Returning to work from maternity leave during a pandemic

After the emotional turmoil of getting used to leaving my baby with complete strangers at daycare (the nannies are actually so lovely but in my hormonal, emotional state they were total strangers), I returned to work at Cloudreach after five months of maternity leave.  Just two weeks later, all daycares in the Netherlands were closed.  Needless to say, as I was already craving social interaction before the lockdown started, this was a pretty challenging and stressful time.

In her book, Change Your Thinking: Overcome Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, and Improve Your Life with CBT, author and psychologist Sarah Edelman writes:

“The happiest people in the world are those who have the most flexible attitudes. . . . They are willing to accept that some things are beyond their control, and do not demand that things should be different.”

This has been the basis for setting goals for myself during the lockdown.  While some people may think it’s a luxury to spend time on improving yourself during this pandemic, for me (and I’m sure others) it has instead been a necessity.  I needed to develop the skills to not sweat the small stuff, to make the most of the reduced time I had available to work, to reduce the irritation I felt towards my partner (who I just couldn’t get away from), and try to be zen whilst my baby was screaming during a conference call just because she wanted my attention.  As for my cat, she has definitely helped reduce my stress rather than adding to it 🙂   In addition, mindfulness, breathing and taking time for myself have all played important parts.

Cloudreach completely understood that a young baby does not understand schedules or that mum is busy working.  Babies are hungry when they are hungry and will sleep only if they want to sleep.  This is all common sense and should be the case with all employers, but sadly I know it’s not.  Cloudreach listened to my circumstances and assigned me internal projects to manage which allowed for greater flexibility, instead of putting me straight on a customer delivery project.  I really can’t imagine how I would have coped with the stress of back-to-back customer meetings, while taking care of a baby!

Live Life Well – Virtual Wellbeing Festival

Recently Cloudreach provided a range of wellness initiatives and resources to all employees.  This has been a thoughtful touch in such a stressful period for everyone.  One of the latest initiatives was providing tickets for all Cloudreachers to attend the Live Life Well – Virtual Wellbeing Festival that took place over the UK May Bank Holiday weekend.  When the email came out from our Chief People Officer Tara Tapper about this wellness weekend, I perhaps went a little overboard in immediately registering for 16 sessions (but they all looked so fascinating!).  While I may not have joined all 16 of them… I did attend a fair few and a couple of the more unusual topics really stood out to me so I decided to share my experience.

Living Life Well as a New Mum in a Pandemic

The Gut Stuff

Yes, this session was all about the gut.  For some time, I have known about the impact stress can have on your stomach and digestive system, but what was new to me was the correlation the other way around.  If you have issues with digestion (as 40% of us do at any given time), it can have an impact on your moods and emotions.  This is because 95% of serotonin (your happy neurotransmitter) is produced by  your gut. Twin sisters and co-founders of The Gut Stuff Lisa and Alana Macfarlane explained how digestion works, from start to finish and everything in between and provided practical tips to keep things moving and working well.

Animation Illustration GIF

Some other interesting facts and key takeaways for me:

  • The connection between your brain and gut is called the gut-brain-axis. It’s the reason you sometimes feel butterflies in your stomach.
  • Your microbiome is made up of  10,000 species and approximately 0.2kgs worth of bacteria, lots of little critters made up of viruses, fungi, and organisms just chillin’ in your body – mostly in our digestive tract.  Everyone’s microbiome is different. It’s super important though and can be disrupted by antibiotics, using too much antibacterial soap, amongst other things.
  • There are things called prebiotics.  Prebiotics are what probiotics eat and need to survive.  Many of us probably know probiotics are useful and important, and you need prebiotics to make sure they are well fed (full list of prebiotics can be found here.
  • Fibre is awesome, your digestive system loves it.  It is really important to ensure you get enough from fruit, vegetables, whole grains etc.
  • You should chew your food 20-30 times, the more liquidy your food is when you swallow it, the better!
  • Do not eat when you are stressed.  You want to be in the Rest & Digest, not Fight or Flight mode.  Taking 3-5 deep breaths before you eat can make all the difference.

