Do you feel irritated, annoyed or stressed most days?
Do you find yourself snapping at your children, partner/spouse, friends or co-workers?
Do you feel exhausted most days regardless of how much rest and sleep you get?
Have you lost interest in doing activities you once enjoyed?
Do you have difficulty taking care of your children and find their needs overwhelming?
Do you believe you have to be perfect?
If you answered ‘yes’ to feeling exhausted most of the time and ‘yes’ to any other of the questions, you might be experiencing burnout.
Burnout is chronic exhaustion and stress resulting in reduced job performance and personal satisfaction in work. Research on burnout is often focused on helping and care-based professions: physicians, psychologists, nurses, social workers, therapists, police, rescue and first responders.
So how does burnout apply to motherhood?
Being a mother is the ultimate care-based job; there are many duties, tasks and responsibilities involved in raising a child. The job of being a mother is lovely, wonderful, challenging and exhausting. It is a marathon of caring for and raising a little human being into adulthood.
The biggest sign of burnout for mothers is exhaustion. If you feel so tired during the day, regardless of how much sleep you had the night before, and all you can do is think about when you are going to get more sleep, this is exhaustion. Most parents experience exhaustion at some point, for example, caring for a newborn, the first year of their child’s life, and during the process of adoption.
Exhaustion with big life events is expected.
Sometimes we can identify where our stress is coming from: a change in job, partner/spouse traveling, demands caring for a sick child, financial stress, changes in support with friends and family, which can include conflict and fighting. However, if you are experiencing fatigue and exhaustion without being able to pinpoint the source, for example, getting up in the middle of the night to care for your child, then exhaustion from stress could be the reason.
Signs and Symptoms of Burnout:
- Low productivity ( Not being able to complete responsibilities and tasks; caring for yourself, children, partner/spouse, volunteer and/or work responsibilities)
- Problems sleeping
- Reduced enjoyment of your children
- Teeth grinding or clenching jaw and/or jaw pain
- Negative attitudes (about oneself and/or others)
- Lack of motivation
- Decline in job performance
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
We all have challenging days when we experience many of the above symptoms. The key is to understand how often and for how long we experience the symptoms. If you find that you have these symptoms several times a week, for many weeks at a time, then this could signal serious stress.
As a Clinical Psychologist and mother, I am constantly in roles of caring for people. I love my job, and I love my children. Sounds like a disclaimer, right? The truth is, sometimes, I am so exhausted from the amount of giving and nurturing in my life that I begin to notice symptoms of burnout in my own life. For me, burnout shows up with being overly tired, irritable and wanting to be alone. Taking care of my children, tolerating their moods and being around them can be so overwhelming when I am burned-out. I watch carefully for the signs of burnout in my life. Overtime, I have come to understand my subtle symptoms of burnout: drinking more than two cups of coffee a day to increase energy, feeling tearful after intense work weeks, especially when driving, and wasting time surfing the internet as a way to cope with stress. It is amazing how much time you can spend on Pinterest!
When I notice these behaviors in myself, I do more to take care of myself through exercise, yoga, getting enough rest and to reaching out to friends, family and co-workers.
Take a moment and think about how symptoms of burnout shows up in your life. Make a list and keep a mental note. If you can’t think of any symptoms, pay attention this week to how stress impacts you. Try to notice patterns in your thinking or behavior which signal potential burnout. Sometimes just paying attention to when you are doing too much can help you plan to organize your time differently.
So what do you do if you notice you are experiencing burnout?
- Identify the source of stress.
- Are you able to reduce the stress?
- Is it short-term or more long-term stress? (Consider: If stress is more long-term, e.g., partner’s unemployment or change of health in your parent, then you will need to make a plan to cope with the chronic stress.)
- Reach out to supportive people in your life to talk and receive support.
- Limit perfectionistic thinking (e.g., “I have to do it all perfectly, If it isn’t done my way, then it’s wrong, I’m the only one who can do things right.”)
- Make a list of the helpful ways you cope with stress. (If you need a few ideas, check out this list of ways to cope with stress, here.)
- Find a way to schedule time each day to engage in one of these activities, even if it is fifteen-minutes.
- Ask your partner/spouse/family members to help with tasks that are stressful.
- Look at the tasks; what you have to do versus what you want to do? For example, group tasks into categories: Have to get done, Can wait until tomorrow, Later in the week and When I can get to it.
- Increase activities of rest and happiness.
- Allow yourself to have time away from your children without feeling guilty. Even small amounts of time away can be beneficial to cope with the demands of raising a child and the added stress in your life.
- If you notice chronic stress and burnout, reach out to a mental health professional or medical doctor for assessment and support.
- Brief therapy, (e.g., four to eight sessions), can be beneficial for coping with stress.
Burnout happens to most moms at some point in motherhood. When it happens, suspend judging yourself negatively and harshly. You are not a failure as a mom because you experience symptoms of burnout. Instead, be compassionate to yourself, increase self-care and coping, and make small changes to manage the stress in your life.
Motherhood is not an event; it is a journey, take care of yourself.
Interested in finding out if you are burned out as a parent? Please take the quiz I’ve developed a quiz designed to tell you if you are burned out and what you can do to improve your well-being and prevent and reduce burnout in parenthood.
Check out Are You a Burned Out Mom? or Are You a Burned Out Dad? and learn more about burnout in parenthood.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2014