Brian Dawkins

Brian Dawkins: 5 Daily Habits to Strengthen Your Mental Health as a Dad

My rookie year in the NFL was rough. I was married with a newborn son who had colic. His constant crying was stressful, and we weren’t getting any sleep. Then, there was the pressure of being a second-round pick and performing well on the field. In the neighborhood where I grew up and on TV and in movies, we learned that as men, we’re “not supposed to” share our struggles. If you faced tough times, you needed to “man up” and deal with it. As the commercial said, never let ‘em see you sweat. The truth is that while there are things we can push through, you can’t rub dirt on traumatic experiences and think they’ll heal or disappear. I didn’t know how to improve my mental health.

So, at the Eagles facility, I put on a mask. I acted like everything was fine, hoping my face wouldn’t reveal the turmoil inside. Day after day, as I drove home, the stress I’d bottled up would come back to the surface—and eventually, it blew up. I was in an argument with my wife, and I don’t even remember what it was about. But my anger became so intense I rammed my head through a wall. My wife called my coach, Emmitt Thomas, and thankfully, with their urgent push, I finally got some help.

As a dad, you’re under a lot of pressure, and knowing how to improve your mental health is important for you and your family. Because there are so many negative connotations surrounding mental health, I prayerfully coined the term cerebral wellness. It’s cerebral because you’re not just using emotions, but you’re taking in more information before acting. Wellness has to do with the daily habits to stay healthy. After the wall incident, I developed some daily habits that are now lifestyles that have helped me emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Here are 5 things to do to strengthen your cerebral wellness and beyond.

1. Start early.

How you get up in the morning will set the tone for the entire day. So, get up early and start working on your attitude. My faith is the most important thing in my life, so I start every day by greeting God and thanking Him for another opportunity to thrive. Be grateful. Think about the things you are most thankful for. You’re alive, and you have people you love and who love you. What are a few things you can do to start your day better going forward?

2. Think through your day.

Be purposeful and intentional about your day. I believe that there’s a reason I am where I am. So, I think through my day as best I can, the meetings and activities on my schedule, and the people I’m going to be with. Then I commit to bringing my best me to each of them, especially my wife and kids. How do you think being more purposeful with your day can help you?

3. Be quiet.

There are so many distractions, messages, and information being thrown at us. It’s overwhelming. That’s why I think it’s important to spend time in silence. For me, silence happens when I pray. I pray by talking first, and then I spend time quietly listening. It might be difficult in the beginning because silence can be uncomfortable. We feel pressure to fill the space with some sort of noise or activity, but give it time. It’s refreshing. When was the last time you purposefully sat in silence and for how long?

4. Read and journal.

Like I said, we are inundated with information all the time—images and reels on social media, headlines, talking heads on cable news. It can make our minds feel jumbled. So, next, I spend time reading and journaling. It helps clear and align my thoughts. I read Scripture, take notes, and write my thoughts. What could you invest your time in reading and journaling each day that would help you think clearly and challenge you to be a better man?

5. Breathe.

The technique of controlled breathing has helped me manage my emotions and respond well rather than just react. When I feel overwhelmed or angry, I take time to breathe. If you feel stress, pressure, or frustration bubbling up, focus on your breathing. It will slow your heart rate. Neuroscience tells us that energy and information pass through the nervous system at over 200 mph. The pause will help you think through your thoughts and come up with a more enlightened response with less emotion. Think about the process—deep inhale, deep exhale. Don’t respond to the situation until you’re ready. You’ll respond better; trust me. The more I did this, and all of these habits for that matter, the better I became as a man, husband, father, and player.

Sound off: Do you know how to improve your mental health? What works for you?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you do when you are stressed or angry? How do you handle it?”