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Working Mothers’ Stress

By Gabriele Wehler

You’re intelligent, hard working, busy and successful – but why do you feel so bad about it? How can you battle working mothers’ stress and guilt?

Current Reality – What Research Shows

I have conducted research on how stress and guilt of being a working mother affects the individual, the family and the workplace – the results of which are quite heartbreaking. Of the 201 responses, 91% experience moderate to extreme stress and 71% experience the same levels of guilt. Depression, social withdrawal, anger irritability, and aggression appeared to be common characteristics. Negative coping patterns include drug and alcohol abuse, unhealthy eating patterns and lack of exercise which all contribute further to stress leading to a never-ending negative cycle.

Working mothers are constantly trying to beat time for all the things they have to do. Interestingly, a pattern of prioritising occurred: work, children, partner, self. In this order they allocate time – and anger. Least time for self but most anger toward self. Anger and irritability occur due to stress – but of course we can’t risk losing our job – so the least amount of anger is expressed at work. Children are next in line – we let go a bit more but of course we love our children, so who does that leave to bear the brunt of the beating? Naturally, our beloved husband/partner. But we do love them all, we don’t actually want to be angry, so, we feel guilty and express the worst anger against ourselves – “I am a bad mother. I am bad wife”. Sound familiar? Can we ever get it right? We run after them, do the washing, cleaning, cooking, shopping, and pampering in order to make up. But who pampers us?

Break the Cycle

Stop here. What can be done to break this cycle? Can it be done? The answer is YES. After having run several workshops for working mothers to help reduce stress and guilt, a shift occurred in participants’ thoughts and behaviours. The outcome was that people reported feeling more balanced, at peace, and more focused at work; children became more peaceful and easier to get on with, and their husband had a happier wife.

Be Empowered – Some Strategies for Balance and Peace

So, what’s the secret? The secret is self awareness and being conscious of who you are, who you need to be, and what you can do to make a change. You can use these strategies to achieve this.

Stocktake

Make a list of the important things that make up your life and rate your level of satisfaction on a scale of 0-10. Pick an area you wish to improve, e.g. health and ask yourself what you could do right now to make a change. How realistic is this? How committed are you? When will you do this? Who do you need to engage for help? Then DO IT! Check on a weekly basis how it affected you and people around you. What can you do next?

Values

List what is important to you. Think of times when you were happy. That’s when your thoughts and your actions were aligned with your values. What are they? When something is not working well, stop and ask yourself: which of my values is missing? Where am I dis-aligned? If you’re acting authentically to your true beliefs and values, you’re ‘in the zone’. You’re happy or at least content and at peace. If you’re yelling at your children and later feel this nagging feeling in your gut, then maybe it’s guilt. Maybe love is one of your highest values. How did you express ‘love’ when you were angry? How much do you love yourself? How can you express love to yourself? What can you do to acknowledge yourself and be at peace?

Of course, there are so many things I could ask. But there is limited space here. We can only touch the tip of the iceberg, but still, you can begin to achieve results. Remember though, as my son’s school motto said: “Effort brings reward” or as my dad used to tell me: “Nothing comes from nothing as little as nothing turns into nothing”. You will have to be conscious about how you feel. Regularly stop and listen and watch what is happening inside. Then ask yourself ‘where am I dis-aligned? What can I do to re-align myself with my true being?’

Personality

We are all born with it. It’s an expression of our true self, instilled by nature and nurture early in life. If you have access to any personality tests or have done some, I highly recommend you do one or to look back into the results. Personally, I like the psycho-geometrics by Dr. Susan Dellinger. It’s visual, easy and effective. Learning who you are by nature will tell you how you think and act, your strengths and your barriers. Knowing about the different types will assist you in spotting your weaknesses and switching place with ‘someone else’. Just knowing the strength of a different personality trait will give you an idea of what you could do to get positive results if you’re not getting what you want by behaving your natural way.

Look at your life, in an area that your satisfaction is low and ask yourself who am I here? What creates this? Who do I need to be and what I can I do differently to get a positive outcome? Here it is again: self awareness and being conscious.

Stress Management

Most people know that diet, exercise and time management are vital to combat stress management. So, why do so many still feel that life is getting on top of us instead of us getting on top of life How many of you DO eat healthy? How much exercise DO you do? And how much ‘me’ time is on the calendar? That’s right. One way to combat stress is to allow time out, recovery time. If you struggle finding this time, then add it to your diary, have a ‘meeting’ with yourself.

Me Time

YOU are important. What happens if you keep on running on full steam? Where will it leave your loved ones when you collapse and can’t go any further? Remember, when you’re flying and the mask drops down, who do you need to attend first? You! So you survive and are able to keep on giving and looking after others. In order to reduce stress, ask yourself: when am I taking time off today? Tomorrow? This week? What can you do that will make you feel good and relaxed? How much time do you need? Sometimes spending just 5 minutes quietly having a cup of tea while sitting in the sun, feet up, can do wonders. Be realistic. It doesn’t need to be the 2hr run or gym visit. Small amounts of regular quality time add up too.

Time Management

Make a daily to-do list. Prioritise. Keep the list short and manageable. No more than five items, preferably three. Tick them off when done. It feels good to have something accomplished. If it’s a long list, then shorten it to a ‘must-do’ list. These are the things that need to be done. Who can you ask for help? Who else? Stop being the martyr trying to do all yourself. Engage the kids and your partner/husband. For a week list all the things you do on a daily basis, even the small stuff. Then look at the list and check repetitive jobs. Apply the DDDS technique. What can be deleted, delayed, delegated, or streamlined? You will be surprised how much time you can free up. How can you use this time for yourself or for quality time with the family?

Changing Beliefs

This can be a bit of a challenge to do by yourself, so some guidance from a coach is useful. If you have already one, great; if not, find one. But if you think you want to make a start by yourself, here are just a few things that might get you started. When you’re feeling like you’re a bad mother or wife, list all the things you DO for the children and/or your husband. Compare it with the donut – stop looking at the hole, the small bit you can’t eat, focus on the big yummy piece you can eat. Look at what you can do and what you have accomplished, not the things you haven’t done or can’t do. Every night list at least three things you did well today.

Remember the Benefits of Working

When it comes to feeling guilty about being a working mother and having concerns that you don’t have enough time for your family: make a list of all the benefits that come along with going to work. This is not just the money and the fact you provide a better lifestyle. What exactly do you provide? What is the benefit for yourself, for the children, for your partner? Who else benefits? In what way? What do you model to your family? What will they see, learn and believe by watching mum leaving home nicely dressed, having a career? Watch what happens to the guilt when you do this exercise. What are the benefits of your child being in day-care? Make a list. What would it be like if you would be at home all day? What impact would this have on you, your family? Be specific: write down everything that comes to your mind. These are five powerful tools many working mothers have used to switch their mindset. Set yourself different goals every week and look at the results the next week. Acknowledge yourself. Keep working on yourself. You’re a marvel and it’s worth every minute you’re spending on yourself whether by actively doing something or just thinking positively about yourself. Be aware. Be conscious. Love and acknowledge yourself.

You’re worth it!

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