Mommy Burnout, and how to Recognize & Prevent it.
At this point, I had been on maternity leave for a couple months. I was tired, exhausted really. Hadn’t had an adult conversation with anyone other than my husband in over a week. And had likely forgotten to eat yet again over the last 12 hours.
And then he woke up, with those adorable brown eyes looking at me with so Much TRUST. And I couldn’t handle the emotion of that moment.
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 heard things like “make sure you take care of you, so you can take care of your new little one” more often then I can remember.
But it doesn’t really prepare you for the impact this new place in life will have on you specifically.
For me, the experience was sooooooooooooooooooo intense that I mentally and emotionally “checked out”. I backed away from the emotional upheaval that I was dealing with in order to be able to take care of our baby.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have help,
It wasn’t that I didn’t care
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be more
It was that I was getting overwhelmed and stressed in ways I had never dealt with before.
When your skin is sensitive to touch like mine, being touched all the time can be borderline painful.
When you’re sensitive to smells and high pitched sounds. Changing a diaper on a screaming baby gets that much harder.
And when your emotions are so deep they overwhelm you any time you let them be felt in the smallest increment, being tired and hormonal become a waking nightmare. And this is when you have a great baby who sleeps and eats and sleeps (which mine did until he could roll…but that’s another story).
I look back now and can see how close I was to a total burn out. I had moments where I didn’t want to be a Mom anymore, even though it was and still is my only real goal in life.
Realizing it’s not Post-Partum Depression
I searched online for information about PPD, but the symptoms never fit exactly what I was dealing with.
Yeah, some were the same (exhaustion both mental & physical, irritability, lack of interest in the baby, etc) but it just didn’t resonate with me. On top of that, I was actually happy the majority of the time.
Then one day when I was reading about going back to work I encountered an article that talked about burn out in the workplace. And it clicked, the symptoms also didn’t 100% match so I can’t be sure.
But what was described felt like what I was working with. After a big sigh of relief, I looked at myself (and my adorable little one) and promised myself I would take better care of me so I wouldn’t burn out as a Mommy.
Being you & a new Mommy at the same time.
No change in life is easy, especially the big changes. But I was determined that I would pull myself out of the destructive spin I was in, and get back to enjoying life.
It started with some self-care.
Kiddo stayed with his Dad, and I went for a massage…Or Kiddo stayed with his Dad and I went for tea with a friend. Or had a shower, or ate real food instead of the quick zapped stuff from our freezer.
I started taking naps with kiddo instead of trying to clean. (Seriously naps are awesome)
I read a lot of books just for fun. I also gave myself permission to enjoy the idea of going back to work.
You see for me the fact that I was burnout was enough for me to start thinking that I don’t want my kid to see that. I don’t want my son to see me give up on life and curl up in the corner and hide from everything.
But that begged the question What do you want out of this stage of your life? It didn’t take a lot of thought.
Like most parents I wanted to enjoy my kid, I wanted to be there to watch him grow and learn. I wanted to see that development.
I hoped I would get to see some of the more interesting “first” events. Like his first step, and hear his first words.
I knew that to really avoid a total burn out I would have to make more time for me as an adult. So I set myself as a priority in my day. and the great news was that I found I could be myself and a new Mommy at the same time. It just takes making some choices on what that looks like and how you want to balance it.
Identifying Burn out
Burn out is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion triggered by unbalance between time available and responsibilities that need taking care of. This causes a prolonged time frame of excessive stress and makes you feel unable to meet the constant demands of the day to day life or even the simplest tasks.
It’s easy to attribute burnout symptoms to something else and often the symptoms are overlooked entirely but here are some of the ones I know I’ve dealt with:
- you have a cold that seems to never go away
- you wake up tiered EVERY MORNING, even though you went to bed tired and got enough hours of sleep
- you don’t want to DO anything, from the smallest and simplest of tasks to the biggest event. Even the things you used to love doing just take too much energy.
- You are on the verge of tears, or extreme emotions regularly. Being cranky is the new norm.
- feeling hopeless or trapped in your situation
- feeling like you’re never doing enough.
- feeling like it’s a challenge to find contentment & joy in life.
- feeling like you constantly have to prove yourself to others
- seeking approval of others more often than normal
- a general feeling of being “off” and you can pinpoint why
All of these are also explainable from other situations as well and easy to interpret as something else. Either way if you think you are in burnout or dealing with any other situation please seek professional help. I can only speak from my own experience here and am NOT a trained professional.
I ticked off all those boxes, and then some.
