Maternity Leave Anxiety

Being in charge of a new baby can be anxiety inducing enough, without having to worry about what is going on back at your place of work. Yet, anxiety over maternity leave – that your employer won’t want you back, your cover will do a better job than you, or even that you won’t want to go back yourself – can be a real problem for many mothers. Especially as many women are leaving starting a family until later in life when they are more advanced in their careers and have more to lose. Being constantly anxious can have a detrimental effect on overall wellbeing, and get in the way of time with your new baby and your new life as a Mother.

It was great talking on Woman’s Hour last week about this subject with Jane Garvey and Kate Silverton. If you’re feeling anxious about maternity leave or experiencing anxiety as a result of being off try these simple strategies:

Thoughts aren’t Facts
When your mind is chatting away and anxious thoughts are running through your head you often don’t even stop to question them: ‘my replacement will be better than me’, “they’ll see I was doing a bad job”. Instead you accept them as ‘the truth’, especially when you’re feeling insecure. These thoughts feed into your mood leaving you feeling even worse, but as real as it might feel, it’s just a thought, opinion or evaluation – it’s definitely not a fact. Next time you have an anxious thought, make sure you notice it and step back:
– Remind yourself thoughts aren’t facts
– Try to consider alternative ways of looking at what’s going on
– Think what you might say to a friend in the same situation and use the advice for yourself

Notice the Good
Anxiety makes you focus on potential threats and negatives. To broaden your focus take time to note down reasons why you are good at your job. What you’ve done well, compliments, good feedback – this gives you have a positive log of what’s gone well at work and a fairer picture. It can also be a good way to answer back any worries.

Silence ‘What If’s’
Watch out for ‘what if’s’ (“what if they don’t want me back”), worries about things that haven’t happened yet and probably never will. No-one can predict the future and research backs this up. In a study people were asked to write down their worries, they were later asked to identify which of their anxious predictions had come true. 85% of what people worried about never happened. Of the 15% that did happen 79% discovered they could handle it or it was a lesson worth learning.

Say it out loud
When worries are spinning around in your head they can feel out of control and overwhelming, but when you say them out loud they lose some of their power. Talk about your worries with someone else, or try writing them down.

The bigger questions…
Alongside the practical questions and concerns that come up about maternity leave, there are also the bigger unanswerable questions as a result of the huge change that lies ahead. You have no real idea of how it will be or how you’ll do. It’s not often in our lives that we have to learn something from scratch, with little to no experience (and a director that can’t tell you what to do!). Having a baby is an incredible and wonderful thing, but it’s also a huge life change filled with uncertainty. Whilst it might be ‘natural’ it’s a huge adjustment and it’s definitely not easy. It’s really important to allow yourself to talk about these aspects, to share any fears or worries and to be kind and compassionate to yourself as you go through this next chapter.

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