This has been a year like no other, and whether you’ve been adjusting to brand new ways of working as an employee, or fighting to keep your own business afloat, the chances are high that life has been very different for you – and that it’s not always been easy. It’s also not always easy for men to find help and support in managing these challenges, and the resulting impact on their mental wellbeing.
I undertook a survey among men earlier this year about life in the workplace, and it revealed some very interesting results – a striking one being that many men would like to be given help with coping in more difficult times. Men are rarely given the space and tools to accept and acknowledge that they may feel bad, sad, confused or overwhelmed. There’s more detail in my last post (Why We Need to Support Men Too) and there’s a clear message that this help is just not readily available in many workplaces, or even out there on the internet.
Learning to be self-compassionate is absolutely key to this. Acknowledge that something is wrong, and that you need to do something to fix it – whether that’s by taking a direct action to change things, or simply doing something to support yourself in dealing with the impact of what’s going wrong. Self-compassion is about accepting that you are human, and that you will fail just as you succeed – and that when you do fail, you are just as wonderful a human being as you always are.
Self-compassion is not self-pity, it’s not self-indulgence, and it’s not weakness. Instead it displays maturity, strength and self-knowledge to recognise that there is something wrong, and that something can be done to restore your balance and harmony, because you are worth the effort.
It takes practice, and it may sound easier said than done, but there are a number of exercises you can do to think more kindly, clearly and practically about problems you face, and take action to address your worries, and ultimately feel happier and more balanced.
Take Action, Take Care, or Both
If a particular issue is troubling you, decide whether you need to take decisive action to address it, or do something to take care of yourself – or perhaps both. These are the two types of self-care: one being something that will make a change in the circumstances that are throwing you out of balance, and the other being something that will support you in dealing with the impact. For example, if you’re feeling burned out at work, you could take decisive action by speaking to your manager about your workload; or you could care for yourself by go for a run, or making time to wind down with your favourite music. Both are effective, and both will help – and either or both could be suitable for any given situation.
Men often find the decisive action the easier course to take than the caring one. So it’s worth taking a few minutes to give the self-care side a bit more thought. Write down some answers to these questions:
Comforting: What is one thing that you can do to take care of your emotional needs?
Soothing: What is one thing that you can do to make yourself feel physically calmer and more at ease?
Validating: What is one thing that can you say to yourself to validate your feelings?
Motivating: How can you motivate yourself with kindness, support, and understanding, rather than criticism?
Write yourself a letter
Write down a brief outline of the problem you’re facing – whether it’s something you’re up against at work, or in your home life, or if it’s something about yourself you don’t like. Note down how it makes you feel, especially if it’s making you feel like you’re not good enough. Try to feel your emotions as they are – just let them exist – and write them down.
Next, imagine what a kind, caring and thoughtful friend would say to you if they were able to talk to you about this, and write yourself a letter from that unconditionally-loving friend. Focus on this “flaw” you have, and imagine what they would say. How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you? How would they remind you that you are only human, with strengths and weaknesses? When you’ve finished, put it down for a while, and come back and read it later. Let the kind words sink in, and enjoy them.
Putting yourself in the perspective of an outsider looking into your own life can offer you some insights you may not have thought of before, and it removes all of the temptation to judge and berate yourself, which we always do more harshly than others would.
Create a Self Care Promise
It may sound obvious, but when you’re in the grip of overwhelm it can be hard to think clearly. Take a few minutes to write a couple of activities under each of these headings that you find relaxing, restorative and energising. Then, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, look back at what you wrote and put it into practice.
- When I feel stressed and lost, I will stop and remind myself that…..
- Next time I feel anxious, I will do these things that help to calm me…..
- Next time I feel sad, I will remember….
- If I find myself making excuses, I will…..
- I will strive my hardest to…..
- I choose to treat myself, always, with…..
Write it up, sign it, and stick to it!
If you’re struggling for ideas, here are some popular ones. Once you start thinking about what appeals to you, your own ideas will start flooding in:
Physical: exercise, affection, massage, plenty of sleep, healthy eating
Professional: take time for lunch, set boundaries, leave on time, plan and prioritise your workload
Psychological: do the garden, draw or paint, walk outdoors, read, reflect on your positive qualities
Emotional: Laugh, say “I love you”, enjoy time with a pet, enjoy a hobby
Spiritual: meditate, spend time outdoors in nature, sing, play with children, volunteer in the community
Personal: work out a personal and professional plan for the future, go for coffee with a friend, relax with family, cook a meal, learn a new skill you’ve been meaning to try
Find a path through the worries
If you find you’re becoming consumed with a worry or anxiety about something, try working it through in the following stages:
Working through the stages will help you to get some perspective, and come up with a plan to address the problem – and feeling like we have control of a situation goes a great distance to feeling better about it.
Visit my Men’s Programme page on my website for more information about how I can help, and stay tuned for more blog posts about accepting your strengths and weaknesses as a human, and practising self-compassion.