When the World Health Organization added “burnout” to its list of syndromes in May, exhausted moms everywhere had their moment in the sun.
But, today’s dads — who are both incredibly stressed at work and more involved in parenting than ever— can suffer from burnout just as much as moms, and the health implications are dire. Yet, many feel they can’t talk about their stress openly.
“We’re expected to not feel. We’re expected to just kind of do it without ever having any cracks,” Toronto dad Casey Palmer told HuffPost Canada.
“The same thing happens to both moms and dads, it’s just we don’t talk about it.”
Palmer, 35, has two kids, age three and five. He works full-time as a team lead for a project management office in the government, and runs a popular parenting blog and a couple of podcasts by night. To fit it all in, he gets between four and five hours of sleep per night.
“Burnout is my perpetual state of being at this point, where it’s basically running on fumes but still finding a way to keep doing it,” Palmer said.
Frank Emanuele, a working dad of two in London, Ont., recently described his state of exhaustion as “the new normal.”
“I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say that balancing work and home with little ones really takes its toll on the ol’ dad bod,” he wrote in The Mom & Caregiver.
“I try to be the present and involved parent. I volunteer at my kids’ school, we hike and bike ride together, and I’m with them during karate, soccer, and music lessons. I try to make time for myself, my partner, and squeeze in quality time with family and friends. But sometimes trying to balance it all just adds to the fatigue,” he added.
Men are stressed, and it’s affecting their health
In 2015, clinical psychologist Samantha Rodman wrote that dads might just be the new Supermoms, “with all the attendant guilt, self-imposed high standards, and societal disapproval for admitting anything less than rapture and delight with parenting.”
While the complaining mom is seen as “revolutionary,” there are few spaces for dads to openly discuss their own weaknesses without fearing that they’ll be seen as the stereotypical bumbling or uninvolved dad, she added.
WATCH: How to know if you’re suffering from burn-out. Story continues below.
But, many dads are stretched thin. A 2017 survey of working dads found that 72 per cent feel emotionally and physically worn out. Another study found that dads are just as likely as moms to feel depressed. And in 2016, researchers found that a dad’s stress can affect their child’s development.
On Monday, the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation didn’t mince words in a warning that men that are “working themselves into an early grave.” They found that 81 per cent of Canadian men are stressed at work, and 60 per cent are losing sleep over it.
Experiencing high stress and lack of sleep can increase a man’s risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and mental illness, the foundation explained. Men are also skipping meals, eating unhealthy snacks, and not taking breaks.
“The problem is, many men don’t realize they’re being unhealthy,” Dr. Larry Goldenberg, Chair of the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, said in a news release.
Parenthood can be isolating for dads
On top of that, experts have warned that parenthood can be isolating for new dads, and they need support. Supports for new parents are often aimed at moms since they still tend to be the ones who to stay home or take leave after a baby is born, and a number of dads said it’s difficult to make connections with other new parents.
WATCH: How having a kid makes parents keep score. Story continues below.
“Parenting in isolation is never a good idea,” psychologist Jennifer B. Rhodes previously told HuffPost Canada by email. “It really does take a village and men, especially successful ones, underestimate how challenging parenting can be when they are used to succeeding in life.”
When Palmer does occasionally get together with other neighbourhood dads, he finds that “it all comes flooding out,” and the men share their challenging experiences with their kids’ behaviour, their struggles with work-life balance, and the pressure to provide.
He notes that there is a sense that dads don’t have grounds to complain, or when they do, they’re told, “Well, now you know what it feels like to be a mom.”
What to do if you’re feeling stretched thin
There are a number of tips to reduce stress at work with long-term health benefits, according to the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation. These include going for walking meetings, standing while taking calls, taking regular three-minute breaks from the computer screen, and not drinking coffee past 3 p.m.
Workopolis recommends working dads set short and long-term priorities, make the most of the time they do have (your kid’s weekend naps are a good time to make headway on projects), switch off technology at home, discuss flex options with the boss, and talk to their partners.
They note that last one can be difficult for men who may have watched their partners give birth and make sacrifices for their families that they’ve never had to, but it’s important to remember you’re still worthy.
“For your sake, and the sake of your family, you need to be open and honest. Does he or she feel that you’re involved and contributing? Are you finding that you can’t put the necessary effort into work? Have the conversation, no matter how difficult it might seem,” Workopolis noted.