Are You a Burned-Out Mom?

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:

  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion
  • 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


33 thoughts on “Are You a Burned-Out Mom?

  1. Pingback: Mommy Burn out
  2. I answered YES to all of these. I just wish it was easier to do something about it, but it’s feels to overwhelming. I just want to hide under the bed and stay there.

  3. in response to imase-I understand how overwhelming it can feel to read this post and identify with many parts, or as what you mentioned, most of the post. Let me first start by saying, you are not alone. Many mothers have felt the same way you are feeling right now. Reach out to supportive people in your life and perhaps a professional, who can provide an amazing amount of support to you. Often the worst part of burnout is feeling alone, followed by next wondering what to do. My thoughts are with you.

    1. Juliana-thank you for stopping by and reading the post. I hope you find some information and skills to help reduce burnout. Sending you positive thoughts….

  4. I’m experiencing this very situation right now. I thought it was just me. I have no motivation to even get off the couch most days. I would rather surf the Internet than to wash my dishes. It is affecting my marriage and my husband doesn’t seem to understand. He thinks I’m just being lazy I guess. I am a stay at home mom to 4 beautiful children and my husband has been no help. He gets to go to work everyday while I’ve had no break in months. Glad to know I’m not alone.

    1. Hi Sherri-
      I understand how hard it is to be caring for children without a break. I’m glad the post provided some support, at the least, to know you are not alone. Many people wait for motivation to do an activity. Instead, the way to increase activity is to plan and then do the behavior, as hard as it is. Motivation follows activity. Being at home and raising children can be challenging, because all of our self-worth tends to be wrapped up in household activites or our children. Tomorrow, make a list of five things you need to do. Pick one of them and do it, no matter how you feel. Limit your time on the internet, leave it for after you have done an acitivty for the house, yourself or children. Surfing the net can be a time waster, especially if you are feeling down or unmotivated. Please check out other posts on the site about self-care, gratitude and well-being. Sending you positve thoughts and energy.

  5. I can relate to most of the post, I have a total of 6 children, 3 of which are young adults who live on their own and 3 in elementary school. My husband has slowly turned into a drug addict and does not provide any help physically or financially. I feel so overwhelmed and completely burnt out on pretty much everything in my life. I love each of my children dearly but yet feel like I am s stuck in the movie Groundhog Day. Nothing ever changes day after day I am responsible for it all, and if I don’t do it myself than nothing gets done. I love my children, but I hate my life.

  6. I suspected burnout when (I got done with my work – I work while my daughter sleeps early in the morning or after she sleeps – however I can fit in) and she was still sleeping. Normally I am in the middle of three books or know exactly what I want to do…but instead I sat down and tried listening to my favorite song. I couldn’t get through it, for the first time in 14 years I didn’t finish my song and feel great/better after. My husband, who works on the road, was texting me throughout the whole thing (and he is working). Sometimes I feel like he forgets (and I’m sure it is easy to do) I don’t have a time clock…I don’t have a change of scenery. I feel a bit better after typing, but not inspired to try listening to that song again – and that makes me sad.

  7. This post was really comforting to me as I am at my wit’s end and hate myself for it. I’m sitting down tonight to evaluate and redirect. Thank you!

  8. I suspect I’m burnt out. I’m having trouble coping, raising my daughter and I’m a single parent. My mom passed away in July.
    Positives: even though things are really hard, I’m not turning to any coping ways that used to be bad for me.
    Your post helped me flag that I’m not doing that great though and I need to check in with my doctor on Monday and enlist some friends’ help. Thanks for that,

    1. I am sorry about the loss of your mother. Being a single mom, raising your daughter and dealing with the loss of your mom takes an amazing amount of energy. Be kind to yourself and do what has to get done and dont put more pressure on yourself. Being able to highlight the postive in your life is a small yet important step to feeling better. DO check in with your doctor and conisder counseling for additional support. My thoughts are with you and so grateful my post helped you. Take care.

