Stress busters for working parents

by Diana Hembree

More than half of all African-Americans report feeling burned out at work, according to a recent study by Comparably, a national job research firm.

In this study, the main source of job stress was “unclear goals.” Tied for second place among all workers was bad management and a long commute, with “difficult coworkers” coming in a close third. Participants also said work-life balance was a major problem.

Other surveys have shown up to 80 percent of Americans feel stressed at work, and 42 percent have quit a job because of it. Low salaries, excessive workloads, little opportunity for advance, little social support and lack of control over job decisions also contribute to work stress and burnout, according to surveys by the American Psychological Association, which recently added “worry over the country’s future” to the list. Job burnout, in turn, can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

“Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades,” reports the American Institute of Stress. From its surveys, the institute concluded that a too-heavy workload accounted for nearly 50 percent of all work stress.

Working parents, among others, may find themselves increasingly short-tempered, anxious or depressed as a result of stress at work. This may be especially hard if you’re parenting with ACEs – that is, if you’re dealing with unresolved trauma from your own childhood. In addition, your children may be more vulnerable to the ripple effect of such work stress if they are dealing with trauma from abuse, divorce or other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

What you can do

Set boundaries between work and home. “Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do,” according to the American Psychological Association. To manage work-related stress, the association recommends setting some firm boundaries, such as not answering work texts and calls after hours.

Make time to de-stress. The APA recommends avoiding fast food and alcohol, getting enough sleep and exercise and “recharging” with your friends and family. A recent study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that people who make time for fun – including seeing friends, playing sports and enjoying nature – have lower blood pressure, a smaller waist and a lower body mass index, and lower levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.

Practice relaxation techniques. Mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation may help you better handle work stress. Try some mindfulness mini-breaks at work – even breathing “low and slow” and taking a short walk may help restore your equilibrium. If you don’t have time for a yoga class, check out some YouTube videos such as Shilpa Shetti’s 15-minute “quick-fix” yoga workout or Black and Brown Yoga’s 20-minute yoga workout.

Create a homecoming ritual. Take a quick walk after work if you can. Instead of brooding about work as you head home on the bus or train, read a novel. If you drive to work, Patrick Coleman of the dad’s parenting site Fatherly recommends listening to a podcast to help detach from your job.

“When you do come home, put down your phone and be present,” Coleman writes. “Remember, coming home isn’t something you have to do. It’s something you get to do. So give your [sweetie] a hug and grab your kids for a quick wrestle … This physical contact will help ground you at home.” Some working moms have a homecoming ritual of giving everyone a hug and then taking five minutes of alone time (the kids can time them) to get centered before settling in with the kids.

Support some big system changes. Workers would feel less job stress if they were all allowed to take paid sick leave and paid parental and medical leave. Did you know the United States is the only industrial nation that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave? Let your government officials know what you need.

Contact your union. Today only about 11 percent of workplaces have unions, compared to 20 percent in 1983. If you do belong to a union, ask the union representative to commission a work stress study and make recommendations. The union can also protect you from retaliation if you raise the issue.

Talk with your supervisor. A lot of work stress is caused by systemic problems such as unrealistic work schedules and goals, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Since work stress interferes with productivity, employers have a built-in incentive to manage it. If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, work with him or her to come up with an effective plan to lower work stress. If not, talk with your coworkers and approach your supervisor as a group.

Be a role model. Remember, your kids look to you as a model to find joy and meaning in their future jobs. Even if you’re obsessed by frustrations at work, try not to overshare them with your children. Instead, talk about challenges you’ve resolved on the job and what kind of work you hope to do in the future.

If you’ve tried everything and your stress is still overwhelming, consider changing jobs. One working dad in Texas told Fatherly that after several jobs of working 15- to 18-hour days at a stressful job that he nonetheless enjoyed, his 6-year-old daughter told him casually, “Some days it’s like you’re not my Daddy.” He started looking for another job the next day.

References

Tennant C. Work-Related Stress and Depressive Disorders. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399901002550

Workplace Stress. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress

Coping with Stress from Work. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress

Diana Hembree is a science writer for the Center for Youth Wellness. She is an award-winning journalist who has worked at Time Inc., the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Energy Bioscience Institute and has written or edited for Forbes, HealthDay, the Washington Post, PBS Frontline, Vibe and many other places. She can be reached at stresshealthnow@centerforyouthwellness.org.