https://www.brisbanetimes.com-By Samantha Selinger-Morris
Aimee Brennon, 34, sought professional help after constant feelings of anxiety before work.Credit:Simon Schluter
You know the feeling. Light seeps through your curtains, and as your eyes stutter open, the thought smacks you awake: Oh god, here we go again.
More than one year on from the arrival of the pandemic Australians are reporting heightened levels of stress and anxiety with new research identifying the morning – specifically 7am – as the peak time for stress.
The study by Virtual Psychologist – a Gold-Coast based company that connects people to registered Australian psychologists via text for a conversation – found of the 200,000 texts sent between the company’s psychologists and their patients over a six-month period ending in March, 7am was the most popular time for clients in the 22-29 age group to seek a psychologist.
Many of those clients have been worried about whether they’re in the right job, says Dervla Loughnane, a registered psychologist and founder of Virtual Psychologist.
“There’s kind of been this existential sort of crisis going on” – brought on by the pandemic – “where people are really asking themselves, what is the meaning of life, you know, what is important to me… and does [my] company have values that align with my values?” she says. And dawn, she adds, is when people often feel they “suddenly” need to do something about it.
But 7am, which Loughnane calls “stress o’clock”, is also a highly anxious time for working parents: when their work and their children’s demands clash.
“If you’re a parent… You can’t get much closer to what really matters than those two things, and seven o’clock is usually when those two things crash head on and you’ve got a time deadline,” says Professor Lyndall Strazdins, director of the research school of population health at the Australian National University.
“This is actually a point at which I think many families feel really acute pain in the mornings, in distress, and they’re trying to work with ‘How do I show love and care and responsiveness to my children’s needs and basically be run by a clock?’ [But] love and care and needs don’t run by a clock.”
So, what to do?
Firstly, working carers should be reassured that they are not alone, says Strazdins.
“It’s not just you,” she says, noting that early morning stress for working parents is worse in many ways than 40 or 50 years ago, when most families had one person who stayed at home and managed all the home and childcare responsibilities.
Next, says Strazdins, parents need to understand that while they are used to “time discipline” – organising our actions around the clock – children are not, and cannot be expected to.
Parents need to create a plan to facilitate getting their children out the door with as few obstacles as possible. “And understand where their children are coming from and work around that,” she says.
Anyone experiencing stress in the morning for any reason should cut down on caffeine and alcohol – which can mess with your sleep cycle – and take one minute to practice deep breathing and be mindful about the tasks and activities ahead of you, says Dr Carys Chan, a lecturer in organisational psychology at Griffith University.
“And just tell yourself, every one of us goes through this process – we wake up, we feel stressed – and maybe give yourself a bit of positive self talk, that you can get through this,” she says.
Parents who find it difficult to stop thinking about work, while they’re with their children – another peak source of stress, says Chan – might find it helpful to jot down their work concerns in a notebook, put it away, and then not think about them until they are next at work, and read the notebook.
Aimee Brennon is all too familiar with pre-work stress. Three years ago, her mind would start reeling as soon as she woke up.
“You’re just waking up… it’s like you have to start going through this whole thing again, it’s another day of dealing with it,” says Brennon, referring to being in an abusive relationship and on top of that struggling to get to work on time and struggling to focus when she got there. Eventually she reached out to a psychologist for help – first thing in the morning, before heading to work.
A year later, Brennon, a 34-year-old Melbourne business consultant, started a new job and recalls worrying about meeting her boss’s expectations while she was still feeling fragile.
The tips she was given from a psychologist – including the reminder that she was bringing value to her new company – were life changing.
“They [the psychologists] would ask, ‘Why are you feeling down?’ and break it down, but then [they’d] turn that into a positive, so I could try and see [that]. Over time with them doing it, I’ve noticed myself, I don’t actually always think the worst now. I think, ‘Ah, you know it could happen, but we’ll find another way now’.”