20 Stress Fighting Techniques Real Dads Swear By

Looking for ways to destress in 2019? Here are 20 suggestions that dads from all walks of life say work for them.

by Fatherly

Raising a kid is a stressful endeavor. When your child is born, you instantly become responsible for the health and safety of a tiny, helpless being. As she gets older, financial, educational, and interpersonal stresses multiply, all on top of whatever is worrying you about your professional life and the world at large. It’s easy to feel strung-out, and unless you regularly take care of yourself, the parenting part of your life will get a lot harder. So it’s hugely beneficial to have something — a hobby, a ritual, a habit — that can help keep you grounded. “How I Stay Sane” is a weekly column where real dads talk about those things. Here’s what they shared this year.

Practicing Transcendental Meditation

“The little screams? I can handle them. If someone spills something on the new couch or whatever? Meditation helps me remember that it’s a material thing. It’s not the end of the world. I use meditation as a method to escape, come back in 15 minutes, and be the best man and father that I can be.”

Jiu-Jitsu Training

“The biggest thing that jiu-jitsu has helped me with is how to deal with those times in life where I’m in a bad position, and I just want to quit. One of the things I learned really on during a match is having to push through that feeling. Like, with my daughter, when she’s crying at 3 a.m. like she was last night for no reason. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I wanted to cry myself. That’s a moment where I realized that I have to take a big breath, and just decompress and compartmentalize and say, ‘I can do this, we can do this, and I am going to get through this.’ That’s all jiu-jitsu.”

Performing Improv Comedy

“Being on my toes and reacting on stage helps me be a better parent. We regularly get the chance to laugh until we’re basically crying. If I’m off-stage, watching troupe members on, I’m like, crying with laughter. If everyone had the chance to laugh that hard, that regularly, that would help anyone. And honestly, being in the mindset of just being able to go with the flow is instrumental.”

Getting Up Early

“I sacrifice a lot of my own time for my children. That’s fine. But in that hour, I do what I want to do. I read my books. I go on my walk, just me and the dog. I look forward to that. I look forward to clearing my head. To being productive. To drinking coffee. I need it to happen early, too, because at the end of the day, I don’t have the energy to do what I need to do.”

Taking Thrice Daily Walks

“[T]here are very clear parenting benefits to the walks. Sometimes the act of walking helps me organize the family issues that we’re facing. It helps me think of them with a new and creative perspective. In general, too, walking reduces my stress levels. When I come home from a walk, I feel happier. I’m more energized to see my family.”

Cooking For My Family

“I don’t do any yoga or meditation or anything. Cooking is my mental break. Sometimes when I’m cooking, I’m ruminating on whatever’s on my mind. It’s the one point during the day where I’m able to just kind of stop and think back about my previous day, or think to the future, think about what I’m going to be doing tomorrow or that weekend. It’s one of the few things that allows me to just kind of react to my day at that point.”

Dunking Myself in Frigid Water

“I go a couple times a week and sit in a lake for 10 minutes. Every time I do it, I know that there will be the initial shock, and I know that it’s going to suck. But what happens is, every single time, I say: I’m going to recognize that this sucks, I’m going to do it, and I’m just going to focus on my breath and stay calm through it, and then, I can handle everything that life throws at me.”

Keeping My Mornings Tech-Free

“Going tech-free changed the way I measure happiness. I was always fulfilled by my work, and that was great. But when I learned to stop checking my emails that early, and that compulsively, it made me realize I need to take charge of my attention, and what gets my attention.

This hour has made me a better dad. It gives me a better sense of time management. It gives me more time to plan my day better, and make sure that I’m on schedule. And I notice that when I do spend time with my family, it feels way more meaningful.”

Writing a Daily Goals List

“One goal I write down every day is a goal for the future, but it’s written as a present-tense. The goal is: “I am a patient and loving father and husband. I love my children and wife more and more every day.” That really forces me to not only think about it on a daily basis, but to think about the type of man I want to be in the future, and what it takes to be able to say that. To say that I am a patient man means that I have to take actions every day, today, even when my six year-old is yelling at me.”


“I can get anxious about things. Sometimes, in the morning, it just feels like I wake up and sprint all day. I make sure the kids are ready, I’m ready, I get to work on time without breaking any traffic laws, doing all that, and then making sure I’m killing it at work, and taking care of any project I have on the side. It just feels like there are all these things happening and I have to run just to keep up with it. The journaling is a way to stop, to tell myself that I don’t have to be running, flat out, all of the time. If I journal, I’ll probably find what it is that I need to find mentally.”

