Q I have just returned to work after my maternity leave and I’ve been finding that adjusting back to my workload while looking after my children at home has become very stressful. When I come home the only thing I want to do is get into bed and just have some time to myself, I get emotional most evenings. I want to be there for my family and I don’t want to let my employer down, but I feel like I am losing control trying to manage everything. How can I find a balance of work, home and time to myself and start to feel good again?
A I’d say you and many women can relate to this only too well. One word I often come across in my work is ‘overwhelmed’. Even the word sounds overwhelming. A new concept in psychology is the idea of ‘enough’. I think the reason the concept is gaining ground is because so many people feel overwhelmed with all the responsibilites and trying to do everything. But can we actually have it all? I have to say I am not sure, but more so I’m leaning towards no.
What would it be like to recognise that you are ‘enough’ and in equal parallel that you have had enough. I don’t know how long that you have been back at work, or if it is full-time, or the infamous ‘four day week’. I laugh nervously at this one, given under a HR guise or being pro-family, it is actually five days claustrophobically squished into four, leaving you feeling like no matter what you have done there is still more to get done.
This is a major mental drain. Researcher are currently looking into the impact of having even just one e-mail hanging over a person and that it could have a major impact on their mental resources. To even remember that you have to go back to it, leaves you less able to focus on the task at hand. This can leave a person feeling like they’re not really hitting it in any area of their life and yet also feeling unproductive, frustrated, wired and tired and depleted emotionally and physically.
I don’t know how many children you have or what childcare you have in place, but this can also have an big impact that by the start of the day or at 9.01 am you may have already completed what feels like a full days work.
Work out what you like and don’t like
Do you like your job? If so list out the positives and what you like about it and why. This will help in the on-coming winter mornings, when you’re asking yourself why you are getting out of your lovely warm bed! Write a list of the things that you really are not happy about with your work, this may include, the commute, workload, expectations etc. Is there anything you can do about this? If so, take some action.
Do you feel your job is meaningful? A lot of women change career after having children. Meaningfulness can help with the transition as it feels like it lessens the mother-work conflict of interests. If you are returning due to financial reasons and don’t like your job, consider ways to get into an area that you would be happier within.
What does balance mean to you?
Work-life balance is bandied about a lot, but I sometimes feel is the reality often falls massively short of the the promise. You need to figure out what a life of balance means to you. You, and your family are the most important part of this equation. I would write down your utopian version first, and then look at it again in terms of how this would work ergomically in your life. This may require your ideal to be somewhat re-set with knowing you have to pay the mortgage every month.
To get to where you want to get to, you need to create clear goals of what works for you. Then break these down into what can realistically be achieved. Carrying out this exercise will create an openess from going from the absoulte ideal to a working practical reality.
How do you feel?
What emotions are coming up for you? Anger, sadness, fear? It is really important for you to understand why you are feeling specific emotions to get a good idea of what it is specifically that you are unhappy about. If you feel angry it could be from a feeling of lack of fairness. You may feel sadness from a sense of loss. You may feel fear from feeling out of control and that life is happening to you. You need to take responsibility for the things that you can change, and change them. If it is not possible to change them, you can change how you respond to it – there is control within that. I know that thinking this and doing this can be very hard but you would be surprised at how it can change how you feel.
Get some sleep
You may just be really tired. Here is one sure fired thing that will help. Go to bed earlier. Make your going to bed routine special for you. This (believe it or not) is your time out. Use the going to bed routine to nourish your mind and body. Even the very act of mindfully washing your face, putting on facecream, brushing your teeth can be quite restorative and provide much needed self-care for you. Listening to a mindfulness bodyscan for sleep download is very relaxing.
Choose some form of exercise, I would recommend HIIT (high intensity interval training). We are very much in our minds, it feels so good to be able to only focus on getting your breath back and to be physically aware! I feel exercise provides a mental release and you do feel better once it is over. The irony is even if you had to drag yourself there kicking and screaming you will have so much more real energy afterwards.
Nature as medicine can really help you feel connected in a very real way. Go for a 20-minute walk on your own. Or get outside as soon as you come home and enjoy your garden or play with the kids. If it’s a no go during the week, make plans to get outside at the weekend and do it regardless of the weather, bring a raincoat and wellies it could be more fun that you imagine.
I’m no nutritionist, but as a mother to three girls I have found the Pregnacare New Mum multivitamins really helpful. Your diet is also very important and many mums go for sugar as they are exhausted. Try and ensure that you eat three meals per day with three snacks. Your food has such an impact on your mood and you’d be surprised by the delicious food available that is easy to make and really has a good impact on your mood.
Humour is a great coping mechanism, as often I feel I’m in the TV ad where the mum is just about to walk out the door and then she smells her baby’s bum and heads back to the changing table! In fact, I’m typing this one fingered whilst my baby is literally bouncing up and down on me.
Time to yourself
It is so important. Carve it out but take snippets during the day and mindfully be present, these moments are all we have and when we notice them it can add an extra time dimension to your day.
Be kind and compassionate to yourself.
Returning to work, you may find that you feel differently about the job and about yourself, but you have just had a transition of having your baby and heading back into another transition, so that is very hard and stressful. Be organised and yet sometimes let that go, I think that is the key to the life-work balance is knowing what is important and knowing what to drop. Sometimes the washing will just have to wait. Lovebomb your children, 15 minutes of down on the floor play where they are boss is a great way to reset your children emotional thermostat.
Surround yourself with fun supportive friends and family and allow yourself the odd rant it’s good for the soul. Remember, you are doing great. We only have moments to live, so invest in a gratitude diary and every night before your mindfulness session write down three things you were grateful for today. And breathe – it’s immensely cheap, effective and restorative. Try 4×4 breathing when it all feels too much. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, let go for four. Try it now, it’s a lifesaver.
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