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Working Mothers and Stress

Taking steps to control stress can help you successfully juggle a career and a family.

Your 6-year-old wakes up feverish on a deadline-filled workday.

This is a dilemma Kristin Shulder, mother of two and full-time employee, knows and dreads. “Do you give your child some Advil, send him to school anyway and hope for the best?” she asks. “Or do you stay at home and worry about missing work?”

Welcome to the world of working mothers, where the competing demands of raising children and earning a paycheck never seem to end.

Welcome to a world where there’s rarely time to catch your breath, where after a full workday, you still need to cook dinner, help with spelling homework, referee sibling fights and read aloud bedtime stories.

Welcome to a world of stress.

If this is your world, it’s time to unwind. The stress you’re under could become more than an irritation.

Persistent stress can disrupt your sleep, upset your stomach and raise your blood pressure, cautions the American Academy of Family Physicians.

It can also weaken your immune system, making you prone to colds and other illnesses. And it can leave you emotionally drained, raising your risk of depression.

All this is why it’s important to take steps to reduce your stress to a manageable level. These tips can help:

Ditch the guilt. Placing your child in the care of others may leave you feeling conflicted or guilty.

But reassuringly, “research shows that having a mother who works outside the home is not harmful. The vast majority of children whose mothers work are doing fine,” says Diane Halpern, PhD, a past president of the American Psychological Association.

Moreover, what matters most to children’s development is not whether their mothers work, but whether they are raised in a loving, supportive home, Dr. Halpern emphasizes.

Send an S.O.S. To survive as a working mother, “you’ve got to get help from everybody,” Shulder says. Her husband Ed is frequently the designated grocery shopper and the one who ferries their kids to and from sleepovers and school activities. And everybody in the household does their fair share of housework.

If you’re a single mother, don’t hesitate to turn to others—including neighbors, relatives and other single parents—in a pinch. You’ll repay the favor when your help is needed.

Cut corners. “I never buy a shirt that needs ironing,” says single mother Anne Waring. Look for your own shortcuts, from unmade beds to store-bought birthday cakes.

Make yourself a priority. Set aside at least 10 or 15 minutes a day to do something exclusively for yourself. If you must, think of this as an order from your doctor.

Discover the power of “no.” Know—and honor—your limits. Don’t commit yourself to more than you can comfortably handle, Mental Health America advises.

Turn to a friend. Research suggests that, especially for women, talking out a stressful situation with a sympathetic friend has a calming effect, according to the Office on Women’s Health. Among other things, turning to a friend has the potential to help you release negative feelings, see your situation more clearly and get sorely needed support.

Respect your body. Eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising can all increase your tolerance for stress.

Consider asking your employer for more flexibility. A flexible schedule can ease your stress and improve your productivity, according to Dr. Halpern’s own research.

Finally, get help from a professional if you need it. Counseling may help you take better care of yourself.

reviewed 3/5/2013

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