5 ways to look after your mental health as a busy dad
Being a busy dad seems to be synonymous with modern fatherhood. While my son hasn’t even started school, I feel I’ve been living life as a busy dad for longer than I can remember. Rushing to and from work, sandwiched by the nursery run (my favourite part of the day), seems to be the status quo. And that’s compounded by balancing work pressures, life admin, relationships and attempting to retain your identity and interests beyond just that of being a father. In this article, we look at 5 ways to look after your mental health as a busy dad.
Mental health and fatherhood
Needless to say, being a busy dad can take its toll on the mental health of any father. During a pandemic, where we’ve all seen some impact on our mental health, that’s been intensified – my mental health has certainly been affected during this time. It’s left me at times doubting my ability as a father but also with a general sense of being overwhelmed and filled with anxiety.
There’s no escaping the pressures of being a busy dad
The reality of fatherhood as a busy dad is an inescapable one for most of us. Although accepting this can often erode our wellbeing and mental health in a way that blindsides us. Looking after our mental health is therefore crucial for any busy dad.
Here are five ways to look after your mental health as a busy dad and beyond:
Exercise and bring out the endorphins
Working out has been a consistent and reliable way to support my mental health. While it can mean finding more time in an already packed day, it’s become a necessary feature of my daily schedule.
The endorphins produced when exercising can help to manage your mental health as a line of defence. We never know when an episode of struggling with our mental health may creep up on us. Exercise can therefore be a preventative measure, akin to a good diet or supplements, for our mental health.
During the pandemic, I also rediscovered cycling which has been a game changer for my mental health. As my primary mode of transport, I cycle on my commute and just about anywhere else. Cycling brings with it a sense of freedom. Not to mention, being able to cycle to work allows me to incorporate it into my day without any constraints on my schedule. It’s ideal for a busy dad trying to identify a time efficient opportunity to exercise.
Sufficient rest is vital for any busy dad. The modern dad is not only always on the go but also trying to find more hours in the day to meet their commitments and responsibilities.
Any dads of newborns or infants reading this may be thinking the idea of getting a good night’s sleep is impossible (I promise, it does get better). But when your sleep isn’t punctuated every two hours by your baby waking up, you need to take every opportunity you can to get a decent night’s sleep.
Having insufficient sleep, particularly on a prolonged basis, can make us irritable and affect our perspective and energy – something no father needs. Being a busy dad who gets enough sleep may seem like an oxymoron. Nevertheless, it’s a necessary balance that will pay dividends for your mental health.
Practise what you preach
We all set out the benefits of sleep to our children despite not necessarily taking our own advice. I’m certainly guilty of that. Getting enough sleep is important for any busy dad. It allows us to function effectively but also supports our mental health in an obvious yet often ignored way.
3. Work-life balance
As a working dad, and a teacher at that, finding a work life balance isn’t easy. However, it isn’t impossible. And the more you’re able to achieve it, the more you’re able to protect your mental health.
There’s no denying that it can take a conscious effort to attain and commit to a work-life balance. Indeed, being a busy dad is often contributed to by our careers and our attempts to square that with good fatherhood. We want to be the best versions of our professional and paternal selves and seeking that can cause anxiety in itself.
The solution? Create your boundaries between work and parenting and map out how you’re going to achieve that without heightening any anxieties.
Manage your own expectations
Your time as a dad needs to be sacrosanct. When it’s time to leave work to collect my son from nursery, I manage my own expectations by telling myself that leaving at that moment is a non-negotiable. Not to mention, it can be necessary to go as far as diarising, mentally or otherwise, concrete plans with your child to ensure you give them that time.
Managing those expectations can be what’s needed to look after your mental health and not becoming overwhelmed. It can compartmentalise time for parenting and time for work. That in turn makes your thoughts clearer and hopefully make yourself feel better about your parenting.
4. Just say no
Something I struggle with is saying no. No to taking on more professionally, as a partner and as a dad. But when I’m at capacity for my mental bandwidth, opting not to articulate that in saying “no” is self-sabotage for my mental health.
As fathers, we often assume a Superman-esque personna. We feel we can’t say no because we’re dads. There is no kryptonite that can completely deplete what I like to call “Daddy strength” – that ability to dig deep to get the job done no matter what. As a result, we refuse to say no when we really should for the benefit of our mental health.
Learning to say no professionally, to our partners and even to our children is necessary. As a busy dad, it’s a simple way to safeguard our mental health to prevent exceeding our mental capacity.
5. Don’t lose your identity
Have you already bought and read a copy of Music Football Fatherhood’s book, DAD? There’s a great chapter by James Roach on how fatherhood helped him to pursue his passion for music.
It always reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague when my wife and I were expecting. She had adult children and gave some sage advice: don’t lose your identity to simply become Daddy and Mummy.
It seems obvious but how many parents, once with active social lives and interests, now become defined by being a parent and their job?
Don’t forget your passions before parenthood
Maintaining your passions and interests can support your mental health. It gives you an opportunity for respite from the pressures of fatherhood and allows you to retain aspects of your character that needn’t be sidelined because you’re now a dad.
Making time for yourself is hugely important for our mental health and can often seem out of reach. Yet it can be the conduit to some much needed (and often elusive) respite as a busy dad.
There’s no denying that being a busy dad brings pressures that make parenting more challenging than it already is. Nevertheless, looking after our mental health to mitigate that is something we all need to be conscious of and act upon.
Written by Arion Lawrence