burnout, stress, motherhood

Understanding Mom Burnout & Steps to Recover

The pressures on moms these days are greater than ever. Moms are expected to give all of themselves to their families all of the time. There are powerful messages in our culture telling moms just what they should do to be successful. They are expected to breastfeed for a year; choose organic foods and fabrics; plan, prepare, and clean up three healthy meals and three nutritious snacks per day; keep your child intellectually, emotionally, and physically stimulated around the clock; be positive; guide their social development; create exciting crafts and science projects with your children; and always, always be emotionally available and present.

This is an impossible expectation in the best of situations, when a woman is healthy and well resourced with financial means, education, and social support. And for most moms, the expectations don’t end there. They have other responsibilities beyond mothering that require attention, time, and energy. They may have to manage chronic health conditions in themselves, their children, their partners, or their parents. They juggle friendships, jobs, and volunteer work not to mention endless household chores. There is little left for the self.

Moms are often left feeling utterly depleted. And when this state of exhaustion goes on without recovery, moms experience burnout.  See if any of these symptoms sound familiar.

Symptoms of Mom Burnout

Sleep problems
Lack of pleasure
Zoning out
Headaches & body aches
Unhealthy coping behaviors
Lack of motivation

As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. No one benefits when moms give so much of themselves that they have nothing left. It’s important to challenge these unrealistic expectations and create a practice of quality self-care.

Steps to Recover from Mom Burnout

1.Identify what zaps your energy. Understanding why you’re so exhausted all the time is the first step to making healthier changes. Think about all the activities in your day that require an output of energy. Make certain to include the physical demands, mental load, and emotional work of managing everyone and everything all the time. Think about the energy it takes to wrestle toddlers into carseats, navigate the grocery store with kids, remember gifts for upcoming birthdays, plan for school year challenges, juggle schedules, etc.  Sometimes it’s validating to create a list of all you think about and do in a day to recognize why you feel so worn out.

2. Begin letting go of burdens. After you see the list of all the energetic drains, see if you can identify just one responsibility you might give up today. Perhaps there’s a duty you could delegate to someone else. Or maybe there are social pressures you could let go of. Start with something that feels relatively easy to take off your to-do list and notice how you feel without that responsibility. Remember that you can let go of a mental task or emotional demand as well. Try saying no to requests for your time and energy that feel like burdens. And maybe you could let go of worrying about whether someone else is upset when you set a boundary.

3. Renew your energy. Identify what helps you feel renewed and refreshed. Maybe you crave physical activity or time in nature. Maybe you need alone time to recharge. Maybe you have a favorite hobby or passion that has taken the backseat to mothering for awhile. Figure out what helps you get energy back in again and make it a priority to build that into your life. This is not optional. It cannot be the last thing on the list each day. Carve out dedicated space for your self-care and teach the people in your life to respect this. It is a wonderful way to teach your children about wellness and balance.

4. Focus on what really matters. So often we burden ourselves with expectations that don’t accurately represent our values. We may find ourselves swept up by social pressures to maintain a public image, pushing ourselves, our kids, our homes to always appear perfect. It can feel overwhelming and unfulfilling. Take a moment to reflect on what values matter most to you and your family. How do you really measure your success as a mother, wife, friend, daughter, person? When you focus on what really gives you a sense of meaning, it can become easier to release yourself from the excessive expectations.

5. Create a supportive culture. Surround yourself with people who value and support you, including your mission to have a balanced life. Distance yourself from people who seem to drain you all the time or reinforce negative messages about yourself and what you should be doing. As you become more comfortable pacing yourself by balancing the energy in with the energy out, you will find that you enjoy the company of authentic friends more. Your example of balance can help shift the culture of the people you are closest to.  Cheer on friends who take care of themselves too.

If you find yourself struggling to recover from burnout, it may be helpful to seek professional guidance.  We often get messages early in life about sacrifice, motherhood, and pushing ourselves to the limit.  Many women struggle with feeling like failures if they need to take a break to honor their own limits.  And a skilled therapist can help you unpack these unhelpful old messages in order to choose the ones that best serve you and your life now.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, postpartum issues, wellness, relationships, and parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Smith, please contact Lakefront Psychology at 216-870-9816.

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