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Managing Work Stress as a Mother

Work stress is a major challenge currently facing the UK workforce, with Government figures showing that one in five people suffers from workplace stress.

A recent article in The Times regarding the long hours being worked in the UK includes statements such as:

* Millions would happily put in a few extra hours during 2010 in return for ending the year in employment.

* Workers fear the consequences of not putting in the time required to do the job – perhaps for their companies, or perhaps for their job prospects.

* Millions of people are still working far too many hours and often they are not even being paid for it. This long-hours culture causes stress and damages people’s health.

It doesn’t matter who you are, how senior you are, this culture can get to you. You can get burnt out. Working mothers are particularly susceptible to this risk, as many of us know all too well! A combination of:

* The time and effort that goes into parenting

* A heavy workload

* A less than understanding boss

* The arrival of unforeseeable events and challenges both at work and at home

can lead to you being fatigued, stressed, disgruntled and burnt out both as a parent and an employee.

If your level of stress is affecting your wellbeing, chances are it’s also affecting the wellbeing of your family. It is time to stop, think and make a change.

If you find yourself exhausted in the office, surviving off regular doses of coffee and collapsing when you get home instead of spending time with your child – you are suffering from stress to the extent that you are burning out. If you do not get this under control you can get seriously ill if you are not careful. Although you have duties both to your work and your family, damaging your health will be counterproductive to the support that you offer to both.

It is a challenge striking the right balance between hard work, quality parenting and good health. Here are some steps to help you keep the potential for burn out under control:

1. Improve your time management

Cut down on inefficient uses of your time and on activities that are draining you. Even if it’s tempting to go out on the town anytime the babysitter’s available, cut down on these late nights, especially when you have to get up early the next day. Prepare everything you can for the next day the evening before, once you put the children to bed. This includes clothes, documents, meeting preparation, presentation tools and so on. This will save panic and stress in the morning when you’re trying to get both yourself and your children ready. Create to do lists to help you stay on top of things. Use them as checklists you can tick off tasks from. It will keep you focused and also make you feel good when you have achieved each task. This applies to both parenting and work tasks-make separate lists if this gives you more clarity.

2. Watch your diet

What you eat can affect your energy levels and therefore how you cope with the amount of stress you are under. Cut down on ready meals, takeaways and fast food. Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit and monitor your diet as much as you can. Keep a food diary if writing things down helps you. The healthier you are the less susceptible to stress you will be. If you’re eating right, it will also be easier to encourage your children to have healthy eating habits from an early age.

3. Exercise

If you do not have time to exercise, make time! Early in the morning, after work, on the weekends or during your lunchtime perhaps. Maybe even flex your working hours to fit it in if you can. It is important. Keeping fit will make you feel better, give you more energy, make your brain work more efficiently and effectively and overall help your performance at work. You can also combine exercise with having fun with your children. For example you could go on a bike ride together, take a long walk in the woods or splash about in the local swimming pool.

4. Flex your working hours

Look into whether there is some scope for flexibility around your work. Talk to your boss or manager about this. Explore whether working from home is an option. Having just one day at home every now and again can really help with your energy levels by cutting out travel and giving you more control over when and how you work. It also gives you more time and opportunity for sorting things out from a parenting point of view, be it helping your child with his or her homework or registering them for a new club.

If it suits the timing of the school run, ask if you get into work slightly earlier and leave earlier, or get in later and stay later in order to avoid rush hour and traffic. You can reduce the time needed to travel and hence save a lot of energy, especially if you do have a school run to contend with as well as getting to work.

5. Manage your workload

If your workload is overwhelming and too much to handle, see if you can delegate it or get your colleagues and team mates to help out with different elements to spread the load. However, be careful not to assume that co-workers without dependents will necessarily have lots more time or less stress than you! It is important that you communicate what you are doing with those you are working with. This also applies to communication with your partner, nanny, schoolteachers and the children themselves. Even if your children are too young to understand exactly why Mummy will be home late, explaining things to them will help you form a bond of communication with them that can last a lifetime.

By Nisa Chitakasem -Founder of Position Ignition, a modern day careers advisory firm for professionals offering help around careers, transition and personal & professional development