Childcare sorted? Check. New clothes? Check. Self-care strategy? Wait, what?
Returning to work after having a child is both rewarding and challenging. I have already written about the practical side of returning to work after maternity leave and about the emotional doubts which come from stepping back into the office. Today I want to talk to you about managing your self-care and keeping yourself topped up.
As working parents, we have to juggle many plates and the first one to drop? Our self-care strategy. The irony is of course that it is self-care which re-fuels us and enables us to carry on. It is exactly what we need when facing new challenges, routines and emotions. So whether you are about to return to work or you have been back a while, if you haven’t been working on your self-care strategy then now is the time.
Creating a self-care strategy
What refuels you and refills your cup is unique to you. It follows therefore that your self-care strategy will be unique too. Self-care ensures you can continue to work for the long haul; this is a marathon and not a sprint. Think carefully about what uniquely energizes you. For instance, going out with a group of friends may be energizing for one person and draining for another. Pay attention to your own unique responses to situations and experiences.
Re-framing your motivation
Self-care is important, you already know that. I would like you to think for a moment about why it is important to and for you. Consider what having that time (however long ‘that time’ is) to refuel gives you and how you refuel best. I would encourage you to get specific about it so saying ‘self-care makes me feel better’ is great, but it’s vague. It also isn’t enough to motivate you when you have a million other things going on. Perhaps consider:
- What is something you can do which will give you immediate calm/relaxation/joy, [insert a feeling of choice]
- What is going to make you act when you have other projects/people vying for your time?
- What do you enjoy doing?
By reframing our ‘why’ for self-care it allows us to find more consistent ways to incorporate it into our lives. For example, when I returned to work one way I refilled my cup was running. I considered what I needed to do to ensure I got my run in whilst I was at work, how much time it would take and focused on the benefits of taking that time out of my working day.
It may seem like *another* thing to add to your already very busy to-do list but the intention is to prioritise yourself within your day. By consciously adding self-care routines into your day, you’re more likely to be happier within yourself – helping you to perform better at work and at home. Winner.
Being self-aware is part of your self-care strategy. It allows you to assess where you are in any given moment. So are you feeling motivated? Stressed? Guilty? Happy? If you are feeling sad or upset then taking a step back to assess your situation and what caused the feeling in the first place is great practice. Once you understand your trigger points you can work to create coping strategies to deal with similar situations.
Relieve the tension
Once you know why you are feeling sad then talk to someone, have a cry or find a way to release the tension that works for you (and is appropriate workplace behaviour). Processing your feelings is important and it’ll help you work out a plan of action.
Nourish your body
It’s often easy to overlook what we’re putting in our bodies when we’re busy with back-to-back meetings. We might grab something because it’s quick and easy, and it will fill us up for a few hours. Or, we’ll skip a meal altogether in favour of a hot cup of caffeine. We might also do similar at home. But it’s not healthy and it won’t sustain you in the long term. Try focusing on foods which nourish you and staying hydrated (something I am horrendous at myself!). Both will keep your mood boosted and make you more productive.
I want to come back to my run for a moment. I had an hour for lunch and twice a week I would take 45 mins and go for a 30 min run (plus time to shower/change etc). I didn’t have to think about childcare. I didn’t have to feel guilty about taking time for me. I just ran and I enjoyed it. I also knew I then didn’t need to run again during the week and so could spend that time doing other things. It was liberating. As was having a hot cup of tea and adult conversation!
Taking your lunch break, ideally away from your desk is so important. Get outside, go for coffee with a friend, read a book, whatever nourishes your mind and soul.
It’s OK to ask for help
Returning to work can be overwhelming, it is for everyone. Especially when we return to work after a long break we feel the need to prove ourselves and to do our best. However, a huge to-do list or big expectations can cause us to feel overworked. But this shouldn’t be a normal state of being at work – and if it is, you should take steps to change this. Speak to your manager, someone in HR, or if it’s really too much (or nothing is done about the problem), consider moving on to another role. (Something I can support you with)
While we usually get our support from talking to friends and family or simply taking a break, sometimes more is needed. That’s where people like me come in; consider talking to a professional. Talking to a coach is a great way to get the ball rolling – regardless of whether you want to leave or stay. Not only can we help you to develop and hone your skills, we can help you in prioritising other aspects of your life, too – not to mention encouraging you to put yourself first.
As much as self-care is about looking after yourself, asking for further support may be what you need. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and caring for yourself should not make you feel guilty – it’s self-care and it is essential.