Anxiety and returning to work as a mum

Cat Prestipino
5min read

Women are more likely to experience anxiety than men. Part of the reason lies in societal expectations of a woman to do it all and do it well - have an amazing career, find the perfect partner, have a beautiful baby (and then look like you haven’t had a baby within a week), have a magazine worthy home….

I got news for you. You’re not superwoman.

The average Australian woman takes just 16 weeks maternity leave according to the Pregnancy and Employment Transition Report. That’s a very short time to transition from your pre-baby life, to physically and psychologically recover from the birth, create order from the chaos that is a newborn baby and find your new rhythm as a family. When you try to return to be a productive team member in an office environment - wowzers! - it’s little wonder that the return to work can be one of the most anxiety-inducing times in a woman’s life.

This is a time of transition and change and it will take some time before it will feel routine again. Here are some great tips (including some from our awesome Caia practitioners) on how to make the transition easier:

Understand you will have a lot of emotions, and that’s ok

I repeat, this is a time of transition and change. You’ve been through the wringer, physically and mentally. You’re sleep deprived and losing the nutrients your body needs to function at its peak. And then there are those pesky hormones that seem to flood our bodies continuously. They go into overdrive after you’ve had a baby.

It’s perfectly normal that you’re going to feel like your on an emotional rollercoaster for a little bit. This is one of those times that you should go easy on yourself and know that it will get easier.

Talk about sharing the unpaid work

Over 80% of women do the majority of unpaid work at home - and this doesn’t change even if they’re the breadwinner! Transitioning back to work is a great time to talk about how you and your partner will manage the unpaid work (including childcare).

You need to have a very real, very practical conversation with agreed outcomes at the end. If you can afford it, talk about outsourcing to make your lives easier. Lorraine Murphy, entrepreneur, talks about her outsourcing matrix. She works out her hourly cost and, if it costs more for you to do it and you don’t love it, then outsource it. This might be having ready meals once or twice a week, getting a cleaner or sending the laundry out.

What you can’t outsource, talk about how you’re going to manage it and what each of you expect. And then, this is the hardest part, put down the mental burden of things that aren’t your tasks. They might not get done how you would do them but they will get done and it will be fine.

Have a plan (and a backup plan)

You’ve probably been researching daycare centres since you fell pregnant, but make sure you’ve got some backup plans. Children often get sick (particularly when they start at daycare) and may not be allowed to attend until they’re well again. Make sure you have a backup plan of who stays home with your child or, if you’re relying on less formal childcare arrangements like grandparents, who stays home when that carer gets sick.

If you’ve already got your backup plans in place before you go back to work as a parent, you’ll go into less of a tailspin when the inevitable happens.

Practice your morning routine

Mornings are always the hardest part of the day. Before you go back to work, have a few practice runs of what the morning will look like - what time are you getting up, who’s getting the baby ready, who’s in the shower when.

Make sure you also include some wiggle room for unforeseen disasters (like a spit up incident just as everyone’s walking out the door). If you know you have time to manage these incidents, it will reduce your anxiety levels when it happens.

Have an open conversation with your workplace

I love the phrase “transitioning back to work” because it is a transition. You’re not the same person you were before you had your baby. It’s a life changing event!

Wendy Gilmore, founder and counsellor at Mind Momentum, mainly works with mums returning to work. Her advice is to have an open, honest conversation with your manager or someone in HR about what you’re going through. It might be that sleep deprivation is getting the better of you. It might finding a clean, quiet, private space to pump. It might be that you don’t have your pre-baby confidence right now.

If you’re not confident having that conversation, Penny Myerscough, senior consultant psychologist at the Centre for Corporate Health, recommends phrasing it as “just for now”. Just like any other project, if you saw there was some element that needed extra support to be delivered on time, you would shift resources towards it. That is all you’re asking for, resources being shifted towards you for a short space of time.

If you’re able to have an open, honest conversation about what’s going on and where your head is at, then the business can help you come up with options to support your return to work.

Have someone you can talk to (preferably another mum)

You are going to be on an emotional rollercoaster. You are going to feel all the emotions. Some women feel relieved to talk to adults. Some women feel extreme guilt about leaving their baby. Some women feel completely overwhelmed by the task of doing both. Some women feel angry that they have to make the choice. Some women feel all of this in the space of ten minutes!

Having a person, particularly another mum who’s done this or is always going through it, that you can have a coffee with once a week can be extremely helpful. Feeling that you’re not alone is incredibly important (and you’re not, every woman who transitions back to work as a mum goes through this).

Find some "me" time

You are going to feel overwhelmed and pulled in different directions. It’s important that you also do something that helps you destress and be in the best headspace to tackle everything that’s coming at you. This might be as simple as a 20 minute walk at lunchtime or having a coffee each day by yourself in a cafe or doing yoga once or twice a week.

As women, we often put the needs of others first but it’s so important that you have a chance to recharge your batteries otherwise you’ll have nothing left to give.

If you need more help, get it.

If you need more help, it’s really important that you get it. A lot of companies have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) where you can get a certain number of sessions with a counsellor to support you through your transition back to work. Otherwise, we have a number of counsellors and support people at Caia who will be able to help you develop strategies to manage your transition to being a working parent.