How to manage stress as a working mom
As a working mom with three kids, I spent many years struggling to cope with stress and going on a wild goose chase after the mythical "work-life balance" health magazines kept telling me about. I’m not alone. Studies show that job authority increases depression symptoms in women, but not in men.
Women who have the authority to make hiring decisions and determine salary levels for employees are more likely to suffer from depression than women who are not in positions of authority at work. I know the feeling well - I’ve been a marketing director for several major projects over the past decade. I love my job, but sometimes I want nothing more than to hand over my responsibilities and hide out on a beach in Thailand.
Why does this happen?
One big reason is chronic stress. For several years after my twins were born, I didn’t come home to relax; I came home to do more work. Because women are also often responsible for running the household and taking care of children, we never really get a break from a stressful workday.
Hormones also play a role. We know this, which is why nobody in their right mind would every mess with a pregnant lady. After giving birth, our body produces oxytocin whenever we spend time with the child. Spending time away from my kids triggered oxytocin withdrawal, leaving me feeling down, guilty, and drained at the end of the day.
Can I just power through it?
That’s what I thought at first. Boy was I wrong. Not only is it exhausting, it turns out that kind of approach doesn’t do anybody much good.
Learning how to be happy is important if you want to raise happy kids. The authors of Freakonomics have found that who we are influences our children a lot more than what we teach them. Want your kids to be literate? Don’t force them to read. Instead, make sure they see you reading after dinner every night. The same principle applies to happiness.
How do I fix it?
There are a few tips that worked for me.
Remember, it’s just hormones
Feeling down about working instead of spending time with kids is often just a hormonal reaction. Once you accept that your feelings aren’t always rational and there really is no good reason to attend every single PTA meeting, it’s much easier to brush unjustified guilt aside. You can also try the following techniques:
- To keep your dopamine levels up, celebrate small victories and break up big goals into manageable tasks.
- To boost endorphine levels, give yourself space to laugh, cry, and exercise.
- Low on oxytocin? Get a massage, give your friend or partner a hug, and spend time bonding with others.
- To produce serotonin, try daily affirmations, thinking back on happy moments, and remind yourself to be grateful for what you have
Self-care is important
Your children need you to be happy, healthy, and full of energy. You can't be any of these things when you're stressed. Some tips to keep in mind:
- Delegate tasks at home. We often take on everything because we’re afraid somebody else won’t be able to get the job done. Don’t worry, they’ll learn.
- Keep a list of things you plan to do for yourself this week/month
- Ask for attention from your loved ones. Remember, they want to make you happy. Let them know how they can help.
Technology is your friend
There are plenty of apps that can help you stay on track. For example, you can use Happify to throw all your negative thoughts down a deep dark well at the end of the day.
Managing my lifestyle with Welltory is what ultimately helped me. The app is a stress & energy tracker that teaches you how to adjust your lifestyle in a way that keeps your stress levels down and boosts your energy levels. For example, I learned that afternoon walks are a great way to cut down on stress. As a bonus, they also keep me from wanting to crawl under my desk and hide by the time 7pm rolls around.
Some other surprising things that yielded measurable results included cutting back on protein, switching to a smart alarm clock, and turning off my computer at least 2 hours before going to bed.
Welltory made it easier for me to get in touch with my body and understand what was going on. Once I learned how to measure stress, I could control it.
Find a workout routine
There is a reason exercise is so great at helping you cut down on stress. Physiologically, your body is wired to have a physical reaction to stress. It’s called the fight or flight response.
Going to the gym wasn’t a huge mood booster for me. Running, on the other hand, worked wonders.
I’ve been tracking my steps with Google fit, and then checked out how much my stress drops when I get to do a lot of running. The results were impressive.
Watch your diet
We usually reach for comfort foods to give us that immediate rush of energy when we're stressed - a candy bar, french fries, fast carbs, and treats packed with sugar. Unfortunately, these foods mess with your brain's sensitivity to serotonin and trigger depression.
The solution? Go for foods rich in tryptophan: turkey, bananas, milk, yogurt, eggs, meat, nuts, beans, fish and cheese.
Some other rules to keep in mind:
- Keep away from processed foods or high glycemic index foods like burgers and pizza - they’re major downers
- Go for grass-fed beef and wild salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce depression symptoms
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Studies show they increase your happiness levels
- Strive for variety. A diverse diet will ensure that your brain is getting all the nutrients it needs to function properly