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Parental mental health and body image

I wanted to write a blog this week about parental mental health given that it is Mental Health Awareness week hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. What I wasn’t aware of, until I looked at their website, that this year’s theme is body image, how we think and feel about our bodies.

I’ll be honest I haven’t always had the best view of myself when it comes to body image. Being pregnant twice has clearly impacted what my body looks like and my perception of it. There is a lot of pressure, real or imagined, around pregnancy connected to what ‘should’ a post-pregnant body look like. Images in the media don’t always help with celebrities appearing to spring back to their post pregnant selves quickly and easily. (I have written another blog about the word ‘should’ and limiting beliefs so won’t go into that here).

Fast forward to the end of my maternity leave and returning to work, it was one of the areas that impacted my feeling of confidence going back into the office. My pre-pregnant work clothes didn’t fit in quite the same way and I didn’t feel I looked at my best. I also in my busy world of work and parenting didn’t feel I had time to sort it out. Historically I had always exercised which helped me physically and mentally but I didn’t feel I had time for self-care in the mix and felt guilty taking the time to do it when I should be with my family.

One of the areas we look at during our group coaching sessions for working parents is asking them to share the practical strategies they have found work for them to help manage work and home successfully. Interestingly the area of image and what to wear returning to work has been brought up by participants on many occasions. We ask for tips that relate to their self-care too and this is an area I have found groups can struggle with for much the same reasons as I did – time, energy and guilt.

By raising this topic, we give the group the permission to explore their feelings about it as well as what they can practically do about it. We talk about why taking the time to look after self is important. It is the same principle as the aeroplane air mask – you need to look after yourself to be in a position to help others. Not only do they gain practical ideas from others but more importantly they realise they are not alone in feeling this way which helps in dealing with guilt.

The Mental Health Foundation’s first tip for taking care of yourself and looking after your mental health is to talk about your feelings and our groups can provide a safe place for working parents to do that. I would have really valued these conversations when I returned to work after my parental leave and feel privileged now to be able to provide this opportunity to others.

Clair Hodgson

EMEA Director, How Do You Do It

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