It’s science: What working moms can do to reduce stress—and increase happiness

Your assignment for the end of the day: Take a break.

It’s science: What working moms can do to reduce stress—and increase happiness

At the end of a full day of work, there are few things most working moms want more than the time to connect with their children. Then you get home and reality sets in: Baby needs to be stimulated in this way. Dinner needs to be made. Lunch for tomorrow needs to be prepared. The list goes on and on until bedtime arrives and the cycle starts again—leaving precious little time for unstructured fun time and the satisfaction that comes with that.

According to a new study, the ideal scenario is when moms allow themselves the flexibility to NOT have to do it all—a compulsion that researchers linked to feelings of depression, inadequacy and sadness.

“Mothers can be advised to seek out daily need satisfying experiences in interaction with their young children because these experiences seem to contribute to positive affect and provide energy, which may allow mothers to interact with their child in a sensitive, patient and positive fashion," says study researchers in a recently published article in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

For the study, researchers from Belgium tracked 126 mothers during their first days back to work from maternity leave, a timeframe chosen for its typically stressful nature. At the end of each day, the mothers made diary entries measuring their depressive symptoms, levels of fulfillment and general feelings when they were interacting with their child.

The researchers found the happiest of moms felt competent in their choices as mothers and weren't too critical with themselves. Meanwhile, the moms who had harder times reported social isolation and feelings of too much pressure on them. Across the board, the infant's temperament had a “minimal" association with the mother's well-being.

In the discussion on their finding, the researchers suggest new moms aim to give themselves a break:

“Balancing the demands of family life and work requires quite a lot of flexibility, which mothers high on self-criticism may lack. Instead, these mothers try to adhere rigidly to self-imposed standards both when it comes to caring for their child and to readjusting to the work situation. This rigidity in the pursuit of high standards is a recipe for feelings of distress and decreased well-being."

New motherhood is nothing if not a huge transition. Without a guidebook, this can leave many of us wondering how to make the right decisions. Add to that the transition back to work and pressure to make the most of reduced time with our kids and—yeah—it can be hard.

As this study suggests, when working moms get home at the end of the day, the best answer may be to leave the whole “work" mentality behind and instead embrace the unpredictable nature of life with little ones.

Go on a family walk. Get down on the floor an play. Meet up with friends with baby in tow. By doing activities that don't have measurable standards, but do have big potentials for enjoyment, everyone in the family is better off.

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