Looking after yourself

Many new dads feel they need to be their family’s ‘rock’. This can often mean shouldering the pressure that comes with being a dad on their own, without any support from those around them.

You might think your partner has enough to deal with, and be reluctant to share your pain and stress with them. Or you might fear being seen as weak or that you’re somehow ‘failing’ in your new role as a dad.

It’s not selfish to look after yourself. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for your family. A happy, healthy dad helps your baby grow and  your partner feel more supported. 

DAD FACT #7

Did you know that approximately one in 10 dads experience anxiety or depression around the time of having a baby?

Struggling a bit? It can help to…

  • Remember the basics. Diet, exercise and sleep are the building blocks of how you feel, and are often overlooked when your life gets turned upside down by a baby. It’s hard to feel like you’re on top of life when these three things aren’t going right.
  • Get creative about how you find the time. Can you catch up on sleep while a friend or grandparent takes the baby out? Can you exercise during lunch at work? Can you prepare your weekly meals on the weekend so you’re planning to eat well?
  • Stay involved. It’s tempting to withdraw when stress is building up at home, but try and stay involved. Supporting your partner and staying hands-on with your baby can make you feel good about yourself, and starts a cycle of positive interactions that builds your confidence and appreciation amongst your family.
  • Don’t forget you’re still a couple. How are you nurturing your relationship with your partner? Spend quality time together (at least a couple of hours once a week) and debrief every night about how you’ve each found the day (even if it’s only 10 minutes).
  • Check your mindset. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as a new parent but you're not expected to know everything. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself permission to learn as you go. This helps put any mistakes in perspective, and it’s also a great way to start teaching your child about the right mindset to adopt when tackling problems.
  • Connect with other dads. Talking with other dads who ‘get it’ and are, or have been, going through the same struggles can make you feel less alone. This could be as simple as talking to another dad at work, or there are groups just for men to help with adjusting to fatherhood. Contact your local council for more information.
  • Listen to your self-talk. What you say to yourself in your head plays a big part in how you feel about yourself and your life. Pay attention when you start thinking in black and white ways – “I’m not a good dad”, “I never do anything right” for example. Notice what you’re saying to yourself and thinking each day, decide whether this is a helpful or unhelpful way for you to think, and focus on steering your self-talk in a more positive direction.
  • Focus on your strengths. When you’re in a negative spiral, it can help to identify and write down 3-5 things you did well each day – no matter how small they might seem.
  • Watch your drinking. Coping with stress by drinking more works in the moment, but blotting things out with alcohol often just compounds the issues you’re avoiding over time. Plus, trying to care for a baby with a thumping hangover really is the worst.

If you’re really struggling…

Just like your physical health, sometimes your mental health needs a bit of extra care and attention.

Tune in to how you’re feeling and how this is impacting on your life. Find someone you can talk to honestly about how your new role is affecting you – this may be your partner, friend, family member, community Elder, or a counsellor.

It’s OK to ask for support – you don’t have to deal with everything on your own. And if a belief that you should be able to handle things by yourself is stopping you from reaching out, it’s time to ask yourself – honestly – if this approach is working for you, or whether you need to share the load a bit.

This might mean getting more practical help from the extended family, contacting a professional for advice on a sleeping or feeding issue, or talking with your employer about work demands. 

DAD TIP #59

Stress is a normal part of life. But when it’s ongoing or gets out of control, stress can lead to anxiety and depression. Start the habit of monitoring your stress levels and acting early before they’ve built up.

Learn new ways to manage stress such as improving your problem-solving skills, or finding other ways to unwind – check out the Mind the Bump mindfulness app and get your zen on.

Taking action

If you’re having thoughts or feelings that you’re finding distressing, and this has been going on for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek support.