In practising the last two points above, I drew a parallel between this and mindfulness.  During a Mindfulness Based Birthing and Parenting course I participated in six months ago, we were encouraged to undertake everyday activities, such as eating or brushing your teeth, mindfully.  This involved really being in the present moment and experiencing every sensation.   This has been a reminder to find small chunks of time for mindfulness, and in doing so you are not just improving your mental but also your physical health.

Yes You Can: Ace Study Without Losing Your Mind

Presented by Natasha Devon, author of the book of the same title as the presentation, she covered evidence-based tips to succeeding in studies, to make the most of your time and to stop procrastinating.  Targeted at students studying for exams, I found a lot of the content could easily be applied in many other areas, such as studying for certifications or delivering on deadlines.  Also for parents, great study tips to provide to your kids.

I liked the explanations on how stress affects the body and brain and the tips to reduce stress.  A few of the many things I found fascinating and insightful from the session:

  • Natasha provided a simple metaphor about having a stress bucket.  Think of it like you have a bucket that over the course of a normal (or stressful) day fills up with cortisol.  You want to empty this bucket everyday so it doesn’t fill up and overflow.  You can reduce your cortisol levels in three ways:
    • Physical activity – even if it’s just for a couple of minutes – exercise, going for a walk, yoga, getting some fresh air and doing some stretches, dancing to your favourite song.
    • Relaxation – such as mindfulness, focusing on your breathing.
    • Being creative – again even if it’s something small – cooking a meal, playing a musical instrument, drawing, or my personal favourite activity at the moment, colouring in books
  • Put your phone away!  Each time you divert your focus to quickly read that one WhatsApp message, not only do you lose that 30 seconds it took to read the message, but it can take much more time for your brain to remake all of the connections between different ideas that you had already made prior to picking up your phone.  Whether you think you are an expert multi-tasker (like me) or not, multitasking probably isn’t the best use of your time.
  • If you are known to procrastinate (as most people including myself are), a good approach is to trick your brain into starting by saying that you only have to do 5 mins and then you can stop.  The hard part of anything is starting, but if you are only committing to 5 mins, that isn’t so difficult right?  Once you have actually started something, then usually you realise it’s not as bad as you thought it would be and often you just continue.

I actually use this last trick regularly  to do my physio exercises for my back pain.  Previously I could never seem to find 20-30 mins to do my stretches.  So I just started doing 5 mins, and usually once I start, then somehow I continue for 20 or more minutes, having magically found the time.

This was a really interesting and  insightful session and I can’t wait to read more in her book.

The Magic of the Moon Cycles

The Magic of the Moon Cycles

In the past I have found talking about the impact the moon has on people’s behaviour can bring out pretty strong reactions in people such as exasperation and thinking it’s all hocus-pocus.  The correlation between the moon and people’s behavior, however, has been recognised for centuries – the word lunatic of course originating from the word lunar (something relating to or resembling the moon).  In addition, anecdotally, accident and emergency workers have noted higher patient numbers with mental health complaints or aggression related injuries around the time of a full moon.  I like to keep an open mind to different beliefs and so I found this talk by Kirsty Gallagher, Lunar Guide and life coach to be rather fascinating.  Kirsty talked in detail about all the phases of a moon cycle and how this can enhance and harmonise your life.  I found it inspiring how her understanding of the moon cycles has really pushed her to achieve more than she thought was possible.   My key takeaway from this, is that in this stressful world we live in if we can find some motivation and drive, whether it is from within ourselves, a religion, through yoga practice, meditation, moon cycles, or anything else, then this can only be a positive thing.

In addition to your star sign, you have a moon sign.  Who knew?  You can find yours here.

Final tips for a better life

Overall it was interesting to notice how mindfulness and focusing on reducing your stress are common themes that connect so many different topics.

My final tips for a better life and surviving lockdown:

  • Being in flight-or-flight mode is bad for you.  Take some deeps breaths and do something every day to de-stress (do some physical activity, relax or be creative)
  • Take those deep breaths before studying, trying to focus on something, or eating, and chew your food 20-30 times per mouthful!
  • Take time out for you.  Others who depend on you will be better off if you are happy and healthy too
  • Take it easy, be flexible and don’t expect too much of yourself or others during this stressful time
  • Come work at Cloudreach 🙂
  • And if all else fails, entertain yourself with some good gifs

Tips for a better life