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Do you know why you want to go on that golf break?

Learning to understand our own needs better so we can communicate them, address them and bring more to the table as a result.

It’s a common refrain to hear about the ‘golf widow’ the ‘cricket widow’, the football widow’ etc., but while sloping off for an activity might sometimes be construed as mere entertainment, is it sometimes about more than that? Is it sometimes about wellbeing?

As part of Men's Health Week, and our own Real Men Relax month, former rugby player and co-founder of Proverb skincare, Luke Sherriff, shares his thoughts on men's wellbeing and making the connection between what we do and why we do it.

I think men have come a long way when it comes to talking about how they feel and what they're concerned about. However, in lots of cases it still feels quite transactional compared to the shared problem solving approach that women seem to adopt with friends.

If I speak for myself, and I am quite open when it comes to talking about things, I will gravitate to talking to one close friend rather than a group if I have something I'm unsure about. However, I have noticed that Kirstie (my wife), and her friends are inclined to talk more openly amongst one another. While where we are today is a far cry from the likes of my dad, who I don't ever remember talking about how he felt, I think perhaps one of the side effects of this less organic approach to communication is that men don't always recognise their own needs and how they address them, even when they’re trying to do just that.

Understanding ourselves and the impact it has

Some age groups are better at identifying their own needs than others, and societally we are all better at understanding ourselves now than we might have been a few years ago. However, I think that over generations men have found things that work for them when it comes to taking the time they need to regroup - that might be watching football, playing golf etc., but we don't think of it as being about wellbeing.

When we're younger, perhaps we're single and maybe we have fewer responsibilities, so to some extent the need to identify what we need and why we're doing certain things isn't so acute, because you can take the time as you wish. However, as you get older and you have other people who depend on you or want you around, taking that time can cause friction, and part of that is because of how it's perceived, understood and communicated.

Observing our own coping strategies

It's stereotypical, but often men can be quite belligerent about going and doing something that they want to do - whether that's spending a couple of hours playing golf or football, or even heading to the pub with friends. While it's probably not the case all the time, I think often we don't realise that the reason we're so precious about these rituals is not simply because we enjoy them but because there's something about them that we need. That might be headspace, time with friends, a chat, blowing off steam etc. However, because we haven't made that connection ourselves, we don't articulate it well and that can have a detrimental impact inside our relationships.

Taking care of ourselves better

I think the other side effect of that lack of understanding is that because we don't really identify why we might be doing things, and observing how we feel before and afterwards, we don't give ourselves the chance to make the best choices to support our wellbeing either. If we connected the five hours on the golf course with exercise, fresh air and health, then we might be able to recognise that sometimes (on the days when it isn't fair on the family dynamic, for example) to take such a long time away, we can find other ways to feel better - perhaps an hour in the gym, a walk with a friend, or just sitting in the bath for 10 minutes longer than we need to.

Making more informed wellbeing choices

Through understanding this connection, we might also be able to make better choices for ourselves. For example, if our 'time out' is in the pub having a drink then we might be able to say to ourselves ‘actually, perhaps it's not the drink I need, but the chat with a friend’, and make healthier decisions that way that actually make us feel even better.

Living a life that you value

Time to yourself and to look after your wellbeing shouldn't just seem acceptable because you 'deserve' it or because you're so stressed out that you need it. However, I think the missed opportunity (and that's not just for men), is in being able to identify what's valuable to you. Hopefully health and wellbeing is one of them - if it's not then perhaps that's something to ponder.

We all live very busy lives, with lots of pressures, lots of ‘have to dos’ as well as all the ‘want to dos’, and there’s only a certain number of hours in the day. To be able to show up and not only be our best for our loved ones, but also enjoy life ourselves, we have to take care of ourselves and in a packed schedule that means making smart choices. I think those smart choices begin with being self-aware.

Realising what's good for you and what you value is really powerful, and that's where going to a spa is interesting because in lots of different ways it's an opportunity to explore what feeling good is like. It isn't for everyone, but if you haven't tried it then you don't know if it's right for you.

I know lots of men who go to spas at different frequencies and for different reasons. For some it's every now and then, for others it's regularly because they recognise that they feel better after a treatment but without any adverse side effects - like the ones you might get from a night in the pub. For some people, that feel good factor is going to come from nine holes of golf or going for a swim in the sea.

If I was to offer any advice to anyone, it would be to observe how you feel before and after certain interactions and activities. Think about what you value and what you want to be able to do - for me it's about wanting to have the health and energy to be the best version of myself for my family. With that in mind, be more open minded about what's actually good for you - try something different, listen to others' experiences. You never know what you might discover and where that journey might take you.

Read Luke's perspective on managing mental health

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