This week’s blog has been written by Alice Pilbeam-Brown, who is a qualified coach with a number of years working in the field of people development; designing and delivering a number of transformational programmes from performance management to talent management, leadership development programmes to cultural change programmes.
Recently, life has changed dramatically as a result of her new baby's arrival.
Since writing my previous blog, “Parental Anxiety…my brief encounter!” fellow parents said they hoped it would end with a solution. Mind.org[i] lists a variety of treatments from talking to medication, but ultimately, there’s no quick fix, and what works for some may not work for others. With the intention to share, not advise, I’ve been thinking about my own coping strategies. I’ve listed my top ten. The most difficult but most effective starts with my baby, then taking care of me, then everything else.
- Learning: I spent sleepless nights and long car journeys learning about my baby’s sleep and food needs. During pregnancy I was determined I would take a “laissez faire” approach to parenting but two months in it was clear our baby wanted more structure. Since providing a loose structure to his day, parenting has been much more enjoyable. Structure doesn’t work for every baby, or every parent, but I learnt that it worked for us. At times it’s impossible to offer him his perfect day but most days I organise our day around it, and if it doesn’t go to plan…well there’s always tomorrow! LittleOnes[ii] offered me everything I needed to know, very quickly.
- Acknowledging my feelings: Whether on my own or with a trusted loved one, I find myself saying out loud when I feel anxious. It’s more effective when said to my rational partner who will help me work through why I feel anxious and whether it’s something worth worrying about. If it’s not, we discuss how I can move forward.
- Self-care: However you define self-care, from taking a shower to getting a weekly massage; I noticed that when I didn’t prioritise my basic needs, everything else is incredibly overwhelming.
- Sleep: Insomnia hits me hard from time to time, with as little as 30 minutes sleep some nights. With support from friends and the NHS[iii] I’ve found ways to cope and reduce insomnia. As boring as it sounds, I now have a bed time routine, I don’t use a device after 7pm, avoid caffeine and alcohol and get to bed early.
- Eating; A lot, often and healthily: Having healthy, easy to grab, snacks around the house and in the changing bag keeps my energy levels up while avoiding sugar highs and crashes – which play havoc with my anxiety.
- Exercise: For me, a jog in the fresh air clears my mind. I don’t take my phone, I don’t set a time or distance, I go on my own and leave baby in trusted hands. Mostly it ends up being one lap of the park and a stretch! But it really is enough for me to feel renewed! On days that’s not possible, I’ll just go for a stroll with the pram.
- Time out: As hard as time away from our baby is, it does wonders for my happiness. I spent a day at a conference recently discussing a leadership development programme I’d designed and delivered. It was amazing how much more energy I had for being “mum” the next day.
- Finance: Money is always on my mind, especially now that we have an extra person in our family. I knew I didn’t want this to hold me back from enjoying time with our baby. I signed up to a pic ‘n’ mix style family club[iv] which allows me to cancel classes without incurring any cost. After a bad night or when the baby’s unhappy or I can’t string a sentence together through lack of sleep, a baby class is the last place I want to be! Removing the added pressure of wasting money is definitely a bonus.
- Making everyday tasks easier: I used to love a trip round the supermarket! Now it’s another thing that adds pressure and takes time away from having fun with our baby. Buying an annual delivery pass for online grocery shopping has been a game changer. I do a weekly shop online during morning nap and, as a bonus, the delivery drivers are a joy!
- Taking control of getting from A to B: Where possible, I get myself and baby around, especially avoiding relying on anyone else. Despite trying to plan our day around our baby’s needs, he’ll sometimes have a different plan, so being able to head off home without putting anyone else out really reduces my feelings of anxiety.
I could’ve never prepared myself for parental anxiety but now that I can put a name to these feelings, the coping strategies have come much easier. Once I found strategies that worked, I stuck to them. In time, perhaps the anxiety will fade. Perhaps it won’t. Either way, being a parent is such a new experience - I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep in the same, deep way I used to! But it’s also been the best experience, I’m so grateful and wouldn’t change it for anything.
Written by Alice Pilbeam Brown