Pregnancy and Postpartum

7 Tips for Parents Going Back to Work

How are you feeling about going back to work? The past few months have been all about baby, and now you’re suddenly expected to balance work, childcare, and other needs. There’s no way this can go smoothly.

If you’re among the many, returning back to work after maternity leave (or paternity leave) can be a difficult transition. Here are seven tips that can help you along your emotional journey and set you and kiddo up for success.

#1: Change habits ahead of time

changing routines. Transitioning back to work from parental leave. Kasi Shan Therapy offers therapy for trauma and perinatal mental health. Online and in-person appointments in Kitchener, Ontario

Unfortunately, your schedule will look different. You won’t have the same flexibility with your morning routine. Things you may have fobbed off (e.g. getting ready on time, wearing clothes that are not pyjama/sweats, putting baby in clothes) have to be reintroduced into your routine. Changing your habits can be challenging, and it’s best to give yourself some time with these transitions.

Take a look at your routine and consider what you can do to fine-tune your schedule before going back to work:

  • What is getting in the way for you to have a successful day?
    • Are you staying up late at night scrolling on your phone? Do you drink too much caffeine to fall asleep on time?
    • Once these problem areas are identified, create ways to make them harder to repeat. For example, put the coffee machine away after 11 AM, turn off the wifi after 10 PM. It may sound silly, but any barriers that get in the way will make these problem areas less desirable
    • e.g. If the cookie is right in front of you, you’re going to grab it. If you have to grab the kitchen stool and reach to the top shelf on your cabinet to get the same cookie, you may reconsider if it’s worth it.
  • Consider the habits you’d like to introduce into your schedule: Do you need to wake up earlier? Are you intending to pack your lunch the night before? Do you have a regular night out with your friends? How will you get your child to eat breakfast on time? This step may involve some creative problem solving. You may also have to rely on the support of friends, family, or childcare providers to make it work.
  • Work on introducing one new habit at a time. Rather than manage all of these changes from the get-go, give yourself plenty of time to get used to forming these habits.
  • Have reminders to cue you about your new habits. e.g. Place your gym clothes near the foot of the bed so that you have it ready to go when you wake up in the morning.
  • Use rewards to motivate. Behavioural psychology works! If you pair your new changes with a reward, you’re more likely to follow through. E.g. If your child finishes breakfast on time, you will set aside 10 minutes to play or read before heading out the door.

It takes time to get used to things. Going back to work is huge change from your daily routine of the past few months. If you’d like to learn more about creating changes, check out Atomic Habits or The Power of Habit.

#2 Remember that you will still have a strong attachment with your baby

A big fear of returning back to work is about losing the bond you have with your child. If this is you, remember that attachments and relationships are not so delicate that they will break with having a few hours apart.

If you’re in a secure relationship, you may notice this pattern more easily. In all likelihood, you go to work, hang out with others, pursue your own interests, and you come home to this person knowing that the relationship is still strong. The time apart has not shifted your feelings towards this person. It’s the same with your child. Your infant trusts that you will come back. Your infant will have strong relationships with other peers and adults. You will always be a solid person in his/her/their life.

Going back to work from maternity leave. parental leave. Kasi Shan Therapy offers postpartum and prenatal counselling in Kitchener, ON. Online and in person counselling.

Rather than focusing on the amount of time you have with your kids, focus instead on the quality of the time. Engage in play, conversations, snuggles. Make sure that your kids feel seen and heard by you. This doesn’t mean you have to provide 100% of your attention when you’re at home with them! Instead, try and create some time in the mornings, afternoons and evenings for hanging out. Some examples can include: sitting down together for meals, having chats in the car, splashing around during bath time, or having snuggles while reading a story at bedtime. Going back to work does not have to stop you from having these wonderful moments.

If all of this does not convince, you, there have been studies have shown that babies do not suffer when their caregivers return to work following parental leave. Instead, the results show that children learn they are being left in safe and nurturing spaces AND that their parents always come back to them.

