Are you a stressed-out working parent? If so, you’re absolutely NOT alone.
Work-related stress is a real problem for us here in Ireland. As recently as 2017 (better late than never!) Irish employers were urged to act and The Health and Safety Authority launched a website and a new information campaign aimed at raising awareness of the damaging effects of work related stress.
In the US a study by the American Psychological Association showed that 75% of workers consider their jobs to be a major source of stress. More than 50% say stress negatively affects their productivity levels. Almost 50% say that they don’t taking vacations as a result of work-related stress. In addition, 50% are thinking about seeking a new, less-stressful position.
Work-related stress costs U.S. businesses roughly $300 billion a year as a result of absenteeism, reduced productivity levels, and employee turnover.
And what is the cost to parenting and families? It’s literally immeasurable of course, but we can hazard a guess can’t we? Pretty high I reckon. I see it in my therapy room every week.
Common Signs of Work-Related Stress
- Feeling ill before or on the way to work – including nausea and diarrhea
- Feeling disconnected from oneself and one’s partner &/or children
- ‘Snapping’ at children and/or partner
- Having an urge to run away or to hide
- Poor concentration and tiredness
- Poor ability to stick to discipline and consequences with children
- Mood swings and irritability
- Loss of sex drive
- Social withdrawal
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Impulsive behavior, emotional insecurity
- Loss of joy
- Heart palpitations, high blood pressure
- Insomnia, nightmares and sleep disturbances
I’m aware of course that lots of these are also symptoms of parenting….(attempt at humour…) but if they are more than occasional, and interfering with your functioning, parenting and capacity for joy then it’s worth addressing.
Some of these signs will show up only at work. Others may be experienced both at work and home. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that home life becomes “infected” by work life. After all, most working parents spend 8 or more hours a day, five or six days a week at work. That’s a lot.
And it can be hard to boundary and manage these parts of our lives. Particularly when we are under supported, under resourced or embarrassed. (There is of course, no need for shame – please know that).
Causes of Work-Related Stress
- Low salaries
- Excessive workloads
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement
- Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
- Lack of social support
- Not having enough control over job-related decisions
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations
- Fear of being laid off
Steps to Reducing the Stress
Now that we’ve covered the signs and possible cause of work-related stress, let’s go over the things we can due to reduce it.
First: Reducing the morning ‘getting-to-work’ stress
Work stress often begins at home, before you even get to work. Most parents will experience the morning chaos as stressful – getting kids up, clean, dressed, out to school/childcare/ whatever. And major difficulties arise when:
- everyone gets up too late
- parents do too much and start the day with overwhelm
- things are disorganized
This is when the yelling starts and the day has already become tainted somehow. It’s hard to shake this off and so a better start really sets us up to better manage whatever stress work might bring. If we can start a day with a feeling of achievement it absolutely does help set us and our kids up for a better day. Even if it’s just the satisfaction of making your own bed!
Mornings begin the night before: set a regular time to do everything you can possibly do the evening before (with the help of your partner and children – you’re neither invincible nor responsible for everything).
Establish helpful night-before-morning habits
- Put out the breakfast stuff on the table.
- Make yours and your kids lunches or agree that your partner, if you have one, does it. Teach older kids (7+) to do their own – they’re well able!
- Put out clothes (for younger kids – for older kids teach them to do it)
- Get PE equipment etc ready (and for older kids as above!) If they forget there will be consequences and allow them to learn from that. It won’t harm them!
- Consider adjusting bed time so that everyone can get up a little earlier.
- Use alarm clocks instead of devices like phones to discourage tech in the bedrooms and all the hassle that usually brings.
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Second: 10 tips to Reduce Work Stress
- Form Positive Relationships: Share your feelings, connect with colleagues (putting your phone away will help), lean of your friends and family. Access therapeutic support for a while if you think it would be helpful. Your workplace might have an EAP in place.
- Consider asking for reduced or adjusted hours to allow for parenting responsibilities.
- Start Exercising: Aim for 30 minutes a day and walking is just fine!
- Eat Healthy and Nutritious Foods: in particular avoid caffeine. Stress is already getting your heart and blood pressure up!
- Get Enough Sleep: Invest in an alarm clock and leave your phone in another room. Aim for 8 hours and NO SCREEN TIME for an hour before bed! (I know this is hard, but I can also tell you from experience that this works!)
- Prioritize and Organize: Plan breaks, prioritize (make a to-do list focussing on 2-3 tasks per week) and delegate where possible. Even if this feels like you’re losing an element of control, it’s good for you (and possibly the person you’re delegating to).
- Ask yourself if you might benefit by reporting the poor behaviour of a boss or colleague?
- Ask yourself if you need to change job or indeed career?
- Kick Your Bad ‘Head Habits’: Remember that perfection doesn’t exist. Neither as an employee, boos or parent.
- Don’t fear mistakes, allow yourself instead to learn from them. Be aware of any tendency to beat yourself up and be aware of the difference between things you can control and things you can’t! (Another personal learning in progress right there – it’s very, very common!)
- USE YOUR VACATION TIME FOR VACATIONS!! We all need and deserve time out. And our kids need rested, refreshed, balanced parents. You are constantly role modeling everything to your kids, including how to have a positive work-life balance
Here are two simple things that work for me and I share them with clients of all ages and occupations.
Practice Gratitude: I don’t mean cover yourself in incense, chant and expect all stress to magically disappear. But I DO mean take time, every day, to notice what’s going well.
What nutty hilarious thing did your child do that made you heart explode with joy and giggles? What worked out today, what didn’t go wrong that could have? What beauty did you see, what smiles did you receive, what kind words did you hear, what kind acts did you notice? What did you do for yourself or someone else? What and who have you got in your life that has value?
These things deserve to be noticed – you deserve that! I have a jar next to my bed and every night I write one or two words or sentences – it’s SO lovely to see it fill up. And it’s SO lovely to read through if I’ve had a crap day. (Yup, therapists have crap days too! #AllNormal)
Do something fun and creative: Anything! It could be a hobby, a club, a blog. I have a secret second blog and I get great fun out of it! Fun can be solitary or in a group – it really doesn’t matter because we all have different ideas of what fun is. Fun is a basic need and you deserve that too. And the more fun your kids see you have – well – you know where I’m going with that one right?