Return to work from maternity leave can be stressful and cause anxiety, especially during the pandemic.
I had spent the past year at home, dedicating every single waking moment (and many of the non-waking ones too!), to this small, beautiful wonder that was my baby. I hadn’t dealt with a single work email or meeting, and my colleagues were now Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy. The power suits and red high heels had been replaced with joggers and a comfy t-shirt. The two hours daily commute were replaced with gentle strolls around the park. I was well and truly immersed in an entirely different world.
For many women, myself included, the thought of returning from maternity leave and handing over my child to someone else, caused a level of anxiety that was fever pitch. Here are my tips for getting through this anxious period in one piece:
- Get some time outside. Give yourself a lunch break away from your desk and go for a walk. Even a 15/20 minute brisk walk gives your body and mind a ‘re-set’ and lifts your mood. This gives you time to check in with your child’s caregiver who can reassure you that they’re doing fine without you (fingers crossed!) or just have this time for you. It also gives you some much-needed vitamin D which is so essential for our immunity (this becomes even more important as your child generously shares all their nursery germs with you). You may also like to top up with supplemental vitamin D, particularly during the winter months. I recommend the ‘Better You’ spray.
- Get sleep and rest whenever you can. You are probably still having broken nights, but the chances are that your workload hasn’t been adjusted to reflect the fact you are coping on such little sleep! Ask a partner or friend to allow you to catch up on sleep at the weekend wherever possible or grab a little cat nap on the train/bus on your commute (just remember to set the alarm or you may end up in Luton like I did). If your racing mind is stopping you from grabbing that sleep when a sleep window arises (how frustrating is that!!?), try having a warm bath before bed with a few drops of lavender essential oil and two full cups of Epsom bath salts (these contain a highly absorbable form of magnesium that helps induce sleep). Sleep helps lower cortisol (our stress hormone), which can cause anxious feelings.
- Maximise your nutrition. Nutritional deficiencies can play a big part in anxiety, particularly B6, which has an important role in mental health as it is required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters (important brain chemicals). B vitamins are also very important for energy production. Turkey, chicken, sweet potato and bananas are all good sources.
- Limit caffeine. It is extremely tempting to reach for the endless coffee refills to compensate for broken nights but try to limit your intake to one cup of coffee in the morning but make it count – enjoy the whole cup (still hot!!) at work, rather than grabbing a rushed cuppa before you leave the house. Caffeine is very stimulating and can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Green tea is an excellent option as it has very little caffeine but also contains L-theanine, an amino acid which is very helpful for anxious feelings. Stay hydrated with 2 litres of filtered water a day – fill up a one-litre water bottle and make sure you drink and refill it halfway through your day.
- Focus on nourishment. Choose food that is going to sustain you all day – this means focusing on things that will balance your blood sugar (and hormones) and not give you the highs followed by the slumps. Key to this is making sure you have some protein with every meal (chicken, eggs, tofu, beans, lentils). See my download on my website for ideas of quick, nutritious and filling lunches you can take to work. Consider preparing these the night before or doing some bulk prep at the weekends to make your mornings less stressful. This handout also includes the most healthy options on the high street for the days you don’t have time to prepare your own food.
- Finally, meditation really does help to lessen feelings of anxiety. Time may not be your friend but consider doing a short one when you wake up or on your commute (headphones and an eye mask on, alarm set…just in case!). ‘Insight Timer’ and ‘Calm’ are good apps for meditation. And if you are feeling particularly overwhelmed and need to turn your superhero cape into a blanket, I really recommend Adrienne’s lovely short ‘Meditation for self-love’ on YouTube.
I hope these tips help ease the transition back from maternity leave. Trust your instincts and be kind to yourself. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
About the Author:
Katherine Horstmann is a Nutritional Therapist who helps mums who are struggling with depression, anxiety, low mood or general overwhelm, to feel more like themselves again. After managing to transform her own mental health, she uses her personal experience, nutritional and lifestyle strategies to deliver personalised solutions that help women remember ‘what good felt like’.