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Safeguarding Mental Health Whilst Juggling Home Working and Childcare

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Millions of workers across Wales have retreated to their home office, dining table or even sofa over the past months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s been a unique period of transition for most, however for those juggling parenting duties and work, the challenge has been even greater.

Attempting to maintain your usual workload and deadlines, alongside caring for your child, and in many cases homeschooling, has left many parents feeling exhausted and stressed.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) there are 4.6 million households in the UK with dependent children under the age of 16 where all parents are working. Half of those have a dependent child aged five or younger.

This increased pressure could inevitably have an impact at some point on parents’ mental health and relationships, and enhance feelings of anxiety or stress.

Here Dr Andrew Hider, Clinical Director and consultant clinical  psychologist  at Ludlow Street Healthcare, which provides person-centred healthcare support and mental health services across Cardiff, offers his expert advice to guide parents through this unprecedented period.

Dr Hider explained:

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed millions of people to a unique set of circumstances which could leave them feeling vulnerable, isolated, and impact their mental health.

“Whether you are in the at-risk category and concerned for your health, caring for or worried about vulnerable loved ones, suffering from mental health issues, or self isolating and experiencing loneliness, this is a highly difficult time for everyone.

“For people attempting to continue their usual working routine and responsibilities while caring for young children, this time may pose some very unique challenges.

“Time management, homeschooling, a lack of mental breaks, and constant demands of both work and parenting could leave many feeling overwhelmed and overworked.

“It is essential that those in this situation work together, where there are two parents present, and prioritise themselves and their mental health, to ensure they are able to cope with these intense demands.”

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week this week, Dr Hider offers five tips to help parents safeguard their mental health while coping with the unwavering demands of childcare and work.

Make a clear plan

With work and parenting now overlapping in the same space, it can be all too easy to let childcare duties seep into work time and vice versa.

If both partners are also prioritising competing full time workloads, It’s essential that both make an effective plan to manage their time.

Discuss deadlines, client calls, and workloads at the start of the week to ensure each person gets the separate time they need to undertake their work, while also meeting their parenting responsibilities.

If one person seemingly takes precedent over the other in terms of time management, this could lead to avoidable tension and put strain on the relationship.

Dr Hider said:

“I would recommend making a plan with your husband, wife or partner. This may sound basic, but by asserting your parenting and work boundaries you not only allow yourself dedicated working and childcare time, but you’ve collaborated to create a respectful solution together, with each of you supporting the other.”

Take time for yourself

The constant juggling act of work and home life can be intense and overwhelming. As such it is more essential than ever that you attempt to prioritise time for yourself when you need it.

Whether it’s a walk, a bath, or even just a quick cup of tea in the garden, a break can have significant benefits for your mental health.

Dr Hider continued:

“It can be particularly difficult for parents of young children to have ‘me time’ in the current climate with restrictions in place and constant demands on their time.

“This can lead to a build up of tension, stress, exhaustion, and anxiety which could have a detrimental impact on both work and family life.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting some quality time to yourself, in fact I’d recommend it where possible. Ask your partner to take your children for a walk so you can relax, or simply try to enjoy some restorative time to recharge if your baby still naps.

“Even a 10 minute break will give you time to breathe and help to relax you during a busy day.”

Don’t skip meals

It sounds obvious, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day – but it can have vital mental health benefits too.

Eating breakfast can enhance your mood, give you energy, and help you focus on the day’s work ahead.

Dr Hider said:

“When tensions are inevitable at home, skipping breakfast which can leave you feeling tired, hungry, and annoyed will start the day off on the wrong foot, and impact childcare and work.

“Eating a healthy and balanced breakfast in the morning provides structure to the start of your day and creates a positive mood from the get go.”

Create a designated work space

The lines between home and work life are almost entirely non-existent at this point.

So it’s crucial, that where possible, you create a divide in the two.

Dr Hider stressed that creating a designated work space, which you can mentally distance yourself from when your shift ends, is vital for your mental wellbeing.

“It can be tempting to work in the living room while the children are watching TV or your partner is chatting to you.

“However, not only will this be counter-productive for your workload, it will leave you feeling like there’s no escape from the office, and inevitably you’ll fail to give your full attention to both.

“It’s crucial for your mental health that you separate the two elements of your life, now more than ever.

“Whether you work upstairs away from the children, or simply relocate to your dining room, creating a separate work environment will enable you to distance yourself from work when you finish for the day, and allow you to focus when you need to.”

Tech cheats for home schooling

With schools currently only open to the children of key workers, most parents are now expected to be teachers and keep their children educated on top of their other commitments.

This particular issue has spurred to a rise in educational online lessons, activities, apps, and other resources which can support your child’s learning needs at home, while alleviating some of the pressure parents may feel.

Dr Hider offered:

“There are a variety of fantastic online resources that children can now take advantage of. It’s worth speaking to their teacher to see what they’d recommend which ties in with their lesson plan and curriculum.

“But the most crucial thing about utilising these online resources, is that it removes some of the burden on busy working parents.

“Of course, your child’s education is a priority, and using these apps and resources doesn’t reflect at all negatively on you, they are created to support parents and children and take the hassle out of lesson planning when you’re short on time.

“However, allowing your child to use these resources prevents parents from become overworked, stressed, and frees up some of your time to safeguard your own mental wellbeing.”