#3 Talk to People

Returning back to work from parental leave. It takes a village. Build a community. talk to people. Kasi Shan Therapy offers online and in-person appointments in Kitchener, Ontario.

Every single new parent I’ve talked to has varying degrees of concern and worries about going back to work! It’s an adjustment and it’s perfectly normal to feel cautious towards change.

Managing childcare, work, relationships and your own interests is hard. Rather than sitting with these frustrations alone, please reach out to your community. Let your work know about needing time to pump. Talk to other parents at your workplace to see how they managed. Work with your family members to access emotional and practical support. There’s a reason that the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” exists. Gather your village!

#4 Get to know your childcare provider

Get familiar with your daycare. Ask for a tour. Have a list of questions. I promise you, you are not alone in being anxious. Your daycare provider has answered these questions many, many times.

Talk to daycare providers. Transitioning back to work from parental leave. Nervous about going back. Build a community.

If it’s financially feasible, arrange a few half-days for your child to participate in childcare ahead of time. By having this short time period away, you will both become familiar with the routine of doing drop offs and pick ups. This trial period also provides an opportunity for you to see how your child manages when spending time away. Your childcare provider will be able to provide you some feedback (did they cry for 5 minutes or 15 minutes? Were they able to settle? Did they make friends?). You both get used to this routine ahead of time, which is helpful for when you do officially go back to work.

#5 Create a balance between needs and wants

You may have had all the time, energy and resources to invest in twelve different interests and hobbies prior to having your child. But, it’s hard to keep up at that pace. What can you feel comfortable dropping? What are you willing to be a little less “good” at? Be honest with yourself in what you really want vs. what you really need.

work life balance. going back to work from maternity leave. Support with transitions. Kasi Shan Therapy offers online and in person counselling (Kitchener, Ontario).

Find a balance between work, family life AND you-time. It may feel hard to carve out that space for your own interests, but it’s so important to make time for self-care. Without this time for your own needs and interests, it’s easy to burn out, grow resentful or lose yourself in the process of parenthood.

#6 Acknowledge the feelings

No matter what happens, there are going to be feelings. Some good, and some not so pleasant. Rather than pushing these emotions down, allow yourself some time to reflect on what’s coming up as you go back to work. You may experience rage, guilt, anxiety or overwhelm. If this is the case for you, the solutions may vary. You may ned some time to adjust to the transition. It may be helpful to reach out for support. Or, you may require some specific problem solving to address these emotional needs.

Alternatively, you may experience a sense of calm and peace now that you have some time with other adults. You may feel proud that you and your child are handling the transition as well as can be. If this has been your experience, enjoy it! Everyone adjust to change differently, and this transition may be a smooth experience for you.

#7 Cut yourself some slack

Going back to work after so many weeks or months with your child is a huge transition for you and your baby! Give yourself permission to feel all the feels, make a bunch of mistakes AND learn from your experiences. Trust that you are capable of adjusting, and that it will take time before this becomes second nature. Set up manageable expectations for yourself. You are not always going to crush it every day. Sometimes you will half-heartedly parent. Sometimes you will rely on cartoons to occupy your kiddo while prepping a meal. You are human. You are loving. You are doing your best.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Anxiety

Simple daily mindfulness exercises

What would your life be like if you had control over your attention or thoughts? How could you shift your behaviours if you became aware of when your emotions started to take a downward shift? What would happen if you could become more present with your environment or the people around you?

Mindfulness is the skill of moment to moment awareness of what is happening (both internally in your system, and externally in your environment). It involves noticing what is taking place without judging or trying to change things. While this skill takes practice, it does not have to involve complicated or lengthy exercises. Here are some simple ideas of how you can practice being mindful daily:

1) Drinking your morning coffee (or insert beverage of choice).

Take a few minutes to bring your attention to the experience of drinking. What does your coffee taste like, smell like, look like? Can you slow the process down so you can notice all the steps in between pouring a cup of coffee to taking your first sip? How does your body move around your kitchen? What noises do you hear as you take out a mug? I encourage you to practice this exercise for 5 minutes. Of course, your mind will wander (don’t worry! It’s meant to wander!) Being mindful involves noticing when your attention wanders, and bringing it back to our set anchor (in this case, the experience of drinking coffee).