  9. I have six kids and I thought I was good at being a mother until I had my youngest . He was the worst sleeper and from there everything has gone down hill I can’t cope. I am fed up of people, of mess, of being this miserable being drained of everything good I need help but no one will the doctor just gave tablets I wanted to scream at him that life will still be hell, just medicated hell

    1. Hi-I’m so sorry to hear how challenging things are for you right now. Sleep deprivation will impact mood, coping skills and overall enjoyment of life. Please reach out to a counselor and get some support. Medication is only one part of treating stress. You have so much responsibility caring for your children. Reach out to a friend or family member as well to get some sleep on a regular basis. I sure hope you feel better soon.

    1. Hi Shakhanah-twins, working fulltime and going to school full-time is an enormous amount of work! Without insurance, you could reach out to your local community mental health center for support, often there are therapists who provide counseling based on what you can afford. Make sure to get enough sleep, that is so important and take care of your nutritional needs. Do you have any support in the area so you can take small breaks to rest and restore? Please reach out to a mental health professional to get regular support on how to cope with all of the demands in your life.

  10. After reading i think im in same track ,most of the days I feel irritating, sleepy,angry ,not feeling to talk even with my kids ,no friend to talk with me because no one is there to talk of my age or u can say of my thinking ,I’m really worried of myself ,I don’t understand what to do to recover myself .being a mother of two kid one is 12 yes and second one is 5 yrs, I want to recover myself.

  11. A couple years ago, after years of chronic stress that I could not alleviate, (We had a son after 2 miscarriage and he was our 5th child; then my oldest daughter joined the Marines; she later tried to commit suicide and confessed that my ex husband and sexual molested her as a child, she was honorably discharged due to the mental issues she was having, and then she came home pregnant- which was good, because babies are good, but bad because the father was not involved; we began fostering children; began homeschooling our kids; had a child diagnosed with special needs an another with a speech delay needing therapy; we began the process to adopt one of our foster children; and my father was diagnosed with and died of lung cancer. Added to all that, I turned 40. Just to give an idea of the stess) I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, I had my doctor run test after test (I thought surely it was hormonal) It turned out that the preceding 5 years of stress, good and bad, had caused what my doctor (naturopath) referred to as “adrenal fatigue.” I had been using so much of my cortisol, dealing with the stress, that I was almost completely depleted of cortisol. (cortisol, is the hormone our body uses when it is under stress. It is released into our blood stream to regulate blood sugar, controls metabolism of glucose, fat and protein and other bodily functions, so is very important, and serious when deficient. And in the most seriously depleted, can be fatal.) I was dangerously close to having so little that it would be in the potentially fatal range. I started taking B complex injections, as well as daily double doses of it in pill form (bought from a respected health source, so it was effectively used by my body); I started taking an adrenal complex, daily doses of Vit D3, liquid iodine (for a “sluggish” but not quite hypo thyroid and for fibrous tissue in my breasts). Eventually, I did have to take an antidepressant for about 18 months, because I couldn’t alleviate enough of my stress for my body to heal on its own, even with my efforts. I even began running, once my adrenal fatigue was lessened enough not to cause damage. I am happy to say that after counseling, making time to invest in myself, getting regular exercise, practicing my faith, and the support of my family, things are getting better. I’m not completely well yet, but I’m getting there. I share all this to encourage others to acknowledge the burnout as quickly as you can, so you can avoid having to go to extremes to get better. Our bodies and our minds were not made to handle continuous, ongoing stress without relief. And even the strongest people can be effected. Those the least likely to feel like “burnout” is a real thing. The go-getters, the ones everyone leans on in a crisis, are actually more likely to experience it, from what I have seen. Know yourself, and know your symptoms. Address it quickly. Heart attacks, strokes, chronic pain… All can be caused by not addressing the stress and symptoms of burnout or depression in your life.

  12. I answered yes to all of the above. Yes now I know I’m not alone, but here is my thing; I sometimes fear that by feeling so burnt out that I’m not as grateful to what I have or I’m on the negative side of life. I also blame my self for not having a career or a job, something I forgone 7 years ago to be a full time mother. Nothing to regret here, but I just can’t spend another couple of years driving my kids to school & extracurriculars.
    Thanks for the article.

