As fathers, we often put our families first and our own needs last. The stress and responsibility of parenthood can be overwhelming, leaving little time or energy for self-care. And sometimes that overwhelming stress can push us in the other direction – driving us to overindulge in work, sports, hobbies, drugs, alcohol, food or any other activity as a way to escape the pressures. Whatever end of the spectrum you fall, neither of these two opposite responses to stress are good.
The truth is, neglecting our own well-being or using “escapes” to manage the stress and responsibility can have serious consequences for ourselves and those we love. That’s why we created this four-part blog series dedicated to helping dads improve their mental, physical, and emotional health.
In this series we tackle some of the major challenges facing dads today, from the taboo of discussing mental health to the struggle of finding time for exercise and healthy eating. We understand the unique pressures that come with fatherhood, and we want to provide practical tips and insights to help you prioritize your health and well-being.
Whether you’re dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression, struggling to find time for exercise, or feeling disconnected from your emotions, this series is for you. Our goal is to empower you to become the healthiest and happiest version of yourself, not just for your own sake but for the benefit of your family and loved ones.
So, join us as we dive into this important topic, sharing valuable insights and advice from experts and real dads alike. It’s time to start prioritizing your health and well-being so that you can be the best dad you can be.
Part 3 – Six Crucial Steps For Dads to Improve Their Emotional Health
As fathers, we often prioritize the well-being of our children and our families above everything else. However, it’s crucial to remember that our emotional health matters too. Taking care of our emotional well-being can not only benefit ourselves, but also positively impact our relationships with our children and our overall ability to be effective fathers. Let’s explore the importance of emotional health for dads and some practical tips to improve it.
Emotional health refers to our ability to understand, manage, and express our emotions in a healthy and constructive way. It’s about being in tune with our emotions, recognizing and managing stress, and building healthy relationships. Emotional health is not only about avoiding negative emotions, but also about cultivating positive emotions, such as joy, gratitude, and empathy.
Prominent Canadian men and organizations like the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation have emphasized the importance of emotional health for dads. Here are some quotes and facts that highlight this:
- “Emotional health is just as important as physical health. Taking care of your mental and emotional well-being is crucial for being the best version of yourself for your family.” – Mark, father of two, Vancouver, BC.
- According to the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, “Dads who are emotionally healthy are more likely to have positive relationships with their children, be better equipped to manage stress, and effectively communicate with their families.”
- “It’s important for dads to prioritize their emotional health because it impacts their ability to be present and engaged with their children. When we’re emotionally healthy, we can better manage stress, communicate effectively, and build strong connections with our kids.” – Dr. Larry Goldenberg, Canadian Men’s Health Foundation board member and urologic surgeon.
Now that we understand the importance of emotional health, let’s explore some practical tips for dads to improve their emotional well-being:
1. Acknowledge and Express Your Emotions
“Emotional strength comes from understanding your feelings and talking about them, rather than bottling them up.” – Mark Henick, mental health advocate and speaker.
It’s essential to acknowledge and accept our emotions. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, or overwhelmed at times. Too often we resort to judging our emotions (and ourselves) if we perceive them as “bad” or “negative’. The reality is that we all have emotions – it’s hardwired into our biology, and they are neither good OR bad. They just are. Our brains register emotions as part of our innate ability to grow, survive and relate to others. So, the first thing to do is recognize your emotions, and begin to name the emotions you are experiencing.
Many adults struggle with this. It could be that your parents only accepted certain emotions, or you only feel comfortable expressing certain emotions or in a certain way (i.e. expressing anger by yelling). Others suppress, deny, or deflect their emotions to escape the uncomfortable or difficult emotions. Neither approach helps, and both can lead to very negative consequences. Suppressing our emotions can lead to long-term negative impacts on our mental health and physical health.
Instead, try to express your emotions in a healthy and constructive way. If you’re not used to this, then start by learning about emotions. I remember reading Dr. Travis Bradbury’s book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and found it to have a simple chart outlining the five core emotions. You could also watch the Disney Movie, inside Out, which is an entertaining look at emotions at work in people. As you begin to learn about your own emotions, it also helps to begin expressing them on a regular basis and in a healthy way. Talk to a trusted friend, partner, or therapist about how you’re feeling. Journaling or engaging in creative outlets like art or music can also be helpful. Whatever steps you take, this may be one of the most important to supporting your long-term health and the health of your family.
2. Practice Self-Compassion
As dads, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect and meet the expectations of others. However, it’s important to remember that we’re human too, and it’s okay to make mistakes. Practice self-compassion by being kind and understanding towards yourself. Treat yourself with the same care and empathy that you would offer to a loved one.
