How I learned to get (and stay) work-fit

Have the long winter months sapped your energy and enthusiasm for life, and made work feel like an insurmountable hurdle to get over every day? Find out how one mum learned to get work-fit.

Dragging yourself out of bed to get ready for work is hard enough at the best of times. But as freelance journalist and mum of two Samantha Downes has discovered, it’s even harder when you’ve been up once in the night to tend to a crying baby – and at least that to soothe an older child who is going through a stage of scary nightmares.

I love my job but find it tough as a mum

I love my job(s) but I find the dark winter months can really sap my normal work mojo – which has taken a battering this winter.

I went back to work full-time in September. It wasn’t too much of a shock because I’d never taken any maternity leave (the benefits/downfall of being freelance journalist) and I had staged in our lovely childminder so that from eight months old the baby was spending a bit of time away from us each week.

Even so by early December my self-imposed schedule of working all week, going to the gym, looking after the children (which my husband also does, probably more than me) and sorting out the usual social diaries and pre-Christmas stuff had left me exhausted.

I ended up getting ill with pleurisy which I thought was an old person’s disease. Because I could barely move with the pain, I was forced to evaluate my life and look carefully at how I managed my work-life balance.

How I have learned to stay work-fit

I don’t claim to have all the answers but I’m now having to find my way around work, life and then some, much the same way as most mums with more than one child and a career have to.

The difference is that I get to write about it. Here are three ways I have learned to cope. I hope they help.

1) Have some time out

Spending a few hours doing something that does not involve thinking about work, or children, or housework or bills, or even tax bill can make all the difference.

Sitting in the steam room after a spin class (or even just sans exercise), taking a walk in the park, seeing a film, putting on DVD, getting on the bus, having a massage… whatever it is, I find I can look at things in a more dispassionate way if I take time out.

2) Get out and about

Some call it networking, I just call it socialising. I live in a journalist’s bubble. Although I teach part time as well, my colleagues are all hacks and so are all my virtual freelance buddies and all the people I write for.

While it’s good for creativity it can get emotional for me. I found meeting some other professional women, with different careers and different perspectives really invigorating and refreshing. And also helped me think about my work for a more businesswoman point of view.

3) Give myself a pep talk

I’m known for chatting to myself (actually I tell everyone I’m having a conversation with my 21-month old, but I still get strange looks!).

I’ve used my ‘madness’ to interview myself, for example pretending to be an editor who is looking at my pitch or a student who is wanting to know more about SEO. You have to do in in private though.

You also need to take good care of yourself

When you are a working mum you need to learn to prioritise yourself and take proper care of yourself – otherwise you’ll collapse in a weeping heap and be no use to anyone eventually. (Note: taking of yourself is not about watching calories!)

Again, here are a few things that work for me.

  • Drink up – being dehydrated can really sap your energy and if like me you are working full time and breastfeeding, that extra H2O can make a difference to your mood.
  • Get your vits – the jury is out, but I found my post pregnancy multivitamins made a serious difference. My hair and nails and skin seemed to have toughed out winter so far.
  • The hard stuff – drinking too much coffee sends me crazy. The odd cup can be a welcome boost but too much can make me jittery and even over emotional.
  • And harder… – I don’t drink regularly, but the odd glass of red wine (normally on a Tuesday when watching Holby City) can be a nice pleasure, limit your drinking to one or two nights a week. If you need an incentive, in the last few years my skin has hardly aged (and I reckon it’s down to drinking so little booze). I do still have the odd binge when I have more than one glass – but my last one was Boxing Day at a relative’s house!
  • Exercise – watching calories is ageing, exercising is not. If you don’t have time to go to the gym try Jillian Michaels’ yoga inferno, I’m a convert to this stretch-and aerobic workout. Tough training is in!

Samantha Downes is a freelance journalist and the author of several finance guides and books.