Going back to work after being a stay-at-home parent is challenging and rewarding. In my first blog Returning to Work: Details and Dreams, I discussed the practical side of going back to work—thinking about your To Do list and then using your values to prioritize your list. In the second blog Returning to Work: Leveraging your Village, I shared some thoughts on how to find resources within your family and community to help tackle your To Do list more effectively. In the third blog Returning to Work: Leveraging Organizational Resources, I look at how to utilize your organizations family-friendly programs and policies to find better work-life balance. This blog focuses on how you are going to fuel yourself for the long haul.
As a working parent we need to juggle many things at once and self-care is often the first thing to go. Ironically, self-care is exactly what you need in order to fuel yourself as you encounter new challenges. Upon returning to work, you may need to rethink how to incorporate self-care into your life. And if you were not taking time for self-care before, you must start now.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is anything that rejuvenates you and gives you energy. Self-care ensures you can continue to work for the long haul; this is a marathon and not a sprint. Think carefully about what uniquely energizes you. For instance, going out with a group of friends may be energizing for one person and draining for another. Pay attention to your own unique responses. Some self-care possibilities include:
- Spending time with friends
- Eating healthy meals
Exercise: Reframing your Motivation
Since exercise is a universal way to refuel and an essential approach to self-care, the rest of this blog is focused on how to incorporate exercise into your life. But please note that this does not replace other forms of self-care, so take a moment to identify other ways to energize and contemplate opportunities to incorporate that into your life as well.
In the newly published book No Sweat by Michelle Segar, PhD, she discusses how our reasons for self-care are often what stands in the way of our ability to commit. For example, with exercise we often say we want to work out to “be healthy” or “lose weight”. However these reasons (or “whys” as Segar calls them) are abstract and long term and may not be effective for getting ourselves off our chair to work out. We need to reframe our reasons for working out as a way to better incorporate it into our life. Take a moment to think about:
- What is something that will give you immediate gratification?
- What is going to propel you away from your desk when there are countless things vying for your attention?
- What is a form of exercise you enjoy doing?
By reframing our “why” for exercise, we may be able to find a way to incorporate it into our lives in a consistent way.
Going Back to Work Can Create Exercise Opportunities
Finding time for exercise is really tough when going back to work. For many, it is just tough. Period. Two examples below show how going back to work can actually support our efforts to fit exercise into our lives.
On-site Gym Challenge
Are you lucky enough to have a gym at work? My husband Gideon took part in a workout challenge at his on-site gym. Now he goes there almost every day. Having the gym on-site has been awesome for him, but it took participating in the challenge to realize that he could make time in his day to go without adversely impacting his work product. The workout challenge at the gym was what propelled him out of his chair initially; now, he is motivated because he noticed how doable going to gym is and how productive and refueled he feels after a workout.
Biking to work
My sister-in-law Joanna built exercise into her new work routine by riding her bike to work everyday. She actually worked out more after she returned to work than she did before! She was propelled out of her chair because this is how she gets to work and she enjoys her commute more than most!
Ok, so not everyone has an on-site gym (or even likes gyms) or has the ability or interest to bike to work. Luckily, there is another solution to fitting exercise into your hectic schedule.
Segar promotes the idea that we just need more movement in our life. If you are a stay-at-home parent going to an office job, you probably will be moving a lot LESS than you used to. How can you build movement into your day? Segar rejects the idea that only certain forms of exercise “count”. She argues we should just move, as often as we can in any way that allows us to sustain our commitment to move. Below are some suggestions:
- Take the stairs
- Exercise with a friend (and fulfill another self-care goal –to be social)
- Develop a community of exercisers and encourage each other to discover hidden ways to move throughout the day
- Walk to work, to the train, to meetings
- Use a fitbit or other device to remind yourself to move
- Buy a Treadmill Desk (yes these do exist and apparently people love them!)
- Walk your dog (or your neighbor’s dog as a friend of mine does whenever she needs more steps on her fitbit)
As I have discussed in prior blogs, positive psychology coaching supports a growth mindset where you take risks, try new things and learn from mistakes. As you attempt to incorporate more self-care and exercise into your life, keep an open mind and try new things—even if they seem unusual. Staying true to your own needs, likes and dislikes will ensure your success going forward. Good luck!
Now I am going to go take a nap.