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My week in wellness: A 41-year-old community worker who’s trying to run more to keep stress at bay

This week, we hear from a Dublin dad of three who goes sea swimming and attends a local men’s circle group.

WELCOME TO HOW I Live, a new wellness diary series on TheJournal.ie.

We’re asking readers to keep a record of their mental and physical routines every day for one week – what their stress levels are like, how much activity they fit in (or don’t fit in), and how much sleep they get.

Each wellness diary is submitted by readers just like you. When reading and commenting, bear in mind that this is simply an account of a week in someone’s shoes, and their situation may not be relatable for everyone.

If you’re interested in submitting your own How I Live diary, email [email protected] with your name, age, location and a few lines about your current health and wellness goals.

This week, we hear from a 41-year-old father of three who’s trying to fit more running, meditating (and a few cold showers) into his week.

Option 2A Final

Occupation: Working in the community sector with at-risk teens
Age: 41
Location: Dublin
Who you live with: My wife, our daughter (8) and our twin boys (4)

Daily activity:  I do a lot of sitting at the laptop for work, but I try to move around while on calls. I would love to work out each and every morning but that would involve getting up earlier. I am working on that. I aim for 30 press ups daily, maybe some free-weights too.
Stress levels:  This is usually linked to my work so it changes from week to week. Sometimes weeks are calm, other times there are deadlines and reports to compile, or events and meetings to organise.
Eating/drinking habits:  I try to eat as healthily as possible, intermittent fasting helps burn off calories from the previous day but I have a tendency to snack late at night. I don’t drink alcohol during the week, although that went out of the window for a while during lockdown.
Sleep quality: I try to get at least eight hours but that’s the Holy Grail and is not always possible. We’re trying to get the kids into a more consistent sleep/wake-up routine.
Self care: Sea swimming, running and daily cold showers are an absolute priority and are something I want to fit more regularly into my week.

Right now I work from home four days a week and spend one day in the office which is a 15 minute drive away. My wife and I are both lucky enough to be in full time employment – she works from home five days a week.

They kids have recently returned to school and Montessori (praise Jesus). Some normality and routine has finally been restored in our lives, but it is a work in progress.

I try to mind myself mentally and physically so that I can be there for those who need me, and so that I can lead by example. People think I’m mad with the cold showers, but there are massive mind, body and soul benefits to it. 

For me, life is about striking a good balance and trying to get it all right: to raise good kids, be a good father, a good husband, brother, son and so on.

Monday

7.10am: Woken up by the boys, no need for an alarm clock with small kids. Sleep wasn’t great, our daughter was in twice during the night. She says she’s scared but likes to come into the bed. We’re really trying for that not to become a habit.

I make the lunches (should really prep the night before but we can’t be bothered). We are trying to start a new routine where the boys get themselves dressed, and our new thing is ‘no TV in the mornings’ as it delays things.

8.40am: Out to school and playschool. My daughter walks to school five mins away, and the boys get driven.

12.45pm: After a morning working from home, I make some food. I don’t eat breakfast until now as I’m doing intermittent fasting to try to manage my weight better. I make a smoothie: fruit, peanut butter and oats.

2.30pm: I pick up my daughter and get back to work for the afternoon. The boys get picked up by Granny and Grandad for a couple of hours to allow us to work from home (we are massively grateful to have them around). There are some deadlines to be met at work – all the uncertainty lately makes the community sector difficult to navigate.

8pm: Boys in bed asleep after not a very wholesome dinner. No exercise for me today, I had a cold shower in the evening, and thought about a run but didn’t get out for one.

9pm: My daughter heads to bed after some time watching TV (still no homework for her). My wife and I rent a movie and make it halfway through.

11.15pm: We’re both asleep. Not a whole lot of stress today but I definitely want to get a workout in tomorrow.

Tuesday

8am: Wake up, my wife set an alarm for 7.30am but we slept through it. The boys (other alarm) went downstairs themselves, found the remote and were watching TV. We turned it off pretty quickly but there was no protest which was good – the new routine must be setting in. We rush to get lunches made and get the kids ready and out, all fine bar a small battle to do with getting shoes on.

8.45am: I drop them to Montessori and grab two takeaway coffees (supporting a small local business, nothing to do with my borderline caffeine addiction). I start work with calls and emails in the car, work pressure is mounting gradually but stress levels are still manageable.

