The effects of the coronavirus have taken a sizable toll on many North Texas men, including fathers and husbands who may have suffered a job loss or other economic stress. No doubt, life today is vastly different than a year ago with safe distancing and avoiding crowds at concerts, ball games, and other large gatherings. But on the flip side, the pandemic has brought about unexpected silver linings for many men, including forging closer bonds with their family.
We spoke to two North Texas fathers, including Benson K., who says additional time at home — he was furloughed earlier this year — means more time with the kids, which has given him and his wife greater appreciation for the important things in life.
“As parents, it’s forced us to recalibrate our life goals and path to be more family-focused,” he says. “Being at home, I had a chance to see my young son crawl, and later, walk for the first time. I also heard his first words, which would not have happened if I’d been working.”
John O., a father of a 15-year old daughter, says he’s enjoyed some incredible conversations with her about life and career choices. In fact, he says he and his wife have had deeper and more complex talks with her in the past five months than in the entirety of her life leading up to this point.
“More time with our daughter has taught me about the wonderful benefits of being spontaneous,” he adds. “A few months ago, she asked me if I’d join her on a weekday morning bike ride. Normally I would have told her I was working and couldn’t go, but I decided on the spot to make time, and I joined her on the ride. She’ll be in college in four short years, and I’m so happy that we enjoyed this father-daughter time together. The conversation we had on our bikes was the best validation that I made the right choice.”
Missing the Silver Lining
Dustin Webb, a licensed clinical social worker and Administrator of Behavioral Health for Texas Health Dallas, says many North Texas men fall into the trap of trying to over-achieve, multi-tasking through a mental list of need-to-do tasks each day. In becoming consumed with planning for the future, he says they may miss the silver linings of the moment — little milestones like an opportunity for a conversation with a child or bigger milestones like a child’s first steps, first words, or mastering a new skill.
“Missing the silver lining may be rooted in the anxiousness of the moment we’re all living through,” Webb explains. “Men are often raised to believe that their identity is to be the provider of the family. When they are confronted with fears about a job or financial loss, that identity is challenged. It can then be easy to miss the important day-to-day moments because they’re consumed with guilt, shame and other troubling emotions.”
He adds that many North Texas fathers and husbands feel a need to find certainty about what to expect next and miss the opportunity to stop and enjoy the present. This anticipation drives anxiety and distracts from being in the moment.
“Most men tend to over-plan, creating a mental list of things that they want to accomplish that day, week or whatever the time period,” Webb adds. “Instead, I recommend that men go easy on themselves, especially these days. That means making goals achievable, breaking up the day or week into smaller, manageable parts. That way, instead of feeling frustrated with all they have yet to accomplish, they can feel satisfied with what they’ve achieved and create their own success story, a silver lining for the day.”
Tips to Find the Silver Lining
Webb says there are some simple tips — daily rituals — North Texas men can follow to increase their likelihood of enjoying life’s silver linings even during an unprecedented health pandemic. He says the important thing is to keep it simple:
Practice mindfulness — Webb says a good place to start is through a practice of mindfulness — often achieved through meditative or moments of quiet, with the goal of being aware of our minds and bodies in the present, at the same time. The definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn is the most popular explanation for it: Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. For more information, reading this excellent resource on mindfulness during the COVID-19 pandemic is a good place to start.
Stop and breathe – Deep breathing is a simple tool men can use to focus on the present moment. Just a few purposeful deep breaths can unclutter the mind and help instill a sense of calm.
Listen and repeat – Webb says during a conversation with a family member or friend, get into the habit of repeating back what you heard the other party say. It’s a simple exercise that forces you to think about the present — not the future.
Celebrate success – At the end of the day, think back on goals for the day. Even if you only accomplish half of what you set out today, that’s still a reason to celebrate! By all means, avoid self-criticism. This is not a test.
Practice self-care – Every day, make sure you’re taking care of your body by eating healthy foods, getting plenty of sleep and exercising. Self-care also includes your mental, spiritual and emotional health, so take steps to ensure you’re taking care of yourself.
For some North Texas men, the issue may be larger than just finding a silver lining to life these days.
In such cases, Webb says resources are available to men who are experiencing symptoms of depression, and Webb suggests starting with a complimentary assessment offered by Texas Health Behavioral Health which links the caller with a licensed therapist or practitioner who can assess the individual and refer him to additional resources, as appropriate. For additional information or to find resources, call (682) 626-8719.