Mommy burnout can happen at any time, to any mommy. But by identifying the symptoms early you can take steps to prevent it, and knowing the difference between burnout and postpartum depression or anxiety is a great starting step.
One day it just kinda hit me, I’m a MOM! There is this new little life that is
You would think I would have noticed a tad sooner than a few months into my maternity leave. After all, I did give birth to this new little one. And every day for the last however long had been filled with diaper changes, feeding him every couple of hours, and random panic attacks over what kind of trouble he was going to get into!
And then he woke up, looked at me with those big eyes full of so much TRUST and reached out his hands to touch my face.
And the moment broke me, I couldn’t handle the emotion. And even now thinking back I can’t describe the feeling any more clearly.
There was joy, elation, fear and stress and a whole host of other thoughts and feelings that overwhelmed me to the point that I thought I was broken.
After all wasn’t Motherhood supposed to be this long exhausting, but overwhelming sense of love?
I mentally checked out,
The pre-mommy advice
Everyone warns you that motherhood will be hard, that the challenges will be difficult and that you’ll want to sleep when the baby sleeps. I even remember hearing things like “make sure you take care of you, so you can care for your little one.”
But all the advice in the world doesn’t prepare you for the reality of becoming a Mommy, at least it didn’t really help me.
For me, the experience was intense, not painful, just intense and overwhelming. And I didn’t have the tools to cope mentally or emotionally. After all, as Mothers, we are taught that we need to give, and give and give to our little one(s), that Motherhood is defined by our sacrifice of self to the altar of our kid(s).
And don’t get me started on the social media pressure to “fix your body” right away, or “bounce back”.
Identifying Mommy Burnout
Burnout in general is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
In Mommy terms, this often comes across in a loss of connection to the Mommy-ing relationships in our lives. It becomes harder to parent our littles one(s), our patience runs out quicker, and we are more likely to yell and scream in frustration then remember that they are having a hard time too!
It can show up as a feeling of being “done” with parenting or being “over your kid”. Burnout sucks the joy out of your life, often making us feel like zombies waiting to hit the sheets at night only to wake up and do it all over again perpetuating the cycle.
If you are like me it also makes you moody, forgetful and highly irritable over every little thing. Like hubs just came home and didn’t instantly come get the kiddo from you so now you need to yell at him for 20 minutes type irritable. Oh and halfway through you may just forget why you were yelling and yell just for the sake of yelling.
My husband tends to identify my burnouts before I do, usually, he tells me I seem frazzled. I know I start to forget simple things like meal planning, or even feeding myself. I tend to stop getting things done around the house that I used to do regularly and enjoy doing. And the important stuff that needs doing like paying bills or reviewing schedules etc gets left to chance or my husband when I’m burnt.
I read once that so many of us think that being constantly busy is a badge of honor so we run around like we are on fire. So here is the question that’s been burning me, If you don’t want to burn out, stop living like you’re on fire!
Let me repeat that…
If you don’t want to burn out, stop living like you’re on fire!
You are going to need to be honest about what burnout looks like for you, it’s not going to look the same for everyone. And it can hit us for many reasons. I’ve faced burn out long term as a Mom, a Woman, an employee, a business owner, a wife, and just life in general. And more than a few times as some combination of all these things piled on top of each other. It never looks exactly the same either. Plus it is easy to attribute burnout symptoms to something else or even overlook them entierly.
According to Psychology Today, there are some really clear indicators for burnout, you may not experience them all but you could go through stages where some are more prominent than others.
Chronic Fatigue & Insomnia
It might just be a lack of energy to start with right up to an inability to move or do anything but sleep. It can include things like having a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep as well, and I’m not talking about the baby waking you or keeping you up which can make this worse. I’m talking about times when someone else is watching kiddo and you still can’t sleep, or even take a mental break.