It was time to take action, here is what I did.
Helping heal from Burnout
- Identify your stressors & reduce or eliminate them where you can
- Find your support people (Friends, Family, and Professionals that can help you build coping skills)
- Get more/enough sleep (hard to do with a baby in the house but extremely important)
- Eat healthier food & make sure you are eating enough (we get mental fog when we are hungry, don’t let that happen)
- Find little ways to build self-care into your day
- Find an interest, skill or passion that aligns with your interests that you can do to help “refuel” yourself mentally and emotionally.
- Be Gentle with yourself, if you have a bad day it’s ok, in the next breath you can start again.
To be clear, this list is not something that I did in one day and it magically got better. I took little bites out of it as I went along and built up a new routine.
It didn’t look like the kind of routine that I thought I would have while on Maternity leave, and I had no clue how to transition it to my day-to-day routine with a career either. But it got me through the next day and the day after that. And pretty soon I was loving being home with kiddo. Even when he woke me for a 2 am feeding, and was up at 5 am the next morning.
But here is the thing, you won’t know what the new routine looks like until it’s working for you. And when you look back on today you can say “I made it through”. I made it through to the other side of a burnout, and that shows me I have the strength and can do what I need to to keep myself from doing this again.
Preventing future Burnout
Burnout isn’t something that most people are aware they need to be active to prevent from happening. Like most health concerns it is easier to prevent then it is to heal. Here are some ideas that may help you kick burnout out the door before it becomes an unwelcome guest in your life.
Eating well and providing our bodies with the right fuel can help reduce the physical stress we handle daily. If we constantly eat sugar for example then our bodies have to work a whole lot harder to provide us with the energy we need to get through the day as well as do the things that need doing.
Your Support Network
I’m looking for your friends and family here first. These are the people that you call when you need help, keep building those relationships and spending time connecting with them. The socializing aspect helps strengthen our emotional stability and strength, when we are isolated or feel like no one will spend time with us is when we start to stress more on the emotional front.
Next let’s look at your professional team around you. Your Family Doctor, other medical professionals, massage therapist, physiotherapist etc. These people are key to helping with the medical stuff you face because we all have a body. If your burnout is at a stage where you or someone who loves you thinks you should get help for it go to one of these or a psychologist. Get the help you need.
Ditch you Dependancies
If when you are stressed you reach for sugar find a way to stop that. If you have a bad day at work and then go home to sulk under the covers refusing to speak to anyone. STOP. These are habbits that are making your days worse and raise your stress levels in the long run. Find a way to break that.
Take Breaks when you work
Our brains need down time, it’s a fact we can’t get away from. So if you work from 9 to 5 make sure you take at least your lunch and 2 breaks. Look away from what ever you are doing, think about something else. You don’t want to keep the brain working hard all day long, it’s like a muscle. You wouldn’t strain it to the end of it’s abilities all day and then expect it to do the same thing tomorrow with out consequences. So why do you do this to your brain?
Unplug from the electronics
Yup, you read that right. Put the phone down and walk away for a time. Try 5 minutes, then 10, work up to a whole day. I know, I know I’m horrible with this one myself. It’s not easy, I often wonder if I’m not addicted to my electronics because I feel I must pick them up all the time.
But this is like taking breaks at work, give the brain some down time. That screen is not helping you,
Find something creative to do
Think hobby here, soemthing that you enjoy. Maybe it’s singing, or writing, or sewing, or beading or…. you get the drift (these are some of my favorites btw). Bring something fun to do into your life. Your brain will thank you, your emotions will have a way to be expressed with out doing the whole “burnout” droopy dumping stuff no one enjoys experiencing.
Excersize/Move that body
Yup, you knew this was coming. It comes up in EVERY aspect of self care, humans are NOT. I repeate NOT made to sit still all day and never move. We were built to be in action, so go for a walk! Heck walk to the first intersection on your street right now if you can then come back and read the little bit I have left for you.
Now that you’ve moved a bit I bet you feel better already, am I right? Yeah, keep repeating that daily. It doesn’t have to be a big excersize routine to help either, a simple walk or as I’ve been adding lately, a 15 minute stretch can help de-stress a bit.
Like I said, prevention will always be easier then healing when it comes to burnout. But with these keys you can do both. Hopefully you never have to deal with any kind or amount of burnout, but chances are at some point you will.
In that time I wish you peace, and patcience to be gentle with yourself.
Have you dealt with burnout? What did you do to help get through/past it? What do you do now to prevent burn out?