A Father's Guide to Managing Stress at Home

Father under stress
Westend61 / Getty Images

"I had about had all I could stand," one dad told his friend. "I had a new boss at work that was driving me totally nuts micromanaging everything I did and violating long established policies in the process. My brain seemed to be bulging from the stress of the day and all I wanted that evening walking in the door was a little rest and relaxation. I couldn't wait to get home, play with the kids and just unwind.

"But as I walked in the door, it was clear that a tornado had hit in our living room. Not literally, but it seemed like it. Toys were scattered everywhere, and my sweetheart was suffering from a horrible cold and headache. The three kids were tired and hungry, and there was nothing in the house to eat. And I thought that I had been the victim of a bad day so far - it only went downhill from there."

So many fathers find themselves in situations like this where the stress builds and builds until there is a breakdown. Stress meltdowns can take many forms - headaches, explosions of anger, depression and discouragement, sleeplessness, or just living with emotional pain.

Part of the solution to better handling stress is to learning some stress management techniques which would be a godsend for any father. Unfortunately, eliminating stress in our lives is not possible. But it is possible to manage the stresses that we do experience and to mitigate them so that the impact on our lives is minimized. 

These ideas will help fathers reduce the level of stress at home and make home a place where you really do want to be anytime.

Set aside some family downtime. The pressures of modern life take their toll on a family. While work and chores are important, so are recreation and play. Make time every day for a little "daddy time" with the children. Telling bedtime stories can be a great way to relax and relieve some stress. Family rituals like family prayer, cuddle time in bed with the family and Saturday morning breakfasts can be important times for both building relationships and reducing stress.

Make time to talk. So often, stress at home is the result of failed communications. So make sure you talk with your partner and your family regularly. Plan a weekly family night so you can deal with problems before they happen. A family therapist said that his best advice for strong marriages was to set aside 30 minutes each night after the kids are in bed for mom and dad to talk together – no television, no smartphones, and no computer – just talk.

Remember good nutrition and regular exercise. Experts on stress management suggest we always make time for healthy eating and physical activity. Proper nutrition will give you good fuel to burn and exercise makes your body more efficient. Eating junk food and sitting in front of the computer all day will tend to make you tired and irritable, and increase your personal and family stress levels.

Make time for you. In addition to giving time to your partner and family, make sure that dad's needs are met too. Participate in a favorite hobby that makes you a better man, husband, and father. Getting high or just aimlessly surfing the Internet are not as good as a little golf, hiking, reading or working in the yard. Find what you like to do – what relaxes you - and then do more of it. And if you can involve the kids or your partner in your favorite downtime activities, all the better.

Work it out. Good hard physical labor can really help relieve stress. Those endorphins that the body releases when you are physically active are natural mood enhancers. So get out and work in the yard if you have one. Build a project. Mow the lawn or rake the leaves. Or go help a neighbor with a project. Train for a 10K run. Hit the gym and lift a few weights or run on the treadmill. Get active and sweat a bit and you will handle the stress better.

Sharpen the saw. Leadership and productivity guru Stephen Covey tells about a man who was cutting wood with a dull saw. We all can recognize that such an activity is not very productive. When a friend asks him why he doesn't stop to sharpen the saw, the woodcutter says, "I am too busy sawing to stop to sharpen the saw." We all experience times like this, but our continuing to work with dull tools – mentally, emotionally and spiritually – is pretty unproductive. So Covey recommends that we take time daily to sharpen our personal saws in four areas: mental, spiritual, emotional/social and physical. His promise is that spending one hour in these pursuits will be a powerful investment in the other 23 hours of the day.

Learn to say no. Many of the stress factors in our family come from over-programming our time and lives. A good way to moderate the stresses that come from too much to do is to say no to the unimportant. To do that effectively, you have to define what is important and commit to that, and then say no to everything else. World renowned Pastor Joel Osteen, who has a church in Texas to which 40,000 parishioners come weekly, has found that he has to say no to weddings and funerals, and to any other events on Wednesdays and Sundays. Obviously, Sunday is the day he preaches. Wednesday is his day with God and his family first. He is a great example of practicing what he preaches and putting first things first.

Laugh. There is no better antidote to stress and anxiety than a little laughter. One family that has learned this lesson has In their home DVD's of many years of the Cosby Show, which is a family favorite. When things get a bit stressful, this family often spends 30 minutes watching Cosby, and life is in greater perspective after they have laughed a bit. Read a little funny article or a book, tell stupid jokes, go to a comedy club with your partner, and take the time to laugh. In so many ways, laughter is the best medicine for stress. 

If you need help, get it. When stress gets overwhelming and over time affects your daily life in negative ways, get to a family counselor and get help. Fathers who don't learn to manage stress well often take it out on the people closest to them, and you just can't afford to find yourself there. Regular outbursts, abusive behavior or loss of control are signs that you may need emotional help. Check with your employer to see if they offer an employee assistance program (EAP) or with your church to see if they have counseling programs. Consider a fathers support group in your area. Find resources to be of help when you can't seem to handle it on your own.

Families are too precious to lose, and not handling stress often leads to fractured relationships, emotional and physical separation and divorce. Keep your stress at a manageable level and make life at home more pleasant, and you will build important family relationships that last a lifetime.