It can feel like you are waking up tired, even when you went to bed tired and got enough hours of sleep.
frequent headaches or muscle pain
While not always related to burnout, often our bodies have tried to compensate for the stress and as a result, they start shutting off or just taking breaks. I used to wake up with a splitting headache that became a migraine during the day way more often when I was
lowered immunity/getting sick more
Your body can only handle so much stress, and it will try to get you to take the breaks you need by forcing you to rest. It could be something as small as a cold or mild flu, but if you are repeatedly getting hit with this stuff it can progress to stronger and longer lasting illnesses. At the time of writing
Yeah I didn’t think my anger was part of this, but it totally was, it can be anger directed at someone specifically (spouse or co-worker), irritability, and can morph into outbursts and some pretty serious arguments. If you feel like you might get violent please SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP!
Ok, this is my biggest indicator, and I can’t say enough how much you really should get help for Anxiety if you have it, or are dealing with any aspects of it. Sometimes a mental health support person is a Godsend (yes I’ve been to therapy and it was totally worth it).
Anxiety can show up as tension, worry, and edginess (as well as irritability), but it can get so severe that it stops you from doing things that you normally would be fine with.
Mine tends to get
Yes you can feel depressed AND have burnout, anything from mild sadness, occasional hopelessness or even guilt to the point of feeling worthless and like you are trapped and beyond. (Please if you are dealing with depression seek professional help)
Isolation usually breeds detachment, is a general sense of them vs
There can also be a distinct sense of not being attached to your own child, while in some cases this is normal if you had felt a connection and it seems to have disappeared over time be on the lookout for other burnout symptoms.
Lack of Accomplishment
This does NOT mean you never get anything done, but it often FEELS like you never get anything of value done. Or that what you are doing is unimportant, useless and often results in things that feel incomplete or lacking in purpose. I’d found myself looking at the bin full of dirty diapers and wondering if I would ever be useful again, never mind that changing a diaper was important to baby’s health and wellness I just couldn’t see the value in it anymore. Or it could be that you feel like you are never doing enough!
loss of enjoyment
This can start as just being unenthusiastic to leave the house in the morning, or a desire to avoid work at all costs… it’s the least likely thing you will notice, at least at first. After all to get to this point you’ve likely been pushing to get to “super mommy” status. And super moms are usually looking like they love doing everything.
We all talk to our selves in some capacity, if you have noticed that the negative chatter has gotten stronger or taken over completely beware. This can get so bad that you start to extend into trust issues both with yourself and those around you and includes feeling like you can’t count on anyone.
Realizing that burnout is NOT Postpartum Depression
The first time I went through this I thought I was facing PostPartum Depression, I searched online for information to confirm it, but the symptoms listed never quite fit. Yeah I had depressive moments for sure. But somethings just didn’t feel right about what people were describing as PPD.
I mean some stuff was the same, I was exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally, I was irritable, and had reduced interest in the baby. But the description did not feel like it described me.
Then one day when I was reading about going back to work I found an article that talked about burn out in the workplace. And it clicked, the symptoms matched and it felt like this was what I was dealing with.
I tried talking to my husband, but there really isn’t a lot of great material out there on burnout in Motherhood, and I felt dismissed (even though he didn’t mean to) and so did not pursue any further help. We had both been on the lookout for depression but since that didn’t show up it was a lot easier to dismiss the whole burnout idea as not important.
It wasn’t until recently that I started working on healing myself that I realized what was going on. With kiddo coming up on his 3rd birthday this summer I’ve been feeling more and more exhausted. More and more “off-kilter” and more and more like I just want to toss in the towel and hide under the covers for the foreseeable future.
I’ll be upfront, I’m at that point where I’m snapping at my boss and co-workers in the office more and more. And when I leave for the day it’s hard to NOT freak out over the fact that I need to come back. I feel drained and exhausted just thinking about going to work, and every day it’s a fight to get out of bed in the morning.
Healing Mommy Burnout
So what do we do to make it better? How can we heal from burnout and take back the joy in our lives, not just as Mothers but as women who deserve to be enjoying life?
