Man staring off into the distance. Silhouette of a jogger in the backgroundShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Ruth Basagoitia

This year has easily been the most stressful and difficult year of my life, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to make that claim.

In particular, the last 2 months have been simply overwhelming. Amid COVID-19 and great social unrest, my wife and I moved our family across the country.

The stress of it all has created a cascade of discomfort. For me, it has meant a near-complete abandonment of what I normally do to take care of myself.

Up until 2 weeks ago, I had gained more weight than felt healthy for me, my meditation cushion had gone unused for weeks, and I was stuck in a zone of frantic action.

In these times of high stress, my faulty logic tells me:

  1. Get more done.
  2. Figure it out.
  3. Tackle the problems.
  4. You can take time to move your body, rest your mind, and recharge when all is clear.

The problem with that logic is that it never works that way. I never quite seem to get to #4. Instead, the cycle perpetuates endlessly because there’s always more to do.

Sound familiar?

Two weeks ago I caught myself and did a gut check. I’ve pulled myself out of similar patterns before, and I knew that I needed to force myself to employ more loving and helpful logic.

This logic says:

  1. Look around and assess how you’re impacting your family, your business, and your health.
  2. Take care of yourself.
  3. Reassess and take action in life from a more grounded, calm, and present state.
  4. Repeat.

So I did it. I cleared my calendar for a chunk of time each day. I forced myself outside for an hour of exercise, I found my rhythm with my meditation practice, and I almost immediately saw results.

I’ve begun to lose the extra weight, I’m much more pleasant to be around, and I feel far more capable and confident.

This is great — but what’s even more meaningful to me is that I can literally see the impact this has had on my wife, my kids, and my business. It’s a direct, inarguably positive impact on all those around me.

The lesson?

I can take care of very little when I’m not taking care of myself.

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I’m not the only guy to fall into this trap. Far from it.

There is a pervasive societal norm whereby men place their own health and well-being at the very bottom of their priority list. In the United States, men currently live about 5 fewer years than women.

One reason is that as many as 65 percent of men say they avoid going to the doctor for as long as possible, and only go when they fear serious illness.

It’s even more dire when it comes to mental health. Depression and suicide are a leading cause of death among men, and men are the least likely to reach out.

I’ve personally worked closely with thousands of men, and seen the results men report after they begin to prioritize their own wellness. They’re nothing short of remarkable.

The analogy one client reflected back to me was, “I can’t believe how not OK I was, and I didn’t even know it. It was as if I had been trying to run on gasoline, and I actually have a diesel engine.” He started to pay attention to his own wellness as a priority and literally turned his life around.

If you’ve ever been on a plane, you know you have to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

The impact of securing your own oxygen mask sharply heightens your ability to perform at work, improves the harmony of your families and relationships, and greatly increases your ability to achieve your goals.

I believe all men should not only have permission to take care of themselves, but should be held accountable to it.

In order to help flip this paradigm, I’ve come up with three truths to share with men about caring for themselves.

1. Your intentions count less than your actions

Check in with your list of intended and desired actions.

Maybe it includes going to the gym, taking a weekend break to relax, or dropping an old habit that doesn’t fit anymore. It’s pretty remarkable that most of us already know exactly what we need to do to be healthy and feel better.

Nobody benefits — you included — from your intentions alone. Your family and community benefit from the results when you take action.

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Get yourself some accountability, like a committed gym buddy or a friend who can cheerlead for you. Then make a clear decision to act.

2. Your stress leaks out

You might be able to live with the amount of stress you’re carrying, but take some time to see how it impacts those around you. You can go so far as to ask them their opinion.

Try asking your spouse: “How would your life be different if I was healthier and less tense?”

You can say to a co-worker: “Can I ask you for some personal feedback? Can you tell when I’m stressed or worn out? How does it impact you when I am?”

If these are scary questions to ask, a good men’s group like those offered at EVRYMAN can be the perfect place for reflection. A caring community can provide valuable feedback on how you show up and impact others.

3. You deserve to feel good

This one is deep — and not many men have the capacity to let this one sink in.

I usually use a logical trick to bring this one home. I’ll ask a man, “Is there anyone in your life that you think doesn’t deserve to be healthy and feel good?”

I’ve only ever heard one answer: “Of course not.”

I follow it up with, “Why would you be the only single person you know that doesn’t deserve this?”

Usually I get a deep meaningful silence, and sometimes a tear or two.

This is an important topic that goes deeper than just feeling good or improving a man’s life. It has everything to do with how men impact others around them.

A man taking care of himself can be a radical act of service to others, and a mainstream movement of healthy men could literally change the world for the better.

Men, here’s the permission you’ve been waiting for. Go take care of yourselves!