As a working parent, I've struggled through the past 21 months. But juggling work and family was a challenge for many of us even pre-pandemic.
That's not because our employers necessarily made it difficult for us – I work for Nabs, the advertising and media support organisation in the UK, and they have supported me beyond measure. It's because it's the nature of the juggle. Add pandemic to the mix and the pressure to keep all the balls in the air can become immense. For me, boundaries between home and work life became blurred, and my wellbeing came in last on the to-do list.
The pandemic tested me to my limits. It also taught me a lot about myself. I'm able, through the power of hindsight, to look back at the ways in which this way of being in the world worked well for me and my family. I'm an introvert, so I relished the idea of quiet time at home to focus. Plus, being able to be present every day at school drop-off and pick-up has helped to alleviate some of my parental guilt.
Slowly, I've adjusted to a hybrid way of working that allows for more flexibility. I've found that it supports my wellbeing and makes the juggle a little easier to manage. Many others in the industry feel this way. It's no wonder that anxiety levels are high now, as people start to worry that returning to the office means returning to our stressful pre-pandemic ways.
We know first-hand at Nabs that many adlanders need emotional support right now. Our most recent stats revealed that 35% of people getting in touch are doing so for emotional support, while attendance to our group coaching sessions is up by 24% as people seek help boosting their confidence and resilience. Worries about going back to our frantic pre-pandemic lives add to this stress. Yes, some are relieved about returning to the office, but others are visibly concerned.
Whether it's juggling work and family responsibilities or other challenges, the pandemic has made us examine what's good for us, what's not good for us, and what we need going forward to nurture our wellbeing and to thrive.
Setting healthy and realistic boundaries in various areas of our lives can help us to move forward in a way that supports us personally and professionally. The challenge is understanding what we need.
We often ask callers to the Advice Line: "What do you need most?" This can be a great starting point for reflection. Our minds tend to take over, with thoughts about why things aren't possible or why we shouldn't feel a certain way, and so the trick is to try to connect with how we're feeling without this background noise.
Finding moments of stillness can help you to gain some clarity on what your mind and body need in the short and the long term. You can find these quiet moments by following your breath, walking in nature (or just focusing on your feet during a walk anywhere, if you're not near nature) and, of course, by meditating.
Once we've established what's important to us within our personal and working lives going forward, it's time to put our boundaries into action. You might be so unused to setting and maintaining boundaries for yourself that this can feel like an impossible task.
This is especially true when you consider how the pandemic ripped through boundaries and possibly also people's confidence. You may feel the need to please others. You may hold a belief that people will judge you for asserting yourself. You may feel that it's safer not to say anything, or simply not have the tools to communicate your boundaries effectively.
It can be daunting to set boundaries, but with some thought and planning on your part, it's not only achievable but also rewarding and empowering. Try the following to communicate your needs assertively:
- Think back to a situation where you were assertive in the past. Were there any tools or techniques that worked then?
- Use "I" rather than "you" to explain what would help you and why. This helps avoid the other person feeling alienated
- Acknowledge what the other party feels or wants, share your thoughts and, finally, state how you'd like to move forward
- Think about what you're willing and unwilling to compromise on
- Practise a conversation in advance and note down things you want to say
- Practise using some assertive body language such as having upright posture if you're able to, speaking slower, maintaining eye contact and steadying your breathing. Even if you're communicating through Zoom, these can all help you feel more assertive, even if you're not feeling that way
- Connecting with the movement of your breath and feeling your feet on the floor can help to ground and calm you if you're feeling anxious during a conversation
Working from home more often has forced me to organise and structure my working day to protect my work-life balance and wellbeing but also ensure I'm as productive as possible when I'm working.
It's been a learning curve, but by sharing more with my team about my responsibilities outside of work, I've been able to plan my daily tasks around my energy levels and around being a mum. In practical terms that means letting the team know that I'll be logging on a little earlier one day to work around a school meeting, or I'll be blocking out my morning to work on a project because that's when my energy is highest.
Get your boundaries in place, and you'll alleviate some anxiety while retaining the benefits of flexibility you've enjoyed over the last couple of years. I know that I'll be constantly checking in with my boundaries to help me with the juggle; now I warmly invite you to do the same.
Claire Dickson is senior support adviser at Nabs