On the Front Lines: Battling Mommy Burnout

A version of this blog originally appeared on Birmingham Moms Collective

Busy, Busy, Busy

Let’s be honest, mamas. We were doing too much before COVID – hello the invisible workload of motherhood, all that other stuff we do to ensure our household runs smoothly like getting kids ready for school, baths and bedtime routines, scheduling doctor and dentist appointments, and registering for summer camp and such. Now, almost a year later from when life as we once knew it came to a screeching halt, we have even more tacked on to our already overflowing to-do list. Lines and roles remain blurred as many of us still don the teacher, hairstylist, childcare provider, and COVID-detector positions. I know I can’t be the only parent asking my three, “Is that you, COVID? “every time a cough escapes their lips.

We’re All Exhausted

As the pandemic wears on, we are growing more and more tired. There’s a word for this seemingly unshakeable fatigue. It’s burnout – mommy burnout to be exact. Burnout is a term typically used in the health care setting. I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines which read something like Front line workers increasingly facing burnout as COVID cases continue to rise. Well, I don’t think it’s just health care workers who are burning out amid the pandemic. Moms are, too. We are beyond tired, irritable and on edge, impatient, unmotivated, plagued by brain fog, and filled with angst about what’s to come.

With burnout, we have heightened emotional responses. We find ourselves quickly losing our temper nearly every day. We yell more frequently at our children, raging because we feel so out of control. We are unable to decide to what to cook for dinner or we’re disinterested in helping our children with their school assignments. It may look like sleeping later in the mornings but too keyed up to rest at night or being unable to muster the energy to exercise or engage in other self-care activities. We cry because we miss our friends, our family, and vacation. It feels like there is no reprieve, no escape – just the endless drudgery and more of the same. All of this is mommy burnout – relentless, unshakeable burnout.

Unpacking Burnout

Burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion caused by chronic stress.

There are three primary components of burnout:

  1. Exhaustion – physical, emotional, and mental fatigue such that you believe you have nothing left to give
  2. Depersonalization – feeling detached and disconnected from others
  3. Lack of a sense of accomplishment – absence of personal achievement, feeling ineffective and unproductive

Signs of burnout include:

These signs are not unique to work but also reflect what we experience as parents. We may miss it if we’re not careful, chalking it up to being a bad parent which only piles on the mommy guilt. But we are not horrible parents. We are simply burned out.

How to Fight Burnout

  1. Create boundaries – Work-life boundaries have melded together during the pandemic, especially if you’re working from home. Make the decision not to answer work emails or take work calls outside of work hours; or if that isn’t feasible for you, put a hard time limit on those work tasks that fall outside of traditional work hours. Perhaps that looks like spending one hour at the end of the workday to complete items.
  2. Prioritize rest and sleep – Find time for leisure activities that you enjoy. Find a good book to read, take a walk and get some fresh air, create daily time for prayer, journal, or check out Bridgerton on Netflix (it’s all the rage, ladies). Do your best to get 7 – 8 hours of restful sleep every night. Sleep is restorative and is good for you physical and mental health.
  3. Plan your escape – No, I don’t mean run off to Fiji with your love although this sounds absolutely delightful. What about a staycation alone at a local hotel? Perhaps an overnight stay or long weekend by yourself for a mental reset. Have your partner keep the kids. If you are a single parent, maybe a family member or friend who has quarantined or tested negative for COVID can watch your children to give you a needed reprieve.
  4. Talk it out – Being open and honest with a close friend can be quite helpful. If the tendency is to keep our emotions bottled up inside, then they may spill out unchecked as pressure continues to mount. This can lead to heated arguments and feeling out of control. Avoid this by sharing the tough stuff. Our friends love us and can offer emotional support and thoughtful advice to get us through challenges. Also consider scheduling a therapy appointment. There are many virtual therapy options including Better Help and Talkspace. Therapists are a vital resource for when we are facing difficult times as well as for the treatment of mental disorders. Therapy works.
  5. Watch for depression – Burnout is not the same as depression though there is some overlap in symptoms. However, burnout can be a precursor for depression. If you find that your mood is persistently sad or irritable for at least 2 weeks (more than exhaustion), sleeping and eating too much or too little, and you feel hopeless or worthless, you might be experiencing depression. If you are contemplating suicide, get help IMMEDIATELY. Tell a loved one, call 911, call your doctor, go the nearest emergency room, or call the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Win Together

It’s been almost a year since COVID-19 pressed pause on the life we once knew. Although it probably hasn’t been all bad, I imagine that, at times, things have been incredibly difficult for many of us. Let there be no shame no matter what this season has looked like for you or your family – the good, the bad, or the devastating. Just don’t try and manage in isolation. Reach out to your family, your tribe, your physician, or send me a message at hello@drleesha.com. We are #momstrong, and we are #strongertogether.

This fabulous picture of amazing super moms was taken pre-COVID

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