Managing stress when returning to work

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Motherhood is already a full-time job, and if you’re also working (part or full-time) you’ll have a lot to juggle. Two jobs (especially the one where you’re raising a tiny person) will undoubtedly bring some amount of stress, but how you handle that stress can have a tremendous impact on your physical and emotional well-being.

Returning to work

The initial return to work can feel especially daunting after several weeks or months home with your new addition. Your “time off” may have included some of the most exciting, joyous, exhausting, and overwhelming weeks of your life. You probably have a range of feelings about being away from your baby – from sad about leaving her to relief for re-entering the adult world. Remember that you are not alone and most women feel a fair amount of stress when making this transition. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust to this “new normal.” The stress will lessen over time with proper planning and the right outlook.

The daily grind

Once you’ve adjusted to your new life as a working mama, you’re sure to have a full plate and very little free time. Although your initial worries may have dissipated, new stressors can and will crop up – everything from struggling to get dinner on the table to worrying about your baby’s cold while you’re stuck at the office. It’s important to have good strategies in place to both minimize and manage your stress so you can feel healthy, sane, and ready to take good care of your baby. Read What to Do to learn some stress management techniques.

What to Do

Take care of yourself

Being well-rested, well-fed, and well-hydrated will do wonders for your health, not to mention your outlook on life. Fit in time for sleep, exercise, and doctor’s visits – as in, ‘remember to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help others so that you can help others’! Take breathers before you reach your breaking point, make time for yourself on the weekends every once in a while, and have fun play-time with your baby – sometimes the chores can wait.

Have a plan in place before returning to work

Taking the time to think through all of the logistics that go into coordinating your and your baby’s day will help eliminate some of the anxiety and stress about returning to work. Things to think about include:

  • Who will take care of your baby? Do you need to investigate daycares or interview nannies? If childcare is not coming to you, how will you get your baby where she needs to go and how long will it take?
  • If you plan to continue breastfeeding, establish your options, expectations, and any supports you’ll need for continued breastfeeding success. See Back to Work Breastfeeding Plan for specific recommendations.
  • What do you need packed and ready for your baby each day? Think about everything your baby might need for feeding, diapering, sleeping, and play-time. Don’t forget to keep an extra outfit or two in your baby’s bag, just in case.
  • What do you need packed and ready for yourself each day? Breast pump? Cooler? Water bottle? Lunch and snacks? Baby pictures?

Be comfortable and confident in your childcare provider

Having childcare you can trust and rely on is key to your peace of mind. If you have stress or doubts, don’t hesitate to look into other options. If you’re struggling with being away from your baby rather than embracing some time apart, explore any options that would allow you to work flex or part-time, or from home.

Make staying organized a top priority

Organization is key to spending your time effectively. Try making a list of the tasks you need to accomplish. It might help to designate chores (such as grocery shopping or laundry) to certain days of the week to make it easier to stay on top of things. Look for ways to take shortcuts when you’re feeling especially busy or stressed. For example, try a grocery or meal delivery service or treat yourself to a home cleaning service.

Be aware of what’s stressing you out

If a list helps, put it on paper (or in your phone). Decipher what is solvable by you or by someone you know, now (or if not now, when?) versus what is beyond your control or your ability to outsource. Then, make a separate list of must-dos or need-to-haves and nice-to-dos or nice-to-haves based on your values for yourself, your baby, and your family. Between these two lists, it will become clear where to put your efforts, and that alone will give you a much greater sense of command over your life.

Simplify your life and say no to what isn’t valuable (or healthy) for you

Get clear about what matters most to you and to put up boundaries as needed without apologizing.

Learn healthy de-stressing strategies

Yoga, massage and even the simple act of stretching or taking a deep breath can work wonders to relax and calm your body and mind. Try to get a workout in to clear your head and boost your endorphins. It’s ok if you don’t have time for the gym the way you did pre-baby. A brisk walk with your baby in the stroller before or after work or even a 10-minute walk alone or with colleagues at lunchtime can work wonders. See Creating stress-lowering routines for ideas and instructions.

Abandon the unhealthy de-stressing habits as they just compound stress over time

Don’t deal with stress in unhealthy ways. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or stress eating junk foods. These bad habits will not solve your stress but only exacerbate it.

Try to be flexible

Kids are unpredictable and unpredictability can cause a lot of stress. Acknowledge that things can (and will!) go wrong or not exactly according to your master plan. While you can’t control when these things happen, you can work on how you react to them. Try to keep your cool and go with the flow.

Be willing to ask for and accept help

Enlist your partner, family, friends, or other moms to help you. Delegate tasks when you’re able. If it’s financially feasible, consider a babysitter or cleaning service.

If you need professional support, speak to your health care provider about counseling to help you learn productive ways to deal with stress.

Surround yourself with a supportive network

Sometimes just talking to a trusted friend or family member can help relieve your stress. When you’re able, make some time to get out with friends or spend an hour by yourself to decompress. Connecting with other working moms can also provide a wonderful support network – some moms share childcare or trade errands to help take a load off!