Mothers burn-out is no joke.
As a parenting coach, I see it all the time. Many of the women that I work with – once vibrant excited beings, come to me exhausted, lacking confidence and motivation.
Burn-out, a term coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, is when there are consequences to being under extreme pressure. Typically it can be exhaustion, overwhelm and inability to cope. It used to be reserved for people in “helping professions”, but can now apply to others too – including busy parents. Mothers get hit big time with burn-out as they are the ultimate “giver” – it doesn’t get much more “helping profession” than this – except they don’t get paid, and oftentimes even valued for the hard work they do, which is never ceasing.
The demands and high standards set for motherhood are impossible to live up to. Throw in some comparison on social media where people are posting pictures of how “right” they’re getting it, and it can often send moms into a shame spiral, leading them to try even harder, or give even more. Mother’s guilt is a real-life voice inside your head, and it judges every move that you make. It isn’t satisfied if you go out to work, and it isn’t satisfied if you stay home to raise the kids. It feels like you just can’t win.
Juggling the endless demands of motherhood is super hard, but I am here to relieve some of your burden and give you some tips that can help.
Firstly, there is a big difference between stress and stressors.
Stressors are the things stressing you out. Stress is the emotional and physical reaction you have in response to the stressor. You may not be able to change the stressor, but you can deal with the stress while the stressor is ongoing – and that my friend is GREAT news.
The human body was built to deal with acute stressors – like predators appearing out of nowhere to eat us. We were designed to drop everything and focus on nothing but survival in that moment. That means super charging our muscles so that they can run and we can flee, that means being instantly pumped full of adrenalin and other wonderful hormones that can help us get out of this situation alive. In those moments of stress and problem-solving, our bodies were also designed to switch off unnecessary things like learning, sex-drive, and immune function.
We, as humans, are amazing. We are survivors.
The thing is, nowadays the stressors in our lives aren’t lions chasing us. They are chronic ongoing stressors, like deadlines, road-rage, snarky neighbours, to-do lists, and feeling like there’s not enough hours in the day for all our tasks.
If our body is in survival mode or fight-flight-freeze mode for too long we start to feel the consequences. It starts to affect our mood, our sex-drive, our immunity.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because we can’t always change the stressors – but we can change how our body feels about them.
Easy steps you can do to change your body state quickly are tensing all your muscles for 10 seconds and then releasing. Do this a couple of times in a row and it can help release some of the tightness you’re feeling and sending your brain a message that the threat is gone, your body is allowed to relax now.
Physical movement is also great way to do this – so whether you’re into dance, karate, circuit training, running or yoga…using your body can help deal with stress.
Once some of that body tension is out, breathing exercises can really benefit you too. Again, changing your breathing can demonstrate to your body that you are safe and there’s no need to keep pumping stress-hormones.
Also, in order to prevent yourself from even getting to the point of burn-out, self-care is necessary.
I can almost feel you rolling your eyes right now. Who has time for self-care? When we are as busy as we are, there’s no time for anything but the bare necessities. When you’re running from task to task, appointment to appointment, who has time for a massage or a bubble bath?
The truth is self-care isn’t all about bubble baths and pedicures.
Self-care is creating a life that you don’t need to escape from.
It’s saying no to certain things so that you don’t overload yourself, and learning to prioritise your time differently. It’s looking after yourself and realising that relaxation is as important as breathing to your physical health. It is showing your body that there is no threat or predator so it’s safe for you to relax and switch back into learning and optimal immune function mode. Otherwise our health suffers, and if we burn out we are no good to anyone else. Better to look after yourself early mama, before it’s too late and you can’t function at all. You’ve got to fill your own cup so that you can better pour and give to others. Running on empty doesn’t help you or anyone else. Also, by looking after yourself you are teaching your children a valuable skill – how to listen to what their bodies are telling them they need. They learn by our role-modelling.
It’s learning to tune into how you’re feeling inside. When you are exhausted, that is not the time to volunteer to be the one to bake 140 cupcakes for the school bake sale or the one sewing costumes for the school play. Cut back on your tasks for the week when you feel yourself getting over-tired.