  13. I am going through this now but reading the comments I haven’t got it as bad as others which makes me feel worse. I answered yes to them all. I have a 3 year old girl who is beautiful and I love her with every part of me but I’m struggling to appreciate her fully, I know she is being a typical toddler but I feel like a failure because I’m not coping and my husband doesn’t understand and sees me as just snapping at minor things. Every little thing she does feels like it is tearing at me. I feel like I’m failing at being a mother and a wife. I have no one I can talk to. It’s reassuring knowing I am not alone because I thought I was since the people I know who have toddlers are happy even though they get stressed at times.

  14. I got across this article looking to understand better what’s going on with me, I’m a mother to two wonderful kids, of 5 and 2 years old, but I feel often I failed as a mother, I don’t have the patience with them anymore, I’m tired most of the time, I work full time job and then come home and stay full time with kids as my husband works different shift so we can cover the time with the kids. I learned that I’m also in a pre diabetic state, and now I understand that this could be related the the permanent stress I was dealing for the past 9 years. I turned to painting as a therapy for my stress and is working, but I can’t go to the classes as my husband is not supporting this and don’t take care of the kids, and with no relief from anywhere my stress is just increasing day after day. I don’t have where to share my feelings, my struggles, no one is willing or able to help even if I ask, all my family and relatives lives overseas, I’m just alone here, too lonely… Bless you all mothers that do such an important job in raising children in a society that is not willing to help us achieve this important job.

  15. This list sounds more like depression than simply “Mummy burnout”. Please, see your doctor if it persists for more than two weeks.

    1. Yes, well said Leah, left untreated, symptoms of burnout will lead to depression. Thanks for sharing!

  16. I have two children, ages 4 1/2 years and 10 months. I’m also a working mother, I teach preschool/kindergarten. I reach the brink of burn out often. My husband is busy, works a regular job and helps on a farm. Many nights are late nights for him. I never thought of a “at home” date night. This might be something worth working out.

  17. Yes, Yes and YES!! As I write this comment, I am sitting alone in my car with tears of stress and burn out running down my face. I have 3 beautiful miracle boys, all adopted, all young and very close in age. They are great kids, but A LOT of energy to handle! I have been experiencing overwhelming daily stress since my youngest (4 yrs old) was born. Truth be told, it all started with our first, whom we adopted from foster care, after a long and scary battle. But I don’t feel like the stress negatively affected my life or health until our youngest (colicky) baby was born and I had a three year old and 8 month old at home.

    My husband isn’t very much help. He works, more than full time, just as a way to not have to be so involved with our kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband – as a husband. But as a father, he is an A-hole! He makes parenting SO much harder! Then to top it all off, a year and a half ago, we moved 300 miles away from all friends and family and I really haven’t been able to find and connect to anyone else in our new town. I have acquaintances, but no real friends. I feel completely alone and helpless, with no end or help in sight. Tried medication but I don’t want to keep that ongoing forever. I also tried counseling, but it really didn’t help. I am honestly at the end of my rope, with no idea where to go from here!

  18. Thank you for this post. I’ve been going through it, and it’s been a struggle to get to this point. Started therapy, and a group class recently and I am learning a lot. It’s a struggle every day but I think I am realizing a pattern, and that around the same time every week I am at a peak of intensity. So, now I need to find a way to change this or at least work on it… I want to be a good role model, not always stressed and angry.

  19. The symptoms discribe me. I have 3 kids ages 3 months to 3 years. My husband works but comes home tired and usually doesnt have energy for much else. I recently cut ties with my mom after her boyfriend had a violent episode with my husband in front of me and my children. I cant take a break, literally I signed up on and still cant find anyone free 60 registed sitters they always booked. I feel like I have hit a wall in logistics! Plus I’m afraid that baby #4 might be on the way despite birth control. My oldest refuses to potty train. I dont think I can manage 4 in diapers.

  20. It took me a few years to realize I was burning out, but once I started taking a little bit of Me Time to rejuvenate I felt better. Motherhood is a balance for sure.

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