Parenting is hard work. So is building a career. Combining the two? Well, that's a recipe for burnout – something all too many mothers know. Case in point: a 2019 study from Britain's University of Manchester and the University of Essex found women with two children plus a full-time job were 40 per cent more stressed than those who worked full-time but didn't have children.
Chronic stress – defined as long-term or ongoing stress – can have many side effects, including irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia. In the worst cases, it can lead to complete burnout, leaving sufferers exhausted and unable to function.
If you recognise signs of stress in your life, here are some tips to help you feel healthier, happier and more in control.
Block out time for yourself
You work long hours and feel endless guilt at how little face time you get with your family. The last thing you can allow yourself is time to relax or enjoy something on your own, right? Wrong. Factoring in space where you can be someone other than Mum or whatever your title is at work is not selfishness, it's survival.
"When you look after your own physical and emotional needs, you will better manage your emotions, which will in turn lead to a better relationship and filter down to your child," says Adam Zargar, director of UAE Coaching. "As cabin crew say when you board a plane, put your own mask on before helping your child."
Set expectations for nannies
Do you worry your nanny is letting your children eat sweets all day, or that they're allowing too much screen time? Entrusting your children to someone outside the family can be a big challenge for working mums. That's why it's important to set expectations so you feel confident they are being looked after in a way that sits well with you. Communicating these expectations early on in your relationship with your nanny or childcare provider can prevent awkward situations later.
Lily Kandalaft, a mum of three and the founder of Malaak childcare services, says: "Clear communication is essential. It is important to share your expectations and preferences with your childcare provider as early as possible in the relationship and guide them, at least in the beginning, to ensure their ways of care are according to your specific preferences. Constant communication is also important – this includes ongoing honest feedback from both parties to ensure the relationship works in the long term as well."
Speak to your employer
Wouldn't it be great if we could be in two places at once? If we could drop the children at school while also conducting a client meeting? Sadly, the laws of the universe prevent that happening, but it may be possible to adjust your working hours so you can find a bit more balance.
Sixty per cent of employees in the Emirates work remotely at least one day a week, a 2018 study by International Workplace Group found. Talk to your manager about what changes you might be able to make that will help to reduce the pressure. Remember, it's not only good for you, it's good for the business, too.
"Flexible working is one of the most requested benefits in the UAE, according to our 2020 salary guide," says Gareth El Mettouri, associate director at recruitment agency Robert Half UAE. "Benefits such as the option to work from home, compressed hours or flexible schedules are attractive to employees who desire a healthy work-life balance, and are mutually beneficial to employees and businesses."
Focus on quality over quantity
Worrying about how much time you spend with your children can be counterproductive. By loading guilt on to yourself, you're only adding to your stress level, making you less able to enjoy time with your family when you can. Try to schedule in little moments of quality time so that when you do have to go to work – or book that time out for yourself – you can do so knowing you've done your very best as a parent. "If you can't be home for a family dinner, try to arrange a family breakfast instead," Zargar says. "It does not need to be long, just truly focused. Turn off your phone and be in the moment, free from distractions."
Eat a healthy diet
Chances are you spend a lot of time thinking about how well nourished your children are, but how good are you at making sure you’re getting a rounded diet?
We all know we tend to get "hangry" when we haven't eaten enough. But did you know that not getting the right balance of certain types of food can also play a part in affecting your mood? For example, a lack of folate (found in green vegetables and citrus fruits, among other things) increases the risk of depression.
Sleep and exercise are also important, so make sure you’re not burning too much midnight oil and get yourself to the gym or stick on a yoga DVD to keep your physical health in check.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Stress, burnout and mental health are being talked about more and more these days, whether by celebrities or mums at the school gate. However, it can still be challenging to admit that you’re struggling to keep all those plates spinning.
Support is vital, though, and when you’re finding it all too much, it’s important to surround yourself with people who understand where you’re at and be honest about how you’re feeling.
"Every mother is struggling," Kandalaft says. "It's important to surround yourselves with mums who are honest about their parenting journey – both the highs and the lows. Learn from each other, share hilarious parenting moments, support each other and be there for each other – we all need a supportive village.
"We all have the same goal of raising happy, confident children, so it's so powerful when mums get together and support and empower one another."
Accept it’s OK to be good enough
In this social media-filtered world, it can feel as though everyone's life is perfect – except our own. Other people's kids are doing better at school, their houses are neater, their wardrobes more on trend. But in reality, everyone is juggling their own set of challenges.
“You can’t do it all and it’s crucial to understand that nothing can be perfect,” says mum of two Elli Kasbi, founder of Elli Junior children accessories, toys and interiors. “You need to cut yourself some slack – self-love and self-care is super-important. I have definitely felt pressure, but I define how a good mum and a good life should be and I keep myself accountable and I try not to compare myself to anyone else. We all prioritise differently and what’s important for me might not be important for you. I try to compare myself with my own standard and not to others.”