Are You Suffering From Mom Burnout?
As a mom, all too often you come last — after the kids, your partner, your dog, your job, you name it. And even though you might feel like you’re at the very bottom of the totem pole, you may still feel like you need to do more.
Welcome to mom burnout. While it’s not a clinical diagnosis, there’s no denying it exists. “Burnout is the experience of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by everything you have to do, and somehow you’re still worried that you’re not doing enough,” says Amelia Nagoski, co-author of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Sound familiar?
Luckily, there are ways to address this common condition. Here, the telltale signs and the simple (but not necessarily easy) changes you can make to get your physical and mental health back to a better place.
How long does it take you to fall asleep?
If you find yourself lying in bed with your to-do list running through your head like a news ticker, hello burnout.
Beat the burnout: Learn to delegate and to accept help throughout the day. This way, you’re not left worrying about unfinished to-dos at night. And if that doesn’t work, try evaluating how worrisome something really is. So what if your partner fed the kids Lucky Charms for dinner? “As long as your kids are safe, it’s worth it because you feel recharged,” says psychologist Sheryl Ziegler, PsyD, LPC, RPT, and author of Mommy Burnout. By letting go of littler mishaps, you can gain some more shut-eye.
Do you feel guilty for enjoying another cookie for dessert?
If you answered yes, you are likely experiencing what Nagoski calls “human giver syndrome.” This is the false belief that your meaning in life comes from being pretty, happy, calm, and attentive to others 24/7. “Women with burnout often feel they’ve failed if they are angry, upset, or not perfectly coiffed, or that they have to ‘pay for’ eating an extra cookie by spending extra time on the treadmill,” Nagoski says.
“It’s not bad to be a giver,” Nagoski says. But in a society where many others feel entitled to use givers and never give back — and if we don’t do something about the stress we hold in our bodies — it can set us up for burnout.
Beat the burnout: Create an hour-by-hour calendar of a 24-hour day and fill in what you do on a typical day. “See how much time you spend giving versus doing things that are replenishing to you,” Nagoski recommends. Then think: What can I change? For example, instead of mindlessly watching TV, can you have a conversation with a loved one? Or at least only watch funny shows, as laughter helps combat the stress cycle.
During a long day, you…?
Sitcoms and movies may poke fun at moms drinking, but if it’s only lunchtime and you can’t wait to pour yourself a glass later that evening, it may have to do with burnout, Ziegler says.
Beat the burnout: Have regular face-to-face chats with your mom friends—over tea or smoothies, not endless bottles of red. “It’s powerful to have someone listen to you, validate you, wipe away a tear, and share, ‘My marriage is like that too,'” Ziegler says. At the least, no matter how tired you are, call a friend and ask a genuine, “How are you?” If your habit leaves you feeling guilty or loved ones start expressing concerns, consider talking to your doctor about your drinking or attending an AA meeting.
When’s the last time you snapped at someone?
Many people don’t want to admit that parenting is difficult and emotionally exhausting. “We feel an obligation to give and be generous to our kids, and when a kid doesn’t put their shoes on, and you’ve told them six times to put their shoes on, it causes stress in you, but you shut it down because fighting with your kid isn’t effective parenting,” Nagoski says. “But that emotion still exists until you put it out somewhere.” Oftentimes, that “somewhere” is those close to you.
Beat the burnout: Stop trying to be a hero. Read: No more staying up until 4 a.m. to bake cupcakes for your toddlers’ school party. And if another mom makes a sarcastic comment about your store-bought treats the next day, Nagoski suggests saying something like, “I was so arrogant—I thought I could live with less sleep. It turns out I’m just human.” or “I’m a better parent when I’m well rested.” Having a prepared response can help keep you from saying something you’ll regret later.
Do you ever experience cynicism or resentment about being a mom?
Thoughts like “I was on a great career path…and then I had this kid”; “My kids will always be unappreciative, and it’s never going to change”; “I did my best—if my teen chooses to cut class, that has nothing to do with me and my parenting” are your burnout talking, Ziegler says. And that’s when you become detached.
Beat the burnout: Nagoski recommends staying physically active to help release any stress and resentment you might be harboring. Getting in about 20 to 60 minutes a day is ideal, but even taking a minute to dance around the living room or tense all your muscles and then release them works in a pinch.