2) Listen to music.

Close your eyes to reduce distractions from outside and bring your attention to the song. Notice the shifts in your body as you listen to music. Are there moments when you feel activated? (Can you notice a spark of irritation? An urge to dance? Do you feel it is easier to breathe?) Are there moments when music calms your body, or perhaps leave you feeling unsettled? Take a listen to these two very different pieces of music. Mindfully observe the changes that happen in your body (and of course, try not to change the experience, or judge it!)

3) Describe a person you dislike nonjudgmentally.

How often are you critical? Do you tend to make quick conclusions about people? Has this behaviour gotten you in trouble? Being nonjudgmental involves describing what we observe with our five senses (therefore, sticking with objective facts) versus evaluating or interpreting people or things. Being nonjudgmental moves us away from relying on harsh, emotional language. Choose a celebrity, a teacher, a family member, a TV personality, or anyone that you have found annoying and describe them using nonjudgmental language (To learn more about the skill of non-judgement visit DBT Self-Help). Why am I mentioning mindfulness today? Well, let’s be honest, we’re all a little anxious right now because of this pandemic. Mindfulness is one of many strategies that can support our emotions at this time.

As always, please feel free to share or reach out if you have any questions!

Cheers,
Kasi

Anxiety · Mental Health

5 Tips to handle stress

Many times in life we come across a problem that we cannot fix right away. During these times, therapists encourage a fancy term called “distress tolerance”. But what exactly does this term mean? Distress tolerance is all about handling a stressful moment without making matters worse.

Let’s say you’re expecting to have a difficult conversation with your spouse that evening. It makes sense that you feel at edge most of the day. You may end up drinking, avoiding your family members, being snippy with your colleagues, cancelling work, or any other strategy to cope with the edginess. These behaviours all make sense given that you’re stressed about the upcoming conversation. However, all of these behaviours tend to create further complications. Not only do you have to deal with the difficult conversation with your partner, but you also have to sober up, apologize for the avoidant behaviours, make amends to your relationships with colleagues, and grovel to your boss. All in all, we’ve taken a crappy situation, and made it significantly harder.

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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Don’t get me wrong, I have also chosen some not-so effective strategies on my worst days. We all make mistakes. The point is not to judge ourselves for these mistakes. Instead, we want to see if there are better ways to help us cope. This is where distress tolerance skills come into play. Using well-known strategies like distractions (i.e. video games, reading, watching TV, exercise) and self-care (i.e. comfort foods, long bath, getting a massage) are perfect at these times. They help you tolerate the waiting period until the end of the day when you can finally address the real issue with your spouse.

People often get frustrated with coping strategies because “they don’t make us feel good”. Fair enough. Distress tolerance isn’t meant to make you feel better (although, if they do put you in a better mood, enjoy it 🙂 ). These coping skills are all about tolerating the pain, not actually fixing the pain. In the above example, your primary concern is getting through a hard conversation with your spouse. Unless this is addressed and resolved, why expect that watching TV, taking a walk, or any other distraction will make you feel better? So how do we practice “distress tolerance skills” effectively? Here are a few key points:

1) Find distractions that actually get you distracted

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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If you are going to be bored out of your mind reading a textbook, this is not an effective coping strategy! Your mind will naturally return back to whatever is stressing you out. If you’re stuck thinking of effective distractions, I recommend an activity that is active or new so that you have to concentrate on the task at hand. Think about the first time you drove a car on your own. If you were angry that day, consider how difficult it would have been to maintain the intensity of your anger AND concentrate on following all the steps to drive. Your mind doesn’t have the mental capacity to do both at the same time effectively. Instead, you have to mindfully focus on driving so that you don’t crash.

2) Have a bunch of coping strategies to use in a moment of crisis.