12.45pm: Breakfast for me is yoghurt, oats and chia seeds. I work through until school pick up time at 2.30pm. The boys are at their new childminder, she’s like Mary Poppins and has kids of her own so our boys love going there.

5.30pm: I finish up work and make dinner, and the kids are in good form so. I’m trying to shout less with them and be more patient, and we’ve done away with the ‘naughty step’ and are trying positive reinforcement instead. It seems to be working. However my wife then comes back after taking one of the lads to the pet shop, and it turns out he had a royal meltdown, a 9.5 on the scale. He wanted to buy a hamster there and then (?!). He was inconsolable on the way home and for 20 minutes after.

8pm: Bedtime routine and books. The boys go to sleep in separate rooms as it’s carnage for hours otherwise. Learned that the hard way. Once they’re down I watch a bit of Netflix and try to read a book but opt for the phone instead. I’m trying to cut down on that.

11.20pm: Bedtime. No exercise today but promise myself I will make time tomorrow as the pressure is mounting. I’m trying to make changes to my exercise routine as it benefits my mental health.

Wednesday

7.30am: Slept well and woke up with no-one in the bed with us. It’s worth sticking to your guns on it, but there were a few sneaky marshmallows a couple of mornings last week to bribe them to stay in their own beds for the night. Can’t hurt.

7.45am: Breakfast at the table for the three of them (they seem relaxed) while we get the lunches ready. My wife starts work at 8am sharp but she helps out in the mornings until that point, which makes things run better.

9am: Kids to school and I buy my caffeine hit (struggling small business excuse again). Back home, I have a cold shower. The water has a real bite to it. I bring stuff for a sea swim to work with me, just in case. Drive into work.

1pm: I’m working alone in the centre due to the new safeguarding procedure, get a serious amount done and feel better because of no distractions. Have breakfast al desko: oats, chia and granola.

6pm: I leave work and head down to the sea for a lovely solo dip, it’s been weeks. I confirm again that I need to stay at this for mental health and self care reasons. Come out delighted with life, plus there were no jellyfish, no sharks (I saw Jaws aged 5 and was even scared of swimming pools for years afterward, so any solo swim in the sea is a personal win).

8pm: I head along to a men’s circle group that I helped create. It’s a brilliant space for guys to meet and talk, share, listen and be there for each other. It’s a good de-pressuriser for me. Any stress gets aired and parked there: work, relationships, finances etc. I’m on fire-lighting duty and get it lit without using petrol which gives me a good sense of achievement. It’s a great group of guys, and I owe it to my wife for enabling me to go. Winter is coming so we all need to be “topped up” on interaction and self care to ensure those dark days just look dark outside and the darkness doesn’t creep into the mind.

10.15pm: Home and straight up to bed but I can’t sleep. Wired.

1am: Finally get to sleep. I haven’t been out for that run and it has to happen tomorrow! I can feel that tension/anxiety creeping in.

Thursday

6.50am: Wake up to the kids bouncing around the place. Slept well. TV goes off, no one came into the bed again, no marshmallow requests today either. The consistency is paying off.

7.30am: Breakfast at the table, all get dressed. One of the boys is making great headway with getting himself dressed, the other lad can’t be bothered, puts his schoolbag on his head instead and ends up running head first into a drawer handle. All okay – Mammy makes it better.

9am: In for coffee, have a laugh and a chat with the man behind the counter. He’s working two jobs he tells me. Home to start a heavy day of work. I do a little deep breathing and breath retention to ease the anxiety. Deadlines are looming and we have a big meeting on Zoom – not a fan but I’m hosting. I play some meditation music in the kitchen (my office).

5.30pm: I work straight through, the boys are at the childminder’s and my wife picks up our daughter. I get out for a quick run thankfully, come home and the pressure in my head has lifted – it’s always a good reset. The day’s stress melts away after a hot shower, I need to convince myself to drop it to cold, but I do it and it feels great.

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6.30pm: Dinner is burgers and chips. I need to up my kitchen game as I’m trying to eat less meat. Out to GAA training with my daughter in the lashing rain. She doesn’t want to go, neither do I but I don’t tell her that. Kids need as much socialisation and exercise as they can get. She’s laughing and running around before long. I’m wet and cold, but I’ll take that.