Enter the self-care, unfortunately, no one is going to do this for you and there are NO MAGIC PILLS. You are going to need to take charge and figure out what will help you recover. And there is a tone of books and sites all dedicated to the whole “self-care” industry that seems to have popped up over the last few years.
But here is the secret, you don’t need to spend a tone of money to build your best self-care routine. Here are the highlights of what I’m doing right now to help me recover from burnout and are the easiest steps in the world to implement often with little to no cost.
Or at least better, one of the reasons why we fall into the burnout cycle is the lack of sleep Mothers experience. When babies are very young they have only known Mom and therefore cry and scream to be near her. If you are breastfeeding chances are you are being screamed at to feed the baby every couple of hours.
Sleep deprivation is real and a dangerous thing, it causes all sorts of havoc in your body and mind, and can effectively be a form of torcher. Those who experience severe sleep deprivation will even often experience hallucinations, can you imagine trying to care for yourself and your children while hearing voices or seeing shadows constantly?
Sleep is pivotal in helping you manage your emotions. While it is recomended that we all get at least 6 to 8 hours a night this doesn’t always work with young children in the house. How you go about increasing your sleep will depend on your schedule, family dynamics, and where you work (cause yes stay at home Mom’s all work their tails off, just like those who go into an office or work from home). But you will need to make more time to sleep in your schedule.
If you are like me and breastfeed baby, it might be helpful to keep kiddo in the same room but their own bed. My little one is what we call an “active sleeper” so I found it challenging to sleep in the same bed as him simply because he moved around so much. At the same time I wasn’t ready to put him in his own room (remember I panicked over his breathing) so having him right there, and in easy reach but in his own space let me sleep.
If you are lucky enough to have a partner that has time to help you, or a family member willing to step in and help you can also let them watch kiddo while you sleep in the next room. That way they can come back and get you if needed and you can sleep knowing your little one is taken care of.
These are just a couple of the ways I’ve been able to sneak in more sleep, but there are tones of others out there too.
Balance your Diet
Most of us know that things like sugar and caffeine or fast foods are quick sources of energy, but have little nutritional value and can result in a tired and cranky Mommy. And we all strive to eat a nutritious diet as much as possible, especially if we are breastfeeding since that means we are also feeding kiddo whatever we are eating.
But it also means we should be aware and try to avoid skipping meals since that messes with our blood sugar levels and can cause some pretty intense mood swings.
I have found it is often the most convenient food I’m reaching for when I feel cranky and irritable, or even just plain hungry. So where possible make those something healthy, and if you have a
Then throw in a bunch of smaller snacks throughout the day, if you are like me and have a hard time eating meals then have more snacks more often, just make sure they
You could also check with a nutritionist to see what will support your health goals long term if that is an option.
I don’t know about you, but I feel soooooooo much better after taking a shower. And there is nothing so fundamental to our welbeing as feeling clean! But many of us go days or even weeks without showering, I hate to admit it but by the point where I have first identified my burnout starting to creep up on me I likely hadn’t showered in 3 weeks. And I was using baby wipes to keep the smell down. (Yes it felt gross)
If you find yourself relying on deodorant, body spray, and a ponytail to get through yet another day put the baby down in a safe spot and GO TAKE A SHOWER! I know I needed one days ago when my husband comes home and has a bath and the only thing I can think about it how jealous of him I am. Believe me, a regular shower will help, heck strap that kiddo into a bouncy chair or swing and bring it with you into the bathroom if you have to but get yourself clean. You will feel better.
I personally have some serious foot rot if I don’t take care of my feet. Like I mean horrible smell. So when kiddo takes a bath Mommy soaks her feet in the water at one end of the tub while kiddo gets scrubbed. Then feet get dried and a pumace stone applied viggorously while kiddo plays in the water under my watchful eye. Kiddo loves this as he gets tones of fun in the water, and Daddy approves since he never has to smell stinky Mommy feet. It’s tricks like this that you can look for in your day to help you feel clean and cared for more often is the big point here.
