One working mom’s attempt to survive during COVID
Depression levels among working women up 83%. That headline in Human Resource Executive grabbed this working woman’s attention yesterday while I was simultaneously making my daughters’ lunches— carrying the baby in one arm and scrolling through my never-ending emails with the other with a hot stove in front of us. Just a typical Wednesday for me in this “new normal.” (I used to despise that term, but now on Week 17 with — let’s face it, no real end in sight— it’s time to admit what it is.) I spend every waking minute of every working day, multitasking: trying to provide my girls enrichment, engagement, socialization and love, while also maintaining my regular workload and productivity.
It can be soul crushing. I knew I wasn’t alone, but the numbers are staggering.
According to the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions and One Mind at Work, and based on 500 anonymized assessments randomly selected, working women’s level of depressed mood has increased 83% since February, versus 36% for working men, and anxiety levels for working women have increased 52% since February, versus 29% for their male counterparts.
Resentment. Burnout. Depression. Anxiety. These words swirl around my head daily and have been the “topic du jour” in all my conversations with my coworkers, neighbors, friends and family.
I’m one of the “fortunate” ones. Vitality’s mission is to make people healthier and enhance and protect their lives, and during the early weeks of the pandemic, my company went out of its way to try accommodate its employees, especially working parents. From limiting meeting lengths, to allowing employees “breathing room” time in their calendars, to welcoming loud little colleagues on Zoom calls, Vitality has done its best to support its people. Additionally, the Vitality program has never been a more valuable tool for supporting both one’s mental and physical health.
But even with all these accommodations, it’s still hard. With the fall looming and school openings in question, it will get even harder— if that’s possible. Last week, Deb Pearlman in a piece for The New York Times stated the quiet part we’re all thinking out loud, “In the Covid-19 economy, you’re allowed only one a kid or a job.”
I urge everyone to read Pearlman’s piece in its entirety, but this paragraph I must share:
“Why are we not hearing a primal scream so deafening that no plodding policy can be implemented without addressing the people buried by it? Why am I, a food blogger best known for such hits as the All-Butter Really Flaky Pie Dough and The ‘I Want Chocolate Cake’ Cake, sounding the alarm on this? I think it’s because when you’re home schooling all day, and not performing the work you were hired to do until the wee hours of the morning, and do it on repeat for 106 days (not that anyone is counting), you might be a bit too fried to funnel your rage effectively.”
If schools even open this fall, the likelihood they’ll be open five days a week for the full day, is slim to none. Once outbreaks start to hit schools and swaths of students have to quarantine, parents will once again be faced with simultaneously homeschooling and working with no end or solution in sight. It’s no wonder depression and anxiety levels are at an all-time high. It’s … depressing.
So as not to end on a negative note, I’ve compiled a few tools that have helped me cope during this time.
- Find 20 minutes for yourself a few days a week. Carving out even 20 minutes can feel daunting, but it’s been crucial for mental health. For me, that’s 20 to 30 minutes I spend on my Peloton bike trying to improve both my physical and mental health. For others, that can be a walk alone or a quick meditation. Maybe it’s even cooking dinner without the interruption of your kids.
- Go easy on yourself. I was still trying to lose the last of the baby weight when the pandemic hit. The “COVID-19” (similar to the “Freshman 15”) has made losing the baby weight even harder.
- Try to eat whole foods. It’s taken me 15 weeks of quarantine to accomplish this one. Cooking endless meals, snacking and eating my kid’s leftovers hasn’t done me any favors. While grocery shopping for plentiful healthy food is tough, I’m trying to make it a priority.
- It’s OK to multitask. In fact, it’s about the only way to survive these days, so just embrace it.
- Be present (when you can). Even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day. I try to make sure my girls each get my full and undivided attention a few minutes a day, every day and especially on weekends. We also make it clear to the older one what day of the week it is and how many days it is until the weekend, so she understands that her parents must work and knows when she is going to need to entertain herself and when to expect our full attention once again.
- Lean on family and friends. All I can say is thank God for Facetime. There were days in the beginning when my mom spent hours entertaining my oldest through the phone. Have any older relatives who might be feeling the strain of isolation? Engage them in these video chats. It’s a win-win for both parties and there are lots of apps out there to make this easy.
- Ignore social media FOMO. Don’t compare yourself to others. I cannot overstate this one enough. Right now, everyone has to do what feels right and safe for their individual families, but it’s hard to see your friends and neighbors socializing or sending their kids to camp and sports while you’re still staying safe at home. America’s Leaders Can’t Agree on Reopening Protocols. Neither Can Families. Which is why you should …
- Limit exposure to both the news AND mom groups. I’ve seen a lot of other folks suggesting limiting news updates. I’ve also found I need to limit my engagement in the “mom groups” on social media. Like the news, a little can be helpful and informative and a lot can be detrimental to my health.
- Take a break. Again, easier said than done, but don’t forget to use your vacation days. This isn’t how any of us envisioned spending our precious time off, but it’s our new reality and with no end in sight, there’s no point in hoarding days for something that might not come.
- Screen time is your friend. Some of it is great and educational. We’re big fans of Osmo Kids and Khan Academy.
- Count your blessings. Hug your loved ones. My one-year-old — while missing out on enrichment activities and the company of other toddlers — has loved this time. Not only does she see her mom and dad all day long, but she’s her big sister’s only playmate. When I’m feeling my worst, I think about how lucky I am to be affording her this special family time.
Director of Marketing and Corporate Comms, Cheryl Jacobs is the proud mom of three babies: two little girls and a dog. In a pre-COVID-19 world, traveling with her family and trying new restaurants were her favorite activities, now you can find her at home eating takeout, spending time with her family, and just trying to survive each day.