8pm: Home, put Double Trouble to bed, some reading and a few hugs for them.

9pm: I spend some time on social media and read a bit before heading to bed, looking forward to a good sleep.

3.30am: Awake. Typical. Overthinking things, as you do at that time. A few breathing exercises gets me to sleep eventually, around 5am.

Friday

7.45am: Snoozed the 7.30am alarm. I know I have a fair bit to get through in work today ahead of the weekend. All good with the kids. No TV today and we have lunches made, everyone dressed and out the door in good time.

9am: Two more coffees. The man behind the counter looks tired, I’m feeling tired too but the coffee kicks that down the road for a while. My stress levels are rising for the day. I have a lot of phone calls checking in on young people, as we couldn’t have our group meeting with them this week. The youth mental health landscape is bleak right now, so it’s good to catch up with a few of them by phone at least.

2.30pm: Collect my daughter from school. No homework for the full first month back as it turns out. They’re trying to ease the kids in.

5.30pm: We’re going to our in-laws for dinner this evening, a farewell dinner for my brother-in-law who is moving to Singapore. My own parents have really come through for us and are staying over to mind the boys so we can have a night out. I’ve really been looking forward to it today.

My daughter is off to stay with her cousin for the night. One of the lads has a meltdown – again it’s a 9.5 on the scale, 30 mins roaring crying about not going with her, even marshmallows don’t work. We leave him to burn himself out and he eventually stops. My parents come over. Godsend. We. Are. Out. That. Door.

1am: Bed after a great meal and a few sherries (four beers and some whiskeys). This was a great end to the day, being out of the house is great and a different atmosphere with chat and conversation. The break feels good and it’s nice to talk about something other than the kids and the daily routine.

Saturday

8.20am: Wake up at the in-laws. Get a coffee from the petrol station, and go for a quick walk, it’s a gorgeous day. Once I’m back I get a text from my cousin about an issue with a family member with mental health and alcohol issues. It’s going to need some time to figure out.

1pm: We check with my parents after a cooked breakfast and the kids are in great form. Myself and my wife leave my in-laws, but the car wont start as the battery’s dead. We finally get moving after a call to the AA. Back home and it’s clear that I will need to go and try sort out the family issue 45 mins away. My wife is great at just taking over with the kids in a situation like this and letting me focus on getting things sorted. My stress levels are okay.

Evening: I’m back home, chat with my wife about the day, which turned out to be very stressful in the end. I have a glass of wine and some spaghetti.

11pm: Bedtime, exhausted. I’m happy with the outcome today but I’m also aware that I can’t devote all of my time and energy to this issue.

Sunday

8am: Kids wake up before us and go down themselves to watch TV, I get up around now and leave my wife to sleep in. My wife comes down to a nearly tidy kitchen apart from jigsaws and a Lego explosion. She heads out shopping, and I mow the lawn.

12pm: My wife’s family come over for a while before her brother leaves for a year. A big goodbye.

1pm: I have my first meal of the day, a brown roll with tuna. I go for a 6.3km run, I’m happy with pace and the opportunity to reset myself after the family stuff yesterday. Cold shower after run and I’m feeling good again.

6pm: I meet up with my parents, sister and other brother-in-law for a Thai takeaway, I’m driving so no alcohol for me. We’re a tight knit family so there’s lots of chat about yesterday’s situation, including some talk about me minding myself within it.

11pm: I’m home and in bed. It was lovely to be out with my family, a pity my wife couldn’t join us. I would like to do more socialising, as there’s not going on friends-wise apart from online and social media – but that’s not real life. It will have to do for now.

What I learned…

  • My fitness has definitely come under the microscope this week thanks to keeping the diary. The correlation between healthy body, healthy mind is clear to me.
  • I notice that I tend to sit back and say that I don’t have time to do things – that’s an excuse. If something means that much to you, you make the time.
  • Going forward, I would like to keep to the journey that I am on, maintain a focus on my family and continue to manage stress and difficult circumstances as best I can. Change takes time and isn’t always easy, but the goals are there to be achieved – just break them down into bite sized pieces.

Last week’s diary: A 45-year-old with two young kids in Dundalk who wants to be more active>

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