I haven’t been to a gym in years, but I have gotten some basic exercise worked into my weeks (usually). Dance around with your kiddo, mine loves the Paw Patrol at the moment so we get up and wiggle our buts to the theam song when it comes on.
Include your kids in the “work out” if you can, things like playing “Simon says” with older kids when Mommy is Simon and uses things like jumping jacks or stretches can work wonders. With younger kids (like a newborn) look into things like babywearing, and Mommy and Me DVD’s or YouTube videos that could help you figure out ways to keep baby nearby and still move some.
Let off some steam
Adult conversations are important for adults, and becoming a Mommy does NOT make you anything less then an adult. As women we need a place and a safe space to vent and let of steam, it’s part of how we process things in our heads and often the person we do that with is our partner. But they are not always emotionally available for this task or they may need to let off their own steam from what they are dealing with in life themselves.
That’s why I recommend reaching out to a friend or Mommy Group, it also works well to touch in with supportive family members, or even a therapist to just talk things through and get it out there.
Therapists help in all sorts of scenarios, they are not just for people who have a mental health condition like depression. Many women find it helpful just because they want to know that there is an hour every week where they know the time is dedicated to just them and their own needs.
But letting off steam isn’t always a verbal thing either. There are a bunch of ways to let it out. My personal favourite is journaling, and I’m not talking about those pretty bullet journals you see on Instagram. I’m talking raw, let the emotion hit the page, written just for me journaling. Where you pour out all the emotion and thoughts you have onto the page to be dealt with through the pen. Right now I’m getting back into my journaling and loving how much stress it takes off my shoulders. Just 5 minutes a day and I’m seeing a happier me.
There are other things too that might work for you besides journaling, it can be listening to the right music or a meditation, or cleaning something (my house gets cleaner when I’m frustrated). It’s really any task or mental process that lets you get all that stuff out of your system.
Set some healthy boundaries
This one is NOT the easiest thing to do, but usually, when we start freaking out at this level we have some external pressure to be something specific. It’s ok to say ‘NO’ just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
There are far too many times when we squeeze something into the day because we can and it just adds to the mental load we already carry as Mothers. But every little thing adds up, even if you think that one little thing won’t affect you that much how many little things have you “fit in” today?
Once you start saying no to tasks and time sucks, you will also find it leads to setting healthier boundaries with the people around you. You don’t need to be accessible 24/7, so why are you plugged into your phone that much? If you miss a call you can call them back. Did you know that your cell phone can affect your mental health? No? Think you can unplug for a while each day and take back your time?
So put yourself on a social media diet at the same time, stop comparing yourself to others best versions of themselves. They aren’t showing you the whole picture, and I promise, you will survive it, and they will too.
Get yourself on a schedule
Last but not least I’m working out the schedule for our family’s days. When we know what to expect in the coming time it’s easier to handle them right now. That way I’m not worried about making sure that the bill gets paid, or kiddo gets to his doctor’s appointment on time, etc.
Now it doesn’t have to be the same schedule day in and day out, but something that fits with your family’s lifestyle. My husband works some rather odd hours on occasion so his schedule can be random, but kiddo and I are pretty consistent from getting up at 6am to in bed around 8pm most weekdays. If hubs is home on the weekend then he gets up with kiddo and lets me sleep. But again it’s still a routine even with that flexibility built-in.
Preventing Mommy Burnout
It’s easy to attribute most of the symptoms of Mommy Burnout or any kind of burnout to something else. So when things are starting to feel off, or you don’t feel like yourself any more reach out. The BEST way to prevent total burn out is to know the early signs and do what you need to for yourself to get back to feeling like you.
Motherhood is a new and exciting chapter in our lives, and YES many things will change, including who we are and how we define ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we lose ourselves entirely, the core of who we are and who we believe we are is still the same.
I hope you never have to deal with this yourself, and that you find much joy in your life. Please be gentle with yourself, and persist in taking care of you! You are worth it.