How mums can stress less and succeed going back to work
Whether you’re planning to return after maternity leave or you’ve taken a few years out, returning to work as a mum can be daunting.
- Your working life and role has changed?
- You want to do something new but you don’t know what or how to start?
- You need to re-negotiate your hours and role with your company?
- Perhaps you’re worried about juggling everything (family, your job, the dog… argh)?
- You think you’re not ready, good enough, confident enough…?
- You can already feel your stress levels climbing?
Whatever your situation, there are things you can do to help minimise stress so you stay steady at the helm.
To help you with your back to work journey and all its ups and downs, I’ve developed the STEADY protocol…take a look.
Whenever you’re going through a period of change or gearing up for a challenge get as much support as you can. This may include chatting to your partner about how you’re going to roll as a unit, spending time with friends that drive you not drain you and talking to your kids about your plans. Get everyone on board– this is about oiling the cogs and creating some momentum to help you navigate the road ahead. It’s easy for us to treat work or a new career as a simple addition, like it's something we’re going to plop into our existing lives. However, if we want to create a life we love (and not a load more stress) then establishing a support network, setting expectations and being proactive in how we adjust our lifestyle are key ingredients.
So what can you do?
Talk to your friends and family so they understand your plans and can support you.
Be honest and realistic with yourself and others about what you need and what you can and can’t do. Set expectations.
This is about assessing what you need and what you can do to help this process go smoothly. For example, if fear is an issue then learn and practice some strategies to help you manage it. If you’re concerned about childcare, talk to your friends and get a back-up system in place. If you’re worried about negotiating with your boss, read up on techniques that cultivate assertiveness and role-play with a friend. Brainstorm any issues or concerns that threaten to trip you up so you have a tactic or two for each one. Not only will this preparation help with anxiety, you’re also gearing yourself up for success.
What can you do?
Develop a strategy for your back to work journey. Arm yourself with tactics to tackle the things that may trip you up.
It’s not necessarily a situation or event that causes our distress but rather our perception and appraisal of it. For example, you may find a roller-coaster ride thrilling, exciting and fun while your friend has a border-line panic attack. The way we perceive things in life really can affect how we think, feel and behave - whether we thrive or just about survive.
If you’re a mum heading back to work or doing something new then how you appraise the highs, lows and challenges will affect how you feel, your behaviour and progress. American psychologist Martin Seligman suggests that learning to adopt a more optimistic mind-set not only prevents depression and helplessness but also cultivates increased resilience, happiness and well-being.
In his book Learned Optimism, Seligman outlines the difference between pessimists and optimists:
Pessimists tend to see bad events as:
Permanent “This will never change.”
Personal “My boss is right, I’m no good at this.” It’s me, me, me!!!!
Pervasive (it affects EVERYTHING) “I’ve lost my job, my whole life sucks.”
An optimist on the other hand will appraise the same knocks and hoohas differently. They see bad stuff as:
Not permanent “I’ll eventually get over this…I’ll get another job”
Not personal “Things would be different if my boss was more supportive. I can get some additional training now I have the time.”
Not pervasive “Loosing my job sucks but I have a great family and support”.
Learning to be more of an optimist is not about having your head in the clouds or seeing things through rose tinted glasses. We all need a good dose of pessimism sometimes (particularly when you’re about to buy the shoes you can’t afford). It’s about training ourselves to see a more balanced picture so that we keep a level head and a healthy outlook.
So, what can you do?
When shit hits the fan check the 3 Ps!
- Is it permanent? Most things are temporary right?
- Am I making this personal? Are there other influencing factors (e.g. you may have a skill deficit but you are not deficit as a person)
- Is the ‘bad’ totally pervasive – consider the ‘good’ stuff in your life
“The practice of assertiveness: being authentic in our dealings with others; treating our values and persons with decent respect in social contexts; refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid disapproval; the willingness to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts.” Nathaniel Branden
If you’ve ever flown off the handle at someone, told them what’s what, because you’ve taken on too much, you’re tired and you’ve come to the end of your tether then you’ll know this is the antithesis to good communication. At that moment you’re not thinking clearly – your emotions are in control. Let’s face it, we all do it sometimes but the key here is to get better at being proactive rather than reactive.
Developing the ability to be assertive - to be able to establish boundaries, communicate what you want and stand up for your rights – can make a huge difference to your life. If you recognise this is not your strength (yet) and you’re grimacing as you read this don’t panic. Firstly, assertiveness is not about winning or being aggressive or dominant – it’s about being calm, clear and fair. Assertive actually sits in the middle of aggressive and passive.