For many dads this feels soft and “unmanly.” If that’s you then I would encourage you to evaluate your thought patterns and explore where that idea originated. Maybe you had a dad who was really tough on you and never showed you any compassion. Maybe you had friends who always teased you or made you believe you had to be perfect, or maybe you just look around and see successful men which causes you to put more pressure on yourself…but none of these situations help.
Learning to forgive ourselves or be compassionate to ourselves takes work. It takes courage and can be very hard to find old emotional wounds that contribute to these unhealthy thoughts. But this work is so very important. It’s the “heart” work that my co-host, Ed Gough Jr. refers to on our podcast, The Dad Central Show. It’s a step you need to take to improve your emotional health.
3. Manage Stress Effectively
Parenting can be stressful, and it’s crucial to develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress. Find healthy ways to de-stress, such as exercise, mindfulness, deep breathing, or engaging in hobbies or activities that you enjoy. Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms like excessive alcohol or drug use, which can have detrimental effects on your emotional health.
We previously talked about stress in part 1 and part 2 of this series, so it’s important that you apply the practices discussed to support healthy approaches to stress. Personally, I’ve learned how to better recognize what causes me stress. I’ve also learned what helps me de-stress, and asked those closest to me to help when they notice the signs in me. In fact, I find my partner recognizes the signs before I do and is a great support to help me de-stress.
4. Build Meaningful Connections
Having meaningful connections with others is crucial for our emotional well-being. Connect with other dads, friends, or family members who can offer support and understanding. Building a support system can provide a sense of belonging and help you navigate the challenges of fatherhood. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when needed.
We know that men (and dads) find this difficult, but that it’s one of the most valuable things you can do for your health. A 2019 Movember study found that “Fathers who are dissatisfied with the quality of their friendships are more likely to experience increased stress levels after becoming a father, not handle this stress well, feel that no-one was looking out for them and feel isolated.”
Dad Central’s newest resource called DadMentor (Launching in June 2023) is going to address this challenge. Our goal is to support dads to build meaningful connections in the process of actively engaging in their children’s lives. If you’d like to learn more about DadMentor, send me an email at [email protected].
5. Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is crucial for our emotional health. Learn to say no when necessary and avoid taking on too many responsibilities or commitments that may lead to overwhelm and stress. Setting boundaries also includes prioritizing self-care and making time for activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
For me, this has been one of my greatest lessons in recent years. I was not very good at setting boundaries, and it cost me significant levels of stress and strain. I also didn’t realize the most important principle about boundaries – that it’s about protecting what’s most important, not about keeping bad things out. Once I learned this crucial fact and changed my mindset about boundaries, saw where I was allowing others to trample my boundaries, and began to properly set and maintain my boundaries, things began to change. I’m now hyper vigilant about setting boundaries (where necessary) and communicating them in a way that protects what’s most important.
6. Practice Mindfulness and Self-reflection
Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and focusing on our thoughts and feelings without judgment. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress and improve our emotional well-being. Try setting aside a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness meditation or simply focus on your breath.
If you’ve read my blogs, heard me on the podcast, or seen me speak you’ll know I’m a student of the world’s #1 leadership expert, John C. Maxwell. One of the quotes that always inspired me to reflect more was, “You must know yourself to grow yourself.” Over the years I’ve taken time to get to know myself. It hasn’t always been easy, and I haven’t always liked what I found, but I know that it’s been very valuable. Self reflection has led to personal growth, and the growth has led to improved health, wellbeing, and deeply meaningful relationships.
Emotional health is a vital part of our fatherhood role. By prioritizing emotional well-being, we can improve our mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life. When you take the steps outlined in this article, you can begin to can prioritize our emotional health and be better equipped to handle the challenges of parenting. As Michael Landsberg said, seeking support when we need it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
“It’s important for men to talk about mental health and seek support when they need it. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.” – Michael Landsberg, former TSN sports journalist and mental health advocate.
For specific resources connect with Dad Central. Download a free resource, read additional blogs, enroll in our fatherhood fundamentals course, or just email us at [email protected].
About The Author – Drew Soleyn
I’m the Director of Dad Central Ontario, Founder of Connected Dads, and a Career Coach at the Queen's Smith School of Business. As an ICF and Maxwell Leadership certified Coach, Trainer & Speaker, I help struggling dads show up at their best for the people who matter most.
Ways to connect:
- Learn more about Connected Dads by visiting the Connected Dads website.
- Connect with Connected Dads on LinkedIn.
- Follow Connected Dads on Instagram.