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Red Flag Thoughts

The end of the school summer holidays. Aaahhhhhhhh... and breathe. Every year, I forget that, by the time we reach early September, I am somewhat more frazzled than I was in the middle of July, when the days still belonged to me and I was able to focus fully on work.

Pre-holidays, I am pretty adept at balancing work life with family time, and carving out sufficient 'me time' too, usually in the shape of running, or catching up with a friend for a walk or coffee.

But once we are a week or two into August, I'm spinning like a whirling dervish, achieving nothing with any great proficiency, and doubling up on the Mum Guilt, reminiscent of the horrors of lockdown home schooling. Work starts to suffer because I am attempting to squeeze a full working day into about three hours, and the unavoidable list of jobs each day makes planning any fun activities with my daughters completely impossible. This results in a a few half-baked 'days' out where I am struggling to be present due to unwelcome thoughts of the ever-mounting workload waiting for me at home.

What happens when we suffer with low levels of stress? Significantly, we are not so likely to notice that we 'are stressed'. More commonly, the stress will begin to manifest itself in Red Flag thoughts, such as suddenly deciding it's a good idea to drink alcohol when we have been sober for months, or catastrophising about the future, talking ourselves into a certain doom and gloom scenario that appears very real and threatening. We might find ourselves being unable to sleep, to lose our appetite or start comfort eating, or we could snap at the people closest to us, becoming irritable and intolerant. Maybe we find it difficult to concentrate on anything or we lose motivation and drive.

All of the above are manifestations of stress, but we are prone to attaching meaning and importance to them, as opposed to perceiving such reactions and thoughts as evidence of how stressed we are.

Personally speaking, I have noticed in recent weeks that my sleep has not been as solid as it normally is, my appetite has dropped off a bit, and I have been latching onto anxious thoughts more readily, less able to catch myself wandering into such unhelpful rumination.

And then I had an ah-ha moment, where I remembered that I had been battling 'School Holidays/Work Syndrome' for approximately seven weeks, involving virtually no running, no 'me time' and woefully inadequate time to spend with either my kids or on my job.

So that's why I am feeling like this!

There's a pleasant sense of calm that comes with understanding why our bodies and minds are behaving a little erratically. Rather than thinking we are losing the plot and subsequently panicking about every tiny aspect of our life and the terrifying future that almost certainly is waiting for us, we can breathe, tell ourselves all will be well again in a few weeks (or perhaps even days), and that many millions of working parents are going through exactly the same thing as us, right this very minute. This too shall pass...

And next year, I've promised myself that, for at least two weeks of the summer holidays, I will switch off my laptop, go away somewhere relaxing and sunny with the family, and put an end to the juggling act (if only for a magical fortnight) once and for all!

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