Work can be stressful enough, but this is heightened when you add in the demands of raising young children. Although some women are able to negotiate flexible working to help them to balance their work and home life, in some professions this opportunity isn’t always available. For women who do not wish to give up their careers in search of more accommodating work, their only option is to continue with the long days in the office and make the most of the time they have with their children in the evenings and at weekends. When such time pressures exist it is only natural that eating well and taking regular exercise can slide and that habits such as smoking and alcohol can be seen as a form of comfort and way to relax after a hard day. However, not paying attention to your lifestyle choices can take its toll on both physical and mental health, exacerbating problems with tiredness, stress and anxiety. Here we consider the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for young women trying to juggle a demanding job with raising a family.
Following a balanced diet
- In the morning getting your children ready for nursery or school takes precedence, so it is understandable that having your own breakfast falls by the wayside. However, skipping this first meal of the day doesn’t just have consequences for your waistline, but it affects your energy levels and performance during the working day. Cereal or toast provides a good source of carbohydrates your body’s preferred fuel and without these, it is inevitable that you will feel tired and less alert; there is a lot of evidence that breakfast eaters have better mental function in the morning, which might be aided by the B vitamins and iron present in most cereals. Eating breakfast also stops you being tempted to buy something from the vending machine at work and from over-eating at lunchtime.
- Although making a packed lunch might seem yet another added task, the five minutes are well spent if there is limited choice in the work canteen. Packing a balanced lunch is another good way to keep your energy levels up during the afternoon, so that you are still full of energy when you see your kids on return from work; slow release carbohydrates such as rye and granary bread or oatcakes are particularly good for this. Avoid adding a sugary chocolate, cake or cereal bar, as after the sugar rush your energy levels will dip; if you have a sweet tooth consider a small handful of dried fruit, an oat bar or slice of malt loaf to keep your blood sugars more stable.
- In the evening try to eat the same food as your children, as this will save you time preparing two separate meals and will prevent you turning to fat and salt-laden ready meals; if you all eat a balanced evening meal, everyone will benefit. Always try to cook double portions of dishes such as Bolognese sauce, lasagne, stews, cottage and fish pie, as these can be frozen to provide a nutritious meal when you don’t feel able to cook a meal from scratch. Frozen vegetables are a great item for the freezer, as they actually tend to have a higher vitamin content than fresh vegetables and it is a bonus that they do not require any preparation; they are a quick and easy way to boost the nutrient content of any meal.
- While a cappuccino or latte might have become a morning treat and a useful pick-me-up, if anxiety is a problem, try to limit your intake of tea and coffee, as their caffeine content can exacerbate these feelings. Instead choose decaffeinated versions, fruit or herbal teas if you want to have a hot drink.
- Low mood can sometimes accompany a hectic lifestyle, especially if you don’t get to spend as much time with your children as you would like to. Ensuring you eat regular meals to keep your blood sugars steady will certainly help with this, as will eating a balanced diet, as a variety of nutrients are essential for helping to maintain a positive outlook. Particularly ensure that you aim for five portions of a combination of fruit and vegetables daily, as these aren’t just rich in vitamins, but additional plant components known to be beneficial to mental health. It is also wise to include a portion of oily fish each week, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines, as these are rich in omega-3 fatty acids known to have a positive impact on mood; vegetarian sources of these essential fatty acids include green leafy vegetables, rapeseed, walnut and flaxseed oil, which should be used daily to obtain sufficient.
Taking regular exercise
Keeping yourself active isn’t just good for the health of your heart, lungs, muscles and bones, but it can also provide you with a physical and mental boost. People who take regular exercise even if that is simply walking more often usually report they feel less tired and more positive. While you might expect to feel like your energy levels are lower after exercise, the reverse seems to be true; this might result from increased blood flow to the tissues during exercise, which supplies more oxygen and nutrients for the release of energy. Meanwhile, exercise has been known for some time to trigger the release of endorphins, which are the body’s feel good hormones. While joining the gym, attending an exercise class or playing sport might be out of the question with your busy schedule, there are still plenty of ways to increase your activity in your day to day life. If you take public transport to work, could you get off a stop early and walk the remainder of the journey?
Equally, you can add extra walking into your working day by taking the stairs rather than the lift, going to speak to someone in the same building rather than using the phone and taking a fifteen minute walk in your lunch break instead of sitting at your desk. On the days when you are not working and in the evenings during the summer, try to do more activities as a family; even playing with your kids in the garden or local park counts towards activity.
Cutting back on alcohol and ditching the cigarettes
- While a couple of glasses of wine once the children are asleep is often viewed as a reward and a good way to unwind after a hard day at work, regularly drinking alcohol could actually make feelings of anxiety or low mood worse. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism doesn’t help to address the difficulties at work or juggling various aspects of your life and merely acts to increase your levels of anxiety around these and can lead to a dependency upon alcohol. Drinking in the evening can also disturb your sleep during the night, so you do not wake up refreshed the next day, which itself can impact upon how you feel. If drinking alcohol is becoming a habit most nights, it might be time to consider reducing your intake. Even if you are still drinking less than the recommended 14 units of alcohol weekly for women a unit is equivalent to around 90ml of wine, 35ml of spirits or half a pint of cider, beer or lager this could still be having a negative impact on your mental health. Although some benefit from giving up alcohol altogether, try reducing the overall amount of alcohol and the number of days you drink each week if you still wish to drink some; set yourself a target and stick to it.
- Although smoking is detrimental to both your own health and that of your children, some women with stressful jobs find they struggle to quit, citing cigarettes as helpful in reducing their anxiety levels. However, studies suggest that far from helping with anxiety, smoking cigarettes appears to be a contributing factor to both anxiety and low mood. Although those who try to give up smoking initially find they feel more anxious, owing to the drop in nicotine levels within their body, after successfully quitting the habit most people report to feel less anxious and brighter in themselves. Add this to the dangers of passive smoking and you have another good reason to help you ditch cigarettes for good.