5 Harmful Coping Strategies to Avoid as a Working Mom (and What to Do Instead)

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Being a mom and managing a full-time career are, separately, two of the most stressful things you can do in life. Put them together, and you have a recipe for disaster.
There isn’t much you can do to get rid of the stress at the source. In addition to bringing your life joy and meaning, your kids are going to be a major source of stress until they move out of the house (and even then, the stress may continue), and you’re not likely in a position to quit your full-time job. Accordingly, the only thing you can do is find a way to cope with that stress—and there are good ways and bad ways to do it.

The Unhealthy Strategies

These strategies might be tempting, but they could have a negative impact on your health, productivity, family, and happiness:

Alcohol use. A glass of wine after a hard day at work isn’t a big deal—especially if you’ve already put the kids to bed—but be careful how this habit develops. If you’re relying on alcohol to “take the edge” off, your habit could quickly escalate to a substance use disorder. If you find yourself unable to resist the temptation of an alcoholic beverage, or if you drink excessively on the weekends, it may be a sign that your alcohol consumption is becoming a problem.

Caffeine use. Caffeine is more socially acceptable than alcohol, but it’s still a psychoactive substance. Having a morning coffee won’t do you any harm—and may even have health benefits—but if you’re downing multiple energy drinks throughout the day to keep up your energy, it can become a problem. Caffeine can induce anxiety, and interfere with your natural sleep patterns, making you more tired, and forcing you to drink more caffeine to keep up, resulting in a feedback loop. You can even develop an addiction to caffeine if you consume it excessively enough.

Compulsive spending. If you have some disposable income and you don’t have time to do what you used to love, you might be more susceptible to spend money on new clothes, accessories, gadgets, or collectibles; dropping cash gives you a short-term boost of feel-good chemicals, and in small doses, it can be therapeutic. But if your shopping habits become a compulsive spending disorder, they can wreak havoc on your finances.

Emotional eating (or other eating habit changes). As you get stressed, you may notice significant changes to your eating habits—or compulsions related to eating. After a particularly difficult meeting, or after resolving a 30-minute temper tantrum from your toddler, you might feel the need to eat a few candy bars, or get fast food to deal with the stress. Conversely, you might lose your appetite altogether. Neither is good for you. You’ll have to fight against your urges on this one, but you’ll need to establish a consistent pattern of healthy eating if you want to stave off depression, obesity, unhealthy weight loss, heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other problems.

Ignoring the problem. Perhaps the most common harmful coping strategy is also one of the least noticeable: ignoring the problem. When you’re spending time with your children after work, it’s natural to put on a happy face and pretend your problems don’t exist. And you certainly can’t express your truest feelings in the workplace. Over time, this can make it easy for you to ignore the problems of chronic stress, resulting in a slow deterioration of health that will catch up to you eventually.

What to Do Instead

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of alternatives. Consider using one or more of these strategies to cope with the stress of being a working mother:
Exercise. The benefits of exercise are intuitive; you’ll feel good immediately, have more energy throughout the day, and will prevent a multitude of physical and mental ailments.

Take time off. Take time off, both from your job and from your role as a mother. That means taking vacation time occasionally, and getting a babysitter for fun nights out.

Meditate. Start practicing mindfulness meditation, and you’ll have a reliable tool to center your mind after even the most stressful event.

Go to therapy. Therapy isn’t just for people suffering from a specific mental health disorder; it’s a great way to work through even the most mundane issues in your life and learn new coping strategies for your stress.

These are just some of the healthiest ways to cope with stress; as long as you’re dealing with the fallout from your parenthood and career in a way that isn’t self-destructive or harmful in the long-term, you can consider yourself making progress. Experiment to find a combination of strategies that fits your lifestyle and needs.

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