As soon as the pandemic began, doctors reported that people across the country were experiencing a dramatic spike in mental health issues including anxiety and depression. The Washington Post called it a “huge jump.”
With women losing their jobs or dropping out of the workforce at a higher rate and shouldering a larger share of caregiving and other responsibilities at home, it’s been a very difficult time for millions of moms. Those difficulties could be made easier if dads could play a more equal role in household responsibilities, which is particularly difficult when some have become sole breadwinners and are dealing with pandemic-related mental health issues as well. (Dads are doing more overall at home, however.)
When I asked the American Psychological Association to run the numbers, they found that America’s mothers and fathers were experiencing similar levels of heightened stress. A previous study found the same for work-life conflict.
- 77% said their stress levels have increased
- 59% reported feeling isolated
- 45% said their emotional and mental health has declined overall
- 59% felt that Covid-19 has had an even more negative impact on their mental health than the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009.
And yet, men are more likely to ignore their mental health concerns and less likely to seek help. In my years at CNN interviewing fellow fathers and in research since (including for my book, All In), I’ve found that many men don’t take the time to engage in self-care.
It isn’t just men who pay the price for this. The whole family is affected.
‘Care leads to care’
In a recent survey, Promundo and Dove Men+Care found that when men engage in self-care, the entire family benefits — including in building greater gender equality. (I have a partnership with Dove Men+Care, which is on a mission to be part of this change.) Dove Men+Care has been on the frontlines of supporting fathers – from advocating for universal paternity leave access in Washington, D.C. to supporting them during COVID-19 with informative video tutorials.
Men who practice holistic care — prioritizing their mental and physical health, as well as social connections — are more likely to engage in caring. They’re also twice as likely to participate equally in household tasks.
I can understand from experience why this happens. After my first child was born, I responded the way many men do: I became focused on, and stressed about, ensuring our financial future. But after the birth of my second child in an emergency, I experienced a wakeup call and realized that I needed to be sure I was more mentally present at home. That meant reducing stress and cutting back on hours at work.
Research shows changes like this have long-term impact. Children who grow up seeing gender equality at home are more likely to achieve gender parity in their own lives when they grow up.
See the full infographic at DoveMenCare.com/Dads.
One solution: meditation
Some of the most striking findings involve meditation. Fifty-eight percent of the 644 men Promundo surveyed who meditate each day reported sharing household work equally. A whopping 92% of them take paternity leave when their children are born. And two-thirds of men who make meditation and/or yoga a regular part of their routine spend an average of more than three hours caring for others each day.
This makes sense. When men are able to let go of anxiety and stress, they refocus on what matters to them most. And that’s time with their families.
To help introduce more men to the benefits of meditation, Dove Men+Care partnered with Headspace to create a curated collection of meditations and mindfulness content with a free 3-month trial. (See DoveMenCare.com/TryHeadspace).
My background as a fact-checking journalist, as well as my 10 years of work and research in this space, have shown me that the vast majority of moms and dads would benefit from self-care and the impact of their partners’ self-care.
We’re facing unique new stresses and challenges, and doing our best to tackle them. It can be exhausting. And often, self-care is the first thing we let slip through the cracks. It takes an active effort to build this into our schedules. But when we do, we all come out ahead.