Blog - December 2016

Top tips to juggling work, study and children

Coming back to work after a long break is strange.  Whilst the environment and your colleagues are comforting and familiar, the business may have changed and your role requirements might be different too.  If you have come back part-time, you may have the added issue of less time in the week to get the work done.

1.        Take Stock

Try and find some time in the first week to have a meeting with your manager to re-evaluate your workload and establish what your key priorities are now.  Give yourself time to ease back into your role and find out what has changed before you take on new projects.  Allow yourself to miss your children but don’t give in to guilt.  If you didn’t want to come back to work but were forced to by necessity, try and find the positives in the situation, like more income for your family and pride in the job that you do (see point 3 below).

2.        Plan your life

It will take several weeks for everyone in the family to adapt to the new routine.  Your children will be adjusting to the new childcare arrangements (even if they are being cared for by family members, it may take a while for them to settle and realise Mum or Dad is not on call), and you may have to negotiate pick-ups and drop-offs with each other so you are not always the employee coming in slightly late or having to leave slightly early.

Planning is key.  Keep a monthly calendar on the wall so you can spot problems coming – the dentist appointment, health visitor check, the day nursery is closing early – and plan accordingly.  Negotiate with your boss.  You might have to take holiday to make the appointment, or you might be able to make up the time another day.  Keeping your employer informed and giving early notice of issues helps, especially if you can offer solutions at the same time.

3.        Take pride in your work

Work can sometimes feel like a relief.  You are not just ‘Mum’ or 'Dad'.  You can have adult conversations without being interrupted, eat your lunch without being interrupted, use the bathroom… you get the idea, all the little things that you used to take for granted before your children arrived.  Plus, with work (or study) you can engage your brain again and it can feel good to fire it up and solve problems.

A manual job can be a joy because of the sense of achievement that can come with it.  Something as simple as stacking shelves in the local supermarket can give a real sense of purpose and reward, (that is often missing when raising young children), because it is a manageable and achievable task.  At the end of the day, you can look at the labour you have completed and think ‘I did that’, whereas, with small children, it can often feel as if you are left looking at all the things you were unable to do instead!

4.        Make time for yourself

Work, home, study, home, work, home, don’t forget the importance of giving yourself some space away from it all if possible.  This is where having a helpful friend or nearby family who can babysit is vital.  The best way to stay sane when juggling the demands of holding down a job or studying whilst also looking after your family, is to remember to look after your own needs as well and take a break now and then.

It doesn’t have to be long but it does have to be a complete break, one hour a week, minimum, where you can do whatever you want and feel completely guilt free about doing it, be it sitting somewhere you love and reading a book of your choosing (not a textbook), catching up with a friend or going for a run. 

The added benefit in giving your mind a rest, is that it can sometimes surprise you with solutions.  This is a good tip when anything is bothering you or you can’t get past a problem: stop, take a break, forget about it entirely and when you come back, you might find you’ve come up with an answer you couldn’t see previously.

5.       Sleep

Nothing will destroy you like sleep deprivation.  It can be hard to hold down a job or study for an exam, if you are completely exhausted from looking after a small child or two.  So sleep when you can, use your network again (partner/friends/family) to help share the load if you haven’t slept for three nights straight because of a sick child.  You can always return the favour later and be a lifeline for another parent trying to hold it all together.

6.        Be present

When you are at home with your children, be there.  Switch off from work and if studying, put the books away.  Quality time is very different from quantity time and short bursts when you are fully engaged with your children can be very rewarding.  The bedtime routine is an obvious opportunity to reconnect if you work a 9-5, but it doesn’t have to be this.  If you work shifts, find another window, maybe an hour in the morning around breakfast when you are not rushed and they are not tired and you can give them your undivided attention.

 

Finally, as I said at the beginning, holding down a job or studies whilst juggling parenthood can be the toughest job there is.  If you work, remember the positives of being employed and the benefits it can bring you and your family.  If you are studying, focus on your end goal and where it can take you.  At the end of the day, put both in a box and enjoy your family, whilst giving yourself a break now and then because goodness knows, you deserve it!

The essential guide to beating exam stress

Taking exams can be stressful.  Thoughts can rush through your head like,  “What if there’s a question I don’t understand”, “What if I forget everything I’ve learned”, and this can, sometimes, hinder your performance which is the very thing you don’t want to happen.

So, with this in mind, here are some simple tips to stop stress stopping you from doing your best.

Take deep breaths – one of the physical effects of stress is short shallow breaths, lack of oxygen to the brain can make concentration harder.  So, check your breathing is slow, even and deep.  If you are not in an exam session spending five minutes concentrating on your breath can be really helpful.

Relax your muscles – another physical effect of stress is holding tension in your muscles, particularly your shoulders so, if find you’re starting to feel overwhelmed,  think about relaxing all your muscles, check your posture is upright and your shoulders are down.

Laugh and smile – stress also makes the muscles in your face tense into a frown – so try beating it by doing the opposite - do something you enjoy and that will bring a smile to your face.  Between exams meet a friend who makes you laugh, do something silly.  Laughter is proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

Cry – there is also a theory that crying removes the chemicals that are built up by stress so don’t stop yourself if you feel you need to cry.  Let it out, and then try to laugh. 

Look after yourself – when you are studying and sitting exams remember to look after yourself.  Grabbing snacks on the go instead of eating a proper meal, drinking too much alcohol or having caffeine late at night can all help to lower your mood and make you more susceptible to the negative effects of stress.

Give your mind a break – constantly worrying or going over something in your mind can be very destructive and build up stress.  So between study and exams try to find a way to get your mind to switch off and focus on something completely unrelated and pleasurable. Find an activity that requires your full attention – physical exercise and team sports are a great release for many but so are creative activities such as sewing, cooking or painting as long as you allow yourself to be completely focused on the task in hand.  Computer games are much maligned but for short durations they can be a good way to take your mind off things.  For a more calming experience try listening to your favourite music for half an hour just focusing on the here and now, listening to every note and lyric. 

Deal with your stress head-on – if there’s one particular subject or issue that concerns you, write down all the key points on a piece of paper.  This can help to make the issue less daunting.  If you want to, screw it up and throw it away to signify the end of that worry.

Banish negative thoughts – American psychologist, Joyce Brothers, said, “Success is a state of mind.  If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.”  You’ve studied hard, so believe in yourself.  Instead of worrying that you won't pass, tell yourself you can and will.  Every year thousands of people just like you pass their exams so think positive.  Find a positive quote that can you can use as a mantra if it helps.  

Get your fears into perspective – do not allow yourself to be constantly worried about your assessment.  If you take your exams and you pass – you have wasted all that time worrying about something that did not happen.  If the worst does happen and a unit does not go according to plan, then it will be upsetting, but there will be another opportunity to take it.  Remember what is really important to you.  Your loved ones will not love you any less if you don’t pass every subject first time.

Finally

Remember exams are not there to catch you out.  They are there to help you demonstrate what you have learned.   When you're sat in the exam hall, focus on the present moment put all your attention into the questions, read them carefully before answering, slow down, breathe deeply and do not let your mind wonder.  You can do it.

We hope you found this article helpful, and wish you every success with your assessment.

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