Some days we’ll only need to dance along with music in the car to ease our anxieties. Other days, we may have to eat a chocolate bar, go for a bike ride, snuggle up with our pets AND practice some breathing exercises. Neither options are wrong. It just depends on our needs in that moment.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

3) Use the acronym ACCEPTS

This is a great term from dialectical behaviour therapy that is useful for distress tolerance.

A= Activities (Participate in activities that you enjoy, or help you stay effectively distracted)

C= Contribute (Helping others out makes us feel better about ourselves, and it takes us away from our own stress)

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

C= Compare (Think about a time when you struggled more than this present moment. This helps you recognize that you were able to overcome hardships, and puts this current issue into perspective).

E= Emotions (What will create a different emotion than the one you’re feeling? Watching sitcoms makes me laugh. Going for a run makes me feel confident. Giving my son hugs makes me happy. What works for you?)

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

P= Push away thoughts (Definitely not one I recommend long-term. It’s okay to tell yourself that you cannot think about a certain stressor right now. For example, if you’re supposed to be concentrating on your exam, it’s probably not the ideal time to be thinking about a fight you had with your partner the day before. Pushing away thoughts is a helpful method so long as you come back to the thought at a more convenient time).

T= replace Thoughts (Focus on something else. Plan your family vacation. Think about the book you’re reading. How do you think it will end? Basically, focus on anything else except the present issue).

S= Sensations (Find safe physical sensations to use as distractions. i.e. a soothing cup of tea, a cold ice cube, a hot compress).

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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4) It’s okay to take a mini-vacation from the stressor if it takes a long time to get things sorted.

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

Whether this is a physical escape or a short mental break (i.e. guided meditation, pushing away thoughts). The stressor is still there when you return from the break, but the rest gives you some time to feel calmer and more at peace

5) Problem solve whenever possible!

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At the end of the day, nothing will help you feel fully at peace until the stressor is resolved (or you willingly radically accept that the issue will not be fixed). This means hunkering down and brainstorming various solutions. As always, everyone’s situation is unique. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out.

Mental Health

Do you have trouble sleeping? Here’s quick strategy to improve sleep hygiene

How many sheep do you have to count before you get frustrated and give up on sleep? Here’s another option to get your mind to settle, and help you fall asleep.

There are many changes you can make to improve your sleep hygiene, and counting sheep does not have to be your only option. Whether you have anxiety or not, it’s natural for the mind to ruminate at bed time when you’ve got no other distractions to occupy you. Just because your body is physically done for the day doesn’t mean your mind is automatically ready to calm down.

I’m sure many of us have tried counting sheep and it hasn’t been a hundred percent successful. Instead, I’d encourage you to focus on some elaboration strategies. This means thinking about and expanding on a NEUTRAL topic. Some options include: thinking about the ending to a book you’re reading, imagining being at your favorite vacation spot, running through the steps of a recipe, decorating your dream home, etc. These are not the most exciting topics and that’s actually the point. If you focus on an issue that is important to you, you will become hooked and your mind will keep racing. For example, if you go to bed thinking of your to-do list for the next day, chances are your anxieties will just escalate.

Improve your sleep hygiene with this quick tip. Kas Shan Therapy in Kitchener, ON

My favorite elaboration strategy is playing scattergories in my mind before falling asleep.

  • Step one: choose a category of your liking (i.e. countries, TV shows, food)
  • Step two: start with a letter and run through all of the examples you can think of under that category (I.e. Angola, Australia, Argentina, Albania…)
  • Step three: when you run out of examples, move on to the next letter.
  • Step four: continue for as many letters as needed.

I love this strategy for two particular reasons. First, the categories are neutral. I won’t get caught up in a story or memory. My self-esteem will also not be crushed if I get stuck on the letter Q. The second factor is mindfulness. Yes, that term gets used so frequently nowadays, but it really is helpful! With scattergories, I can be mindful of bringing by attention back to the last letter I was thinking of before getting distracted. It’s rare to get to the end of the alphabet because most have fallen asleep at some point throughout the exercise. My fellow sleep-deprived friends, this is only one strategy!

There are lots of factors that go into improving your sleep hygiene. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to review some suggestions for your specific concerns.

Cheers,
Kasi