In a busy life if you aren’t able to say no, or state what you want, things can get tricky. You may take on stuff that you really can’t do, or you fail to negotiate a fair deal with your boss and this can leave you feeling resentful and stressed. The good news is that assertiveness is not a genetically given trait – it’s a skill and it can be learnt.
So what can you do?
Here are some tips that you may find helpful:
- Are your thoughts about being assertive in a situation accurate? Do they reflect reality? For example, are you mind reading (guessing what someone is thinking) by assuming that asking for something at work will cause conflict or bad feeling? Are you assuming the worst?
- Are you unfairly and unnecessarily discounting yourself and your own rights? Your own needs? Is this something you want to teach your kids? Think about what you would say to them in a similar situation.
- Role-play being assertive and practice with yourself, friends and family. Hear yourself saying what you want to say and get comfortable with it.
- Practice being more assertive in easy, less threatening situations before you work up to bigger challenges.
- Remind yourself that being assertive doesn’t guarantee that the other party will agree with you or respond in a positive way. However, it can affect how people behave towards you and communicate with you. It will affect how you see yourself and is an important part of developing good self-esteem.
Learn, practice and follow a stepped approach to help you in difficult situations.
Here’s an example:
1) The first step is to summarise the facts, describe the situation, recognise and acknowledge other people’s views. Avoid emotional language and assumptions that may create resistance. It’s difficult to argue against a FACT.
“I understand you would like me to stay until 7pm for the sales meeting but I cannot do this as I start at 8am to accommodate childcare. I understand that this means reorganising things.”
2) When you have stated the facts it’s time to put across your point of view – to say what you think and feel.
“When I took this role we agreed that I would start early at 8am and leave no later than 5pm so I could collect my children. I am very committed to this job and the success of the project so I’m frustrated that I have been put in this position.”
3) The final step is to say what you want or how you would like it to be.
“What I would like is for important project meetings to be arranged before 5pm so I can fully participate and contribute.”
You can use a similar stepped approach to handle unwanted advice or when you simply want to say no. Simply agree with the other person and then state your position.
Colleague/boss: “Can you do a shift on Friday, we really need you to come in?”
You: “I can see you really need the cover but unfortunately I have other commitments.”
Colleague/boss: “…but I’m really desperate here…surely you can rearrange.”
You: “I can see you’re desperate and I’m sorry I can’t help but I have commitments that I cannot change.”
Developing assertiveness can make a real difference to your life – use these steps to get you started.
“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” Bruce Lee
This part of the STEADY protocol is about identifying and striving for what you want in life. It’s easy for many of us to simply overlook or ignore our own needs and desires in favour of muddling through or ‘managing’.
If you’re planning your return to the world of work then wouldn’t it be helpful to know what you want, how you’d like your life to be? Without aspiring to something, without having something to aim for, how are you going to create a life that works for you and your family?
This is why it’s super important to consider your dreams, aspirations and desires. How do you want your life to be? What’s your ideal day, your ideal week? From here you can establish realistic goals – benchmarks that will guide your decisions and the choices you make. Without goals where are you heading?
The power of the mind and your self talk
“Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.” Lisa M Hayes
You may find you use language and phrases such as “I should do this, I must do that…” rather than “I want this… I can do that.” This sort of language suggests that we have no choice, that life is the way it is and that’s that. However, is this really true?
As a hypnotherapist I help my clients to focus their minds in a positive way – to use their imagination to point their brain where they want to go. However, if you’re telling yourself you haven’t got a choice, you’re seeing nothing but problems and deficits, you’re effectively negatively programming your brain. That’s the last thing you want right?
So what can you do?
Take some time to dream. Engage your imagination and see possibilities. Better still learn self-hypnosis – it’s an awesome skill and can really help you to identify what you want and lead your mind in the direction of how to get it.
Be aware of your internal chitter chatter, your inner voice. Tell yourself “you can” rather than “you can’t.”
“Selfcare is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” Eleanor Brownn
Last but by no means least is the Y in STEADY. This is about your needs and ensuring you are looking after yourself. If your response is “what self care? I haven’t got time for any bloody self care!!” This section is all the more important. If you fail to look after yourself then there’s a real risk you’re going to be more stressed and less productive in the long run. It’s easier to put some provision in place before shit hits the fan and you’re heading for burn out.
I refer back to where we started, to the S (support). Get your network on board, brainstorm how you can look after your health and wellbeing as well as your career and your family. Five minutes here and there for a spot of meditation (even if it’s in a loo break), half an hour for a run or yoga practice, planning healthy meals, can help you be the best you can be.
Going back to work as a mum in whatever guise can mean different things to different people. For some mums it means transitioning back into an existing role that they’re comfortable with, for others it means gearing up for more radical change. Whatever stage you’re at in your back to work journey I hope you find the STEADY protocol helpful.