It was no big deal, just mountain biking. Wait, who am I kidding. This was the most disciplined and fit man that I knew. He’d also been training seriously for the past few years. It just so happened, he was also one of my best friends. But, I knew I needed something…. I just didn’t expect that it would be an ass kicking in the form of a 20K mountain bike ride. Here’s why I knew I need something though – I was struggling. The relationship with my partner was painful, the effects were being felt by my kids and I didn’t know where else to turn. John (name changed) was a great friend, but more importantly I knew he was driven, focused, and successful in the areas that I wanted to be: his wife and family, his business, and his health/fitness. So I asked him to spend a day mountain biking with me. I remember it clearly. We got up early and hit the trails. I’d never really been mountain biking, so he started me easily – double track on one of his best bikes. We proceeded for about 20-30 minutes navigating trails that I enjoyed, even though I was working pretty hard. Around the 30 minute mark we pulled over to grab some water and he said, “the trails we just rode are usually how I start my warm-up.” Did he just say, start?! I was already breathing heavy and thinking we’d try two or three more trails before calling it a day. Oh, how wrong I was! For the next two and a half hours we rode up, down, and around trails that chewed me up and spit me out. Thankfully I never bailed, but there were many times I couldn’t get up an incline or my feet fell off the pedals because my quads were screaming. It was all I could do to just stand on the pedals let alone push them to generate any power. At every opportunity John would stop and ask, "Do you want to do another trail?" And my answer was of course, “Yes.” There was no way I was quitting. I would ride till my legs fell off before I answered no to his question. And at every opportunity he would keep riding and continue the pace that I’m sure was slow for him. But the only thing he ever said was, “You’re doing great Drew, keep it up.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but the decision to call John and ask him to go mountain biking was the most critical thing I did to help me get unstuck.
What happened that day was the start of a change in my mindset.
But it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t reach out to John. The very act of spending time together helped push me to a new level. Yes, I described the physical challenge (which I loved), but my thinking and mindset was also challenged – both by our conversation while we biked, and the need to control my thoughts in the face of grueling physical exertion.
Up until we spent the day together, I felt very isolated and unable to voice my true feelings. And it was eating me up inside.
Because John and I could talk openly, I expressed my frustrations and shared where things were difficult. He listened and acknowledged where necessary, but he also asked hard questions. They forced me to confront issues I either ignored, forgot, or didn’t want to acknowledge. What I appreciated most was being challenged to identify what I really wanted and to create steps to get there. As a result, I left our adventure feeling encouraged, supported, and that I could take steps to improve my situation. While I don’t encourage you to put yourself in situations beyond your capacity, I do believe this experience provides three crucial takeaways that can help dads manage stress (and their relationships) as a result:
1. You need to spend time together with other dads (or close friends).
The old proverb says, “As iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another.” And I find this to be such an invaluable aspect of connecting with other like-minded dads and learning from them.
Movember has done extensive research on the transition to fatherhood and the value of social connections to help support overall health. While there are several findings from this research that add statistics, I think the most telling validation is this quote:
“The quality of an individual’s social connections has been proven to be a strong indicator of physical and mental wellbeing and longevity, with mutually supportive friendships acting as a protective factor against anxiety and depression. Therefore, Movember believes that having and maintaining strong social connections will better serve fathers during this critical life stage, with this benefitting mothers, partners, children and society as a whole in addition.”
Source: Movember research report: Fatherhood and Social Connections So, to apply this in your life, what dads are you spending time with, and how are they making you better?
2. Exercise is your super power.
Just like the most versatile tool ever invented, exercise is great for literally everything. If you look at the research on how many ways exercise benefits mental and physical health, it would take you weeks to go through it all. Needless to say, finding a way to get physical activity is a vital tool in managing stress.
One of the ways the Connected Dads community works is that we have accountability challenges each week. A recent version was exercising for 10 minutes a day, every day. Nothing more, unless you choose to, but it had to be done every day. So far, the results and value is remarkable. Both in the follow-through of everyone in the challenge, and the benefits we each gain in our thoughts and how we feel about ourselves as a result.
How much longer will you waste 10 minutes scrolling the internet or social media instead of building your health?
3. Find ways to get outside in nature.
Recent research has confirmed what many of us already know intuitively; that immersion in nature benefits your overall health. What’s most interesting about the latest finding is they have identified the threshold for how much time in nature you need to see results – 2 hours per week. Anything less and there are no measurable benefits to your health and wellbeing.
To summarize what the growing body of research says about being in nature:
The studies “point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.”
How can you build at least 2 hours of nature into your week?
You probably don’t need to put yourself in the deep end immediately like I did with John, but if you’re finding yourself in need of something, just reach out to a friend. You never know what value you’ll gain from the experience.