn to meditate – This is one I still struggle with, but I fully believe in its importance. It turns out holding one thought alone and directing the mind and maintaining focus are not naturally what I do. My conscious mind is all over the map. Try some simple meditation and learn to be the observer of your own mind. This was eye-opening for me, as I thought my conscious mind was the observer. But eyes closed, I can watch my mind dart around like a busy intersection with an unstoppable stream of new thoughts and ideas. This awareness is a good starting point for improving the flow of mental traffic. Give it a go.

3. Learn how to calm down and relax – We are pretty good at amping ourselves up when we need to. In fact, for some, it becomes more of a normal state of being, perpetually in high gear. Recognize that is at least, in part, a choice, and you have the power to dial that up and down at will. Do yourself and everyone around you a favor, and learn how and when to dial that up AND down.

4. Relationships – Social connection and interaction is a big part of mental health and happiness. We all have different needs in this regard, and understanding and satisfying those needs will take time and effort. I can spend a lot of time alone, but most not only enjoy but also need the companionship of others. Emotions like annoyed and lonely are indications of the need to pay attention to your relationships.

5. Anger, Anxiety, and Depression – I’m way out of my wheelhouse on this one, but my contribution is to say that extreme emotional states are worthy of attention. The world is far more complicated than it was when I was a young man, and it wasn’t easy then. There is help for people to learn to deal with complex and overwhelming emotions. It’s one thing to white-knuckle a big presentation for the entire company, but the persistent emotional challenge can cause harm, and you should be aware of and assertive about changing course.

6. Make time for yourself and take it – This, like sleep, is easy to rob for resources, but don’t make a habit of that. Too many guys silently believe they are building a bank account of credit they will be able to make future withdrawals from. You are not. It does not work that way. You are responsible for taking care of yourself, no one else. Don’t wait for anyone to tell you you deserve some time to do what you want. That’s your job to determine and enforce.

7. Remove toxic people from your life – Difficult people don’t come with labels. The pain and torment a toxic person can bring to your life are beyond measure. Ask anyone who married and had children with a narcissist how that went (no, that’s not me). Keep your radar up with people so as to detect toxic behaviors early and be quick to address them. If it is clear you have a toxic person in your life, be swift and take action. Eliminate (or drastically reduce if you can’t eliminate) people that intentionally or unintentionally cause you harm.

8. Establish and enforce boundaries – Boundaries are worth understanding. People don’t get to do or say anything they want to you. But it is your job to know where the lines are and communicate them to others. If a buddy comes and stays on your couch for a few nights starting 6 months ago, it is you that has the responsibility to speak up. ‘Hey buddy, it’s time for you to move on to your next destination.’ Nice guys hate to cause friction and often tolerate far too much, causing greater harm than to speak up and saying ‘You can stay through Sunday.’ Good people will respect your boundaries. But they deserve the right for you to be man enough to say them out loud. Thinking up a boundary isn’t enough.

You will find this particularly true in relationships with women. Nice guys don’t want to upset their partner, so they mutter their frustrations to their friends and act out in pissy little passive-aggressive ways. I have learned over the years that women, while lovely and fragile to look at, are remarkably capable and resilient and also are deserving of your truth. If you don’t communicate a boundary, that’s on you, my friend.

Depending on the level of friendship and the amount of time you spend, you will establish moderate boundaries with friends. Usually, it doesn’t require or take too much effort. But there will be important moments where you need to speak up. Learn to do that in the moment, and it can be a casual, almost passing comment, ‘No, there will be no drugs in my house.’ Hey buddy, that’s kind of a strong stance, ‘Yup.’ Personally, I admire men of principle, even if I’m not on board with the principle. People that know who they are and what they stand for deserve respect.

Strangers – Always treat strangers with courtesy and respect. But remain firm with boundaries if they want to intrude into your world. I have found walking away to be generally effective with strangers. Just say, ‘It was nice meeting you’ with a smile and move along. No explanation is necessary.


Jobs will come and go, along with most friendships, and sadly, intimate relationships are all impacted by the manner and respect with which you treat them. But the manner and respect you treat yourself should come first and foremost. Develop both habit and discipline to find the balance that supports your intention of a life well lived.

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