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How To Keep It Together When Family Stress Starts Affecting Your Work

7 Min Read
Career

At some point, we all have stresses at home, whether it is to do with our children, our partners or our parents.


And without our realizing it, these can impact our work performance and relationships, especially for working women. So what do these family stressors look like, and how can we help to best deal with them?

The Forms Family Stressors Take

There are two main things that happen in families that have an impact on workplace performance. The first is anxiety about a family member due to illness or a social issue. You may be worried about your child who is in danger in some way, either “social danger," such as being bullied at school, or has a medical struggle or a serious illness. Those are ordinary stresses that parents can carry to the workplace, and particularly mothers. They can really preoccupy a parent, and take their mindset away from being able to give their full attention to work. I often have people coming here for therapy who say “I need to have my cell phone on in case my child calls, because they are really afraid of being beaten up on the way to school." And you can have the same kind of worry and concern about an aging parent, or about a spouse with health-related events – for example, if your wife has unexpectedly in her 30s or 40s gotten breast cancer. A life-threatening or chronic illness in the family, especially at the onset, when you are not sure what the treatment is going to be and the outcome, can be very preoccupying.

The other family stress we see time and time again brought to the workplace, is where there is a significant relationship rupture. That could be your spouse telling you they want a divorce, or the discovery of an affair, or even a terrible argument. And you don't have to be married to have a relationship rupture – you could have a serious disappointment from someone who you have been dating for a while that you had hopes and dreams about. And when those happen, people bring that to the workplace. Depending on the length and depth of the relationship, the reverberation of the rupture can deeply affect people short-term in the workplace, or even longer-term.

Unconscious Impact of Family Stress on Work

We may not be conscious of the impact those stresses are having on our work life. If you are preoccupied, your concentration may be affected, even your memory or recall. “Oh, really, did I say that? Today's the date that's due?"

And your emotional bandwidth might be thinner, so you may be more impatient, you may express more irritability. For example, there may be someone at work who annoys you – I like to say they twitch in a way that doesn't match your twitch – but you actually manage it really well and never show your annoyance.

But your tolerance for those folks is now lower and so you may not be as well able to mask your annoyance. Or you may respond in a more short-tempered way, with a peer or someone you are supervising, who makes a mistake. You may have a shorter fuse than you normally do. So it's really important to watch out for that. One relationship rupture can start to deteriorate your workplace relationships, and create unnecessary conflicts.

Some Ways to Help

So what are some ways we can help these family stresses and their impact on the workplace? One thing that can help is to tell those people in your workplace that are the closest to you, your boss and maybe someone that reports to you, that you are under extra pressure at home. Now, it's not a good idea to give all the details of what happened at home – “we had this terrible fight, I said this, then she said that," – you don't need to personalize the content. Just let them know you're having some extra stress at home right now. For example, “Look, I just want to give you a heads-up that I may be a little bit off my game today, because as you know, my parents aren't doing well and I need to be checking in." It can build more understanding – even if your boss has to come to you and say, “I know you're having a tough time right now, but I need this done today," at least they are expressing some understanding. Feeling understood actually helps the stress. Having someone treat you with consideration when you are in a more stressful situation improves workplace performance.

Another thing is that everyone now has cell-phones that text. It's not like the old days, where the only way to communicate was by phone. So, for example, if you need a particular appointment for an aging parent, you can call the doctor on your break and ask their office to confirm by text. The technology has allowed a lot of the planning communication to happen pretty easily. Nowadays most people don't use their work computer for personal matters, because their phone is a computer for personal matters. Getting those texts back on your break can relieve your worry – checking-in is a very good idea, and enables you the relief to get back to work.

The Reverse: The Impact of Work on Home

And of course, this is bi-directional. Our work relationships also affect our family lives. Some people find the workplace a relief from family stresses because the demands of the workplace are so great, it distracts them from thinking about the loss or pain they have had in their personal relationships. But you want to be careful, that work doesn't become an escape from the family, where, for example, rather than deal with the fact that you want a divorce, you spend many long hours at the office, and you avoid coming home until everybody is asleep. This only builds further stress.

And we also carry workplace injury into the family. If you are mistreated at work – if you are spoken to disrespectfully, if someone raises their voice to you, if you experience being humiliated – when you come home, and a family member speaks to you in a tone that you find disrespectful, you may be more reactive to that person.

When we look at people who have very successful relationships in the workplace, but have a very difficult time at home, there's one thing that we often notice, especially with people who have pretty high-powered positions at work, such as those in management with lots of responsibility. Employees regard them as a great boss, and see them as someone who expresses lots of understanding and compassion at work, but they've given so much at the office, they have nothing left for home.

They don't utilize the same relationship skills at home that they do at the office. Instead, they exhibit some very poor behaviour – they're grumpy, they get sarcastic, they speak in code, they don't explain themselves, their expectations are sometimes unreasonable. And part of this is, they have given so much at the office, they come home extremely fatigued. And people are not at their interpersonal strongest when they are tired.

That's why babies whine and cry – it's not that they're not delightful children, but when they're tired, they whine, they're hard to soothe, they're hard to move from one activity to another; well, adults aren't really that different! If in the privacy of your home, you huff and puff, it may be that you are just too tired to be present in the relationship, and you really need to take yourself to bed.

I used to say to my kids when I came home after a terribly long day at work, “I'm not fit for family company." I let them know I needed to lie down and just rest for a half hour, before everyone comes at me with “Mom, this" and “Mom, that." When you come home tired, you need to compose myself to come into the family arena. If that means you have to take a bath or shower, or a 5-minute meditation, or just lie down on the bed, do it. And change your clothes from work to comfortable play clothes. There's some transition that needs to occur. Such small acts of self-care can have lots of relationship benefits.


This piece was originally published February 14, 2018.

Business

Taking My Own Advice: How I Learned To Let Go Of The Things That Are Out Of My Control

It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.


One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."

The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.

What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.

How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.

As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.

I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.

So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.

I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.

Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.

It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.

We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.

In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.

We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.

I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!

And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.

During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.

It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.