Going back to work after maternity or adoptive leave, and having someone else mind your child as you work can evoke feelings of anxiety, even months out from the actual date of return. Thoughts like “how am I going to leave my baby?” or “will she think that I am abandoning her?” or “how will I juggle it all?” or “can I even do my job anymore?” are common worries for a mum going back to work. These can accumulate and build up until there is a constant state of tension as the date for returning back to work outside the home nears. This can manifest itself in problems with sleep, appetite and worry.
Anxiety is the body’s emotional and physical response to a perception of threat. From an evolutionary point of view, it is a very useful and indeed vital emotion for us to have. Think about the days of the caveman and being in a jungle and hearing a twig crack nearby – is it a predator out hunting who sees you as prey? Is it your brothers coming to help you with your own hunting-and-gathering process? The ensuing butterflies in the stomach occur because the digestive process slows down, because it is more important for blood flow to divert to your organs and limbs to enable you to flight, flee or freeze as necessary. The racing mind occurs as you jump from possibility to possibility, trying to see what is actually occurring. Essentially, your sympathetic nervous system has kicked into gear to equip you with the hormones and other ingredients necessary to deal with this potentially life-threatening situation. So the fight, flight or freeze response is your body’s reaction to anxiety or threat.
Going back to work after being at home with a new baby may not be life threatening but it certainly presents other possibilities for threat – to your time spent with your baby, to your current equilibrium at home, to your feelings of comfort and confidence in your workplace. So, it is easy to see why your sympathetic nervous system may be activated as you think about making the transition from being at home with your baby to being back at work and needing to deliver performances there as well as juggle home life, too.
So what can you do about this pervading feeling of anxiety that can increase the nearer it comes to the date for going back?
1. Answer the worries
Finish the sentences of the worries that are in your head. Actually write each worry down and get them out of your head, and then finish the sentences by coming up with solutions for what is worrying you.
How will you cope with leaving your baby, for example? Through recommendations will you find an experienced and trusted minder? Will you agree with them a plan for introducing your child to them? Will you grade that exposure of your child to the childminder or crèche so that they get used to it gently and at their pace? Will you have in place good, clear lines of communication so that you will be informed if your child is ill during the day at crèche? Will you go prepared to that first week back armed equally with tissues and a resolve that this will likely be uncomfortable but it will pass and that both you and your baby will adjust?
By answering these worries you reduce the perception of threat by thinking it through and showing yourself how you will be able to leave your child – by setting things up so that you know that they will be safe and well cared for. This will take the edge off those anxious feelings and drop them down a notch or two, making them less uncomfortable and more bearable. They will naturally still be there on some level but they will be less intrusive and more manageable.
2. Access your strengths and resources
Within yourself and within your circle of family and friends you have many strengths and many resources, and when going through a time of change it is useful to access both of these.
So, in terms of your own strengths, you might think back to other situations in life that you have successfully navigated through in the past. Remind yourself of the skills and qualities that got you through those situations. Planning skills, organisational skills, interpersonal skills, humour, perspective and determination are all useful attributes for a situation like this, so take the time to think about what you have in your armoury to help you.
In terms of your resources, you may have trusted family or friends who have already gone down this path before you, who can give the odd tip of what they found helpful. This is not about asking the world and getting all sorts of opinions, but about recognising that someone in your circle may actually be a great person to talk to at this time. Someone who transitioned well back into their job, for example, and who can talk to you about managing your expectations would be useful to access. You will know instinctively who that person is even as you read this.
Another resource is, of course, MummyPages – this is literally a community who has been or is currently going through what you are going through. So reach out and connect and see what advice is out there to help you feel better equipped to handle the transition back to work from being at home with your child.
Even doing these two tips will break the cycle of anxiety and help move you into a more useful and more manageable state so that you can actually enjoy the time that you have left at home with your child and then move on to the next phase in all your lives with greater ease.
Final thought: Knowing what must be done does away with fear” (Rosa Parks).
Performance and Life Coach