I’m sitting in this coffee shop (no free ads) huffing and grunting like Roy Kent being asked about his morning beauty routine. I’m trying to write this blog. I’ve deleted the last nine intros. (Holy sh*t, if I get one more fluffing spam call…) Hopefully this tenth iteration sticks.
I’m Jimmy. Dad of two girls, Daisy (age 6), and Poppy (age 1), and I’m stressed and anxious as f*ck. All humans feel stressed or anxious from time to time, and those can be incredibly helpful and motivational emotions. Think about the stress and anxiety before a big exam and how it motivates you to bite the bullet and study. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about crippling, chronic, generalized stress and anxiety. To show you what this looks like, we’re going to rewind 30 minutes and take a trip inside my brain. Buckle up, it’s a mess. I’m also not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, so bear with me.
It’s now 30 minutes ago, and you’re inside my brain:
Did I pay the rent? When is the bill for dance class due? Am I ever going to be able to buy a house? Did I ruin my daughter for life when I frequently and reflexively screamed “WHAT?!” at her in 2020 when she tapped my shoulder while I was in deep thought writing something important for work? How can I be such a terrible dad? I can’t believe I responded “a winning lottery ticket” when the waiter asked if she could get me anything else at dinner last night. Oh no! Am I a dorky dad? If that thought doesn’t immediately make me president of The Dork Dad League, it surely puts a rising star designation on my name. Maybe there is a good deal on a hotel by Universal Studios this weekend? We haven’t used our season passes in a while. We can keep it cheap. Bring food, don’t buy any souvenirs. Psh, who am I kidding? Not getting a pint or two of Isla Nublar IPA and saying “no” to Daisy (6 y.o.) for an entire weekend? I don’t think so. I don’t have the heart or mental fortitude for that. Maybe we’ll go anyway, you know, YOLO! We’ll start the house fund next week. Ugh, I forgot that we owe $200 for summer camp next week. Am I ever going to be a real adult? Adults have their sh*t together, right? Look at that guy over there. Smile on his face, outfit on point. He totally woke up at 6 a.m., meditated next to the pool in his manicured backyard, then walked down the block to the beach for a nice paddle before taking his kids to camp and heading to work (read playing 18 holes with a longtime client). Crap, I totally forgot to respond to my former coworker’s text last week. Maybe they didn’t notice I never responded, or maybe I can respond and say, “Sorry, I totally forgot to respond last week. Good to hear from you. I’m doing great!” or will that only make them remember I never responded and then they’ll think I’m a big jerk? Maybe I’ll just not respond and then some random night two months from now I’ll be in bed trying to sleep, but I won’t be able to because I’ll be thinking about what a jerk I am for not responding. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Does my wife hate me because I didn’t wake up as many times as she did last night to calm the crying baby? Should I buy her flowers and say sorry? Or will that just bring attention to it? I’ll just do better tonight. Is it my fault Poppy can’t walk at 17 months old? I don’t play with her on the ground enough. What if she’s still getting around by scooting on her butt when she’s 16? Okay, that’s a funny image. Wait, what am I supposed to be doing? Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be writing a blog about being a dad with generalized anxiety disorder. This is going great! Thanks, brain.
Back to reality.
It’s crazy in there, right? If you ever wonder why I’m exhausted by 7 p.m. before the kids have even started their bedtime routine, that’s why.
I’ve always been an anxious and stressed human, but now with two kids I’m not just stressed about my own life. I’m stressed about those two girls’ lives and how my stress and anxiety is going to affect them both directly (when I get yelly and grumpy), and indirectly (for example, causing them to be afraid of asking their dad questions because they don’t want to be snapped at). My biggest fear is giving them a people-pleasing complex. They aren’t responsible for my emotions. I am. I also know that generalized anxiety and stress can be hereditary. That can’t be helped, but there are things I can do to help not only myself, but my children be better equipped to deal with these difficult, intense, sometimes-crippling emotions.
Tips for Managing Anxiety
If you’re in the same boat as me and trying to find ways to manage at home, here are a few things that have truly made a difference for me as an anxious dad and aren’t hard to do.
Talk to someone. A little over a year ago I started talking to a therapist. This is probably the most impactful thing I’ve done. They’ve been incredibly helpful in guiding me to finding ways to get myself out of my anxiety/stress-induced thought loops. And as an added benefit, they’ve helped me pass on those learnings to my children. This allows them to see that there are healthy ways to deal with emotions. For example, sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll ask Daisy to hold my hands and take some deep relaxing breaths with me. “Daddy is feeling a little overwhelmed. Can you help me calm down and take some deep breaths with me?” We do it together, and honestly, I think it helps us both, and allows her to see that it’s okay to get overwhelmed (even adults do) and that there are simple ways to help cope and manage.
Build in and schedule time for yourself. I put this time in the calendar and share it with my wife, and treat it like an important meeting. The same as I would for a meeting with a boss or a doctor. I do whatever I want during this time, anything from taking a walk on the beach to hitting golf balls on the driving range. This really helps me recharge and build some space so I’m better prepared for the 10K+ questions, chores, and playtime activities awaiting me at home.
Find a support system. This can be a significant other, a friend, a babysitter or mother’s helper, a close neighbor, etc., but the point here is to have someone who can help when things get overwhelming before you reach your breaking point and explode. This someone should understand what you’re going through and doesn’t need an explanation when you say, “Hey, I’m running on fumes, and I’m about to lose it. Can you step in and give me some time to reset?” I’m still working on this one. Asking for help is hard, and I never like to admit I’m at the end of my fuse.
Don’t be ashamed. It’s okay to not always be okay. It’s okay to be open and honest about things we’re struggling with and things we’re working on. Being aware and seeking help are huge steps, but letting my family know that I know how I’m behaving or reacting, and explaining how I’m working on it, has made a big impact on all of us. It shows my children that it’s okay to not be perfect and that humans have all types of emotions, and that it’s okay to work on yourself. Talking more openly and accepting my “flaws” has also helped my wife to see a little more inside my head and help get me back on track without having to walk on eggshells, because we’re learning, growing, and improving together.
Anxiety blows. Being a dad with anxiety blows HARD! We all know momming ain’t easy (you women are true heroes), but dadding comes with its own set of struggles, stresses, and burdens as well. I’m only writing about my experience. That’s all I know. But as humans, I know we have a lot of shared experiences, so I’m willing to bet there are a number of dads out there experiencing some sort of anxiety that affects their home life in some way. All I want is to be the best husband and dad I can be, and I’m willing to work on it as long as it takes.
When the going gets tough, the tough get help. Whatever that looks like for you, it’s better than not doing a thing about it. It also helps to remember that kids are resilient and willing to help more than we realize. I’m trying to find ways to use my greatest stressors (often my children because they need a lot, naturally), as my greatest helpers (also my children, because as much as they can stress me out, they can also calm me down and help me focus on what matters, which is them). I’m rooting for you. For me. For all of us. We’ve got this.
About the Author
Jimmy V. is a Chicago native but has called Jacksonville home for more than 14 years. He’s a proud girl dad of two and enjoys golfing, beach days, and exploring local breweries with his wife. His current goal: learning to surf on the awesome longboard his wife had custom-made with his kids’ handprints all over it.