WORKING MOM BURNOUT IS REAL – HERE'S HOW TO DEAL
The earliest days of motherhood are a trying experience.
Everything is a blur. You go days at a time without sleep. Sometimes, you can’t even remember what you ate for breakfast, much less what day it is.
Newsflash: It doesn’t get any easier.
Yes, sleep does get better (although one study found that parental sleep patterns don’t return to normal until after children enter Kindergarten.) But other difficulties emerge.
As your child gets older, there are always new stressors. Potty training. Night terrors. Sports practice. Parent-teacher conferences.
There will be entire years when you don’t get to use the bathroom by yourself.
And, on top of that, you have a career.
Life can feel like a constant game of catch-up. You take a few hours off to go to a ballet recital, so you work until 2 am to make up for it. Then, you have a big project due on Tuesday, so you can’t make it to your daughter’s field day.
Nothing ever quite works out.
Raising children and having a career is like working two full-time jobs at once – and neither of them gets your undivided attention. It’s the perfect recipe for burnout.
What is working mom burnout?
Anyone with a career is familiar with the concept of burnout: It’s a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
And it's a million times worse when you throw kids into the mix.
As the parent of a 6-year old and a 14-year old, I am pretty familiar with excessive and prolonged stress. Between a first grader and a teen, my limits are tested daily.
No matter how old your children are, I'm sure that you feel the same way. You're not alone.
According to the Department of Labor, 52 million workforce members aged 25-to-54 are working parents. Research from Pew shows that 56% of them have difficulty balancing their jobs and family obligations (14% say it is very difficult, and 42% say it's somewhat tricky.)
Brené Brown, the author of three No. 1 New York Times best-sellers, says, "Burnout is so epidemic that it can even become our shtick."
She goes on to suggest that once we start to feel anxiety because we aren't busy, it's a sign that we are looking for validation through our agenda, and "we must change not just our schedules but also our thinking."
Being a parent is rewarding – no one will argue that. But being a parent also drastically increases our chances of burning out. So if you want to succeed at working motherhood (or fatherhood!), it's essential to take care of yourself FIRST.
Signs you're on the brink of burnout
While some signs of burnout might seem obvious (constant fatigue and anxiety), some are not as easily identified. Here are a few simple ways to recognize when burnout is creeping up on you, no matter how subtle the symptoms may be:
Feelings of boredom or loss of interest: You have no desire to complete any work, even though your to-do list continues to grow daily.
Lack of certainty: You constantly question your career choices and no longer take joy in the work you once loved.
“Grass is Greener” syndrome: You’re sure that if you were JUST a career woman or JUST a stay-at-home mom, life would be so much simpler.
You feel like it’s not worth it: You know that the money you make at your job isn’t worth the stress it causes in your daily life.
You wonder about your purpose: You feel like you’re too old to be where you are now (not accomplished enough, not enough money, etc.) and wonder if you will ever be “good enough” to achieve your dreams.
You don’t attempt to better your situation: There are things you would like to do (new car/home, vacation, growing your business), but you don’t feel like it’s worth it to try.
The best way to combat burnout is to recognize these signs before they become a bigger problem - and nip them in the bud. The truth is, if you continue to take care of your career and your family before you take care of yourself, you’re going to crash and burn.
Luckily, there are many small steps you can take that will make a big difference.
How to avoid mommy burnout
When it comes to avoiding burnout, there’s one thing you HAVE to be able to do: Identify your triggers.
It might be not getting enough sleep or eating too many sugary foods. It might be getting bombarded by emails all day long. Or it might be that annoying woman who likes to gossip around the water cooler.
For me, it's when people interrupt my work time. I own my own business, and the endless "mom, mommy, ma" that happens when the kids are home is enough to drive me over the edge.
Understanding what gets your heart pumping faster is the key to lessening the stress. I know I have to set clear guidelines about when it's "work" time and when it's "mommy" time, or I'll go nuts.
Here are a few tips that might help you:
Make time for exercise. It sounds cliché, but it's true: Exercise does make you feel better. Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise decreases overall tension levels, elevates and stabilizes mood, and improves sleep. The key is finding what you enjoy (biking, walking, hiking, etc.) and creating a system to keep you accountable. One simple idea? Put it in your planner, just like you would any other meeting.
Eat healthy. Fact: Food is fuel for your body. You may think you want that giant, sugary blueberry muffin for breakfast, but trust me: It isn't doing you any favors. Eating high-sugar foods will leave you on an energy roller coaster all day long: Fun and fast highs, followed by scary, anxiety-inducing lows. Eat foods high in protein and healthy fat instead – they'll supply you with a steadier stream of energy that lasts.
Create a self-care plan. Self-care is one of those buzzwords that people keep tossing all over the place. People like to link it to bubble baths and dark chocolate, but it's so much more than that. Self-care means being thoughtful about planning your day, so you don't end up a giant ball of stress when something unexpected happens. It means making time for you instead of always doing everything for everyone else. And, yes, sometimes it means ice cream.
Plan time off. Taking a vacation can seem like a far-fetched fantasy (especially if you own your own business). But you can – and should – make it happen. No matter how much you love your job or enjoy the hustle, the routine will eventually become unbearable if you never take time for yourself.
Stop multi-tasking. Newsflash: No matter how hard you try, you can't do it all on your own. As women, we often feel like we have to be everything to everyone: Chauffeur, chef, events planner, counselor, accountant. Not to mention model employee. Often, our own needs get put on the backburner. Don't be afraid to say no – and don't be afraid to delegate! There is nothing wrong with assigning a task to another capable adult.
Build a support system. When it comes to burnout, a support system of other working moms can be pure gold. Just having people who know what you're going through and who can sympathize makes a world of difference. They understand the struggle and can help talk you down off a ledge when necessary. Even better? Your working mom friends are ALWAYS willing to pitch in and take the kids for a day or to chill and drink a glass of wine when you're feeling out-of-sorts.
Seek professional help. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can't get over those feelings of overwhelm. That's ok! If you can't handle it yourself, talk to a professional. What you're feeling is not uncommon, and a trained therapist CAN help you.
It takes a lot to be a working mom. But with some self-awareness and self-care, you can juggle it all without reaching the tipping point. You've got this, mommy!