Playing Adult-League Soccer

“For years, I didn’t work out, ever. So the physical activity of the game is great. But it’s more than that: the camaraderie with my teammates is awesome. When I became a dad, and because I have a job that’s got a lot of responsibilities, I was so wrapped up in things that are tracked and measured. My life is analytics. With soccer? I can just go and hang out with somebody and kick the ball around, play soccer, score some goals, whatever. It takes me back to being young again. I care so much about this silly game that literally means nothing.”

Hunting Waterfowl with my Family

“My dad, my brother and I have been hunting together for 50 years. A lot of people don’t like the idea of hunting. I just know that it’s a tradition, it’s something that we did and our grandpa did and our great-grandparents did. It’s been a way for my brother, my dad, and I to be together every fall for our entire lives. It’s the reason we have the relationship that we do. It’s really meaningful.”

Building Something From Scratch

“With woodworking, you have to be totally there, in the moment. You have power tools, wood, screws, saws. You can’t let your mind go and think about your kids or work or your problems. You have to be totally, 100 percent there. I kind of thought about that for a minute and just felt like, wow. That kind of dawned on me, that this is a great relief. There’s no way you can think about any stress at all. And, in the end, it produces something.”

Playing Magic: The Gathering with My Kids

“As a kid, I cared a lot about buying the cards and building my collection. Now it’s more about how the game helps me unwind, and how I share it with my daughters. It also teaches my daughters strategies. These war-game scenarios will help them make decisions. I don’t know if my kids are going to necessarily pick that up anywhere else. If they were playing chess, I think it’d probably be the same type of thing, but instead, it’s Magic.”

Fishing at the Local Lake

“My mind tends to wander when I’m on the lake, I admit that. I’ll be bouncing around, thinking about tons of different stuff. But I do try to focus on the fishing. That’s what I’m there for. It helps me get my mind off other things — whether it’s other stressful things at work or home. If I can focus on the fishing, focus on trying to catch a fish, or figure out what the fish are going to do, it helps me clear my mind of all of those things that might be consuming me. I just try to enjoy it, because I know that when I get back home, I’ll be dealing with those problems, anyway.”

Playing the Drums

“I think it’s the complexity the makes me feel better. I have to think. I want to be on time, I want to keep this rhythm, and then I want to play around that. If I’m keeping one beat, I can’t really think about other stuff. I just get my left hand down, my right hand down, my left foot down and my right foot down. Doing these things independently of one another, trying to remember what cymbal sounds a certain way, and which tone is coming from which direction, so I know where to throw that in and then I have to bring my arms back. There is so much complexity of it. Spending time doing that, I just come away from that just feeling better.”

Commuting in Comfortable Clothes

“Who you are in the workplace is a persona of sorts and personas take effort. When I’m still in my work clothes, I’m wearing that persona and the associated stresses that come along with it. If I’m wearing a suit, I bring all that home with me. Changing helps me not do that. It helps me keep it as separate as a possibly can; it’s not foolproof but it has helped me out.”

Longboarding to Work

“It’s engaging in a way, too, in my commute. I’m not just getting to and from the office or one location to another. I’m actively engaged in the process. It becomes a break, but it’s built into something that’s productive: commuting. Between being a dad and running a company, it’s not possible to find an hour to go ride somewhere. So having those moments — 15, 25 minutes — to just enjoy the ride, that’s just a nice break.”

Walking the Dog While Talking to Friends

“I think time with my dog is also just good. Sometimes I walk my dog and I’m on the phone and walking my dog at the same time. I do that several times a week. I’m sure I’ll do it today. All of that just kind of helps me process all of the stress I’m feeling at the end of my day. It’s just crucial. Walking, talking, it gives me oxygen. Sometimes just talking about stuff, even if it’s nothing in particular, makes me feel better. I think, too, I had to learn the lingo. I think a lot of times men will get accused of not being transparent enough. I used to think I was really transparent. It was actually just that I did not know how to express my feelings.

Washing Dishes

Washing dishes makes me feel like I’ve tackled a lot of problems. It helps me completely disconnect from my work. When I’m just standing over the sink and cleaning, I don’t think about all of the issues going on my life. It helps me focus on something different and relax. And it really, really makes my wife happy. She feels appreciated. It just improves the whole vibe in the house.

I do it every night. That’s my job: wash the pans, dishes, organize the cabinets. I also organize the fridge. That’s one of my favorite things to do to relax. I really just love organizing. It’s all just relaxing to me. So, for me, it really is a perfect activity.”