The other day, as I scrolled my Facebook feed, I came upon a post about burnout in a local mom's group. It was right before school was to restart after winter break and the mama who posted was lamenting about how hard it was to wait for her kids to go back to school. I remember passionately shaking my head (virtually) in agreement. I love, LOVE, LOOOVE my kids...with all of my being. But I, too, was ready for a little more me time that didn't require keeping another human alive, answering to "mommy!" and arguing over food choices.
As a mom, we have the ability to do all.the.things. We are awesome at managing multiple tasks at a time, like holding a baby while cooking/eating/toothbrushing and standing up. Sometimes we are even holding a full conversation about the bills, the schedules or how someone's day had gone. And we do it all the time. But after certain amount of time, especially when we notice a certain level of grumpiness or irritability creeping in, we realize that we are just plain burning the candle at both ends.
There are many reasons why this is not ideal for anybody, not the least because a mama with a calmer nervous system is so much more capable of handling stressful situations, including those dealing with her family. And the truth is: we don’t have to do it all. So today, I want to discuss mama burnout including how to know if you are going toward being there (or ARE there) and how to mindfully move out of it when you do!
To begin, there are some telltale signs that you are experiencing mama burnout:
- You’re easily irritated by everyone, especially your baby/children/partner. Everything they do, every time they say "mommy" or anytime if they have a tiny tantrum, it feels so irritating or overwhelming.
- You’re always exhausted. This could be an combination of too many nights of broken or not enough sleep paired with the expectation that you have to do it all. If exhaustion is ongoing, it starts to take a toll on everything in your life. This can especially be true immediately postpartum - i.e. the first 6 months of your baby's life. Exhaustion can manifest in so many ways, affecting your health and immune system, your libido and will show up as a strong desire to just park yourself in front of the cupboard noshing on cookies and other sugary goods. All of these signs can reflect how much or how little sleep you are getting, and more importantly, the quality of it. Sometimes when you’re in complete burnout, your good friend insomnia shows up as well.
- You feel overwhelmed by even the smallest of tasks, so you don't do any of them. Your to-do list feels like it's a mile long and not doable and so you get mental overload and feel stuck. There was a wonderful article you can read here about mental overload that moms experience. It's a real thing. Nay an epidemic.
- You feel disconnected from yourself and others. You feel yourself move through the day like a robot, just getting by. Perhaps you are looking at your phone, checking out by scrolling aimlessly through social media or binge watching a series on Netflix.
- Joy is hard to find. Even when you do have a little time to yourself, it doesn't feel like enough. I mentioned this to my husband the other day and he said, "yeah, time flies when you need more of it. Two hours can feel like 20 minutes when you are a parent."
There are surely more signs than I will name here. (This article is an awesome read and goes into this and the root of burnout a little deeper!) These are the common ones I have experienced and seen with mamas that I work with on a frequent basis. Please take a moment and check in with yourself. Reflect on how you know when YOU are experiencing burnout. Then write down your own symptoms, so that you can move through the next part: 5 small steps to mindfully move out of burnout.
Just a note: I know it can feel overwhelming to take on any new things when you are already feeling burned out on doing things. I totally get that! So here are a few small doable things that won’t take up a ton more energy, and in fact will hopefully do the opposite and give you time back for more sleep, more mental clarity and more patience with yourself and others in your life.
5 small steps to mindfully move out of burnout
1. Take 5 deep breaths. Close your eyes and give your fight or flight part of your mama brain a moment of rest. You can even set a timer and sit in silence just being with your breath for three minutes. Start with three minutes, and gradually move up to five. Notice when judgment comes up, and breathe into it, not believing it but noticing. Judgment is SO exhausting.
2. Write down 3 things that bring you energy and 3 things that exhaust you. This takes 2 minutes. Then look at the list of those things that exhaust you and ask yourself, "do I absolutely need to do these?" If you can let one or all of them go, do it. Just say "no.": Cancel that meeting/date. Or if that's not possible, how might you shift your internal dialog about them? Or is there anyone else that can it it for you? And ask them.
The other day, when we were preparing for a crazy snow storm, a mama confessed that she sent her husband to the grocery store to brave the crowds while she relaxed on the couch with a glass of wine. Another mom talked about how when she was 7 weeks postpartum, she was making breakfast for her husband every morning and then, eventually when they were arguing about it (because she was exhausted from doing it all), he gently reminded her that he never expected that of her - it was HER expectation of herself. A lot of the time, moms think we have to do it all, as if it's going to win us a gold metal. But it doesn't. We were never meant to do it all on our own but it was never something that we were meant to do alone.
3. Carve out time on your schedule DAILY to be still. Give yourself permission to sit still, to leave the dishes or the toy explosion, or the laundry and just be still. There are a few amazing apps out there that can guide you through 2-5 minute meditations or relaxations. Yoga Nidra is an awesome way to refill your mama well in a short amount of time. (I love Karen Brody's approach and book - Daring to Rest. Check her out here!)
4. Practice saying no. Start with once a day. Take a moment when asked to commit to something, and ask yourself, "is this something I can (politely) decline so I can have more spaciousness in my life? It may be uncomfortable at first. It’s going to feel unfamiliar, especially if you’re someone that always says "yes", but what you say "no" to is equally as important as what you say "yes" to.
5. Consciously take time away. For a day at least, if not a weekend or longer take some time away from your every day life. Get into nature by going on a walk or a hike. Go on a yoga and meditation retreat. Or maybe it’s just a regular yoga or dance class and coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Or it’s a weekend away by yourself or with your beloved.
Or maybe right now in your life, it may be more double to commit to 5 minutes alone in the bathroom or an hour in the bathtub with some candles - a dedicated and protected moment in time when you aren't being needed by anyone.
However it is that you get away for a break, commit to letting go of any guilt that might come from it from not being completely present for everything your family is doing at that time. When you are present for yourself, you create space to have presence for others. When you are not present to yourself and your needs, burnout is likely to follow.
In the end, it all comes back to love and a commitment to yourself to remember to prioritize yourself. It's not selfish, mama. It's necessary. And the next time you snap at your partner or kids or want to get in the car and go to the store because you need a break, come back to these few steps (or your own that you discover) and you'll find your way back to center.