Managing mental health as a mum in the workplace
I returned to work full time when my son was 10 months old. My husband, who is self-employed, took on the role of full-time parent so I didn’t have to go through that gut-wrenching feeling of leaving my small baby with strangers in a daycare setting. This didn’t make things any easier, however, when I needed to get out of the house at 6.45am while my baby was screaming for me, arms stretched out, as I tried to walk out the door.
I didn’t suffer from anxiety at that point (although I was highly stressed), but several years later I experienced an episode of severe anxiety when I went through an involuntary redundancy from the job I’d worked in for almost ten years.
Now I was the sole income earner for our family with two children (my daughter was barely a year old). I felt alienated at work and the redundancy process was intense, protracted as well as awful and frankly, pretty ugly. On top of that, the kids weren’t sleeping through the night, so neither was I.
I felt, quite literally, ill from the moment I woke up in the morning until when I went to bed at night. I wandered through the days, constantly tearful and feeling a heightened sense of panic. I couldn’t seem to take a full breath of air into my lungs but I still had to do a full day’s work then come home and take over the childcare from my husband. Finally, at the insistence of my husband, I booked an appointment to see my doctor and, hyperventilating and with tears streaming down my face, I told him I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
He very kindly told me I was suffering with anxiety and assured me I’d be ok, but insisted I needed rest and signed me off work. Many fellow mums will be walking out the door, leaving their young children or babies, and silently suffering anxiety or a mental health related illness.
Some may be feeling like I did, not quite sure why they feel so terrible, others might be using prescribed medication, but all will still have to carry on with their lives and their careers as ‘normal’ when feeling anything but. Some may have even forgotten what ‘normal’ is.
It is very difficult, sometimes almost impossible, to give yourself a chance to let your body and mind recover when you have no choice but to keep going. Take into consideration the statistics that suggest that the typical parent has just 30 minutes to themselves a day and it’s no wonder that a lot of mothers are running on empty.
My outlets for maintaining my own mental health and wellbeing are exercise and staying in touch with friends. I also try to keep my home and work life organised. It has been proven that being organised not only improves sleep and relationships but also reduces stress, depression and anxiety and makes you more productive.
When I had kids, I decided I’d always try to keep up with them. So, I try to involve my children in my exercise routine, taking them out for a jog on the weekends. It’s a lot slower, but often more enjoyable and fun in their company. As well as investing in an adult scooter to speed around on, now they’re older I’ve even started skateboarding (with lots of padding!).
Talking is always a good idea. When I suffered from anxiety, I confided in a small group of friends and told them what I was going through and discovered two of them had gone through their own mental health struggles too.
Supporting friends with their mental health issues can also be good for our own self-esteem. Recently a friend confided to our mum’s group that her husband was suffering from anxiety. She burst out crying. We were the first people she had told. She runs a successful business, has a small baby and a young daughter and hadn’t discussed it with anyone. Her relief was palpable.
Being a working mum is always going to be a juggling act. As I start my journey back into employment after a career break, I know being organised and prioritising exercise and self-care into my weekly routine will have a positive effect on my mental and physical health and nurture my wellbeing.
Big thank you to Tracy for her honesty and a very moving, but real story. Tracy’s story is one of the reasons we have introduced mental health awareness and stress management into all our training courses. You can read more about this HERE
If like Tracy, you would like to get yourself back into work, register your interest for one of our training courses HERE