Not long ago, I was sitting on my daughter’s bedroom floor, face in my hands, balling my eyes out.
I’d reached my breaking point. I’d run out of mental energy and I felt that I was drowning in all the “stuff”.
Nothing major had happened, I hadn’t been hit with bad news or anything like that… I’d just reached my limit. It was during the most recent lockdown stint so I was homeschooling. I was also trying to run a business, as well as all the other mundane life stuff, like the laundry, ordering the groceries online, cooking meals, cleaning the house and generally keeping the kids alive.
My youngest wasn’t sleeping well, which of course meant he was waking me up each night and I wasn’t getting enough exercise, because I was too tired. It had gotten to the point where I felt like I was spinning plates but they were all a bit wobbly and I was always dropping one or two.
All of this had been building up and when I couldn’t find my daughter’s other sock to the one I had in my hand I just sat and cried. Not because of the sock, but because of the build-up to it over the previous weeks.
I wanted to share this story with you to let you know that I get it, I’ve been there too. It’s so common for us as mums to gradually reach burnout, HOWEVER, I don’t think it’s normal or healthy to do so and it shouldn’t be something we just expect from motherhood.
And so, I want to share with you my top tips for avoiding that stage of burnout (I promise you, I won’t prescribe a bubble bath and a scented candle)…
So, here are my top tips for avoiding burnout in motherhood:
1. Pause and take a breath. Learning how to breathe steadily into your ribs and steadily exhale is so important for stopping the negative feedback loop when we’re feeling down, stressed or anxious. When we’re tense we tend to take shorter breaths up into our shoulders and sometimes hold onto our breath, feeding back to our brain that there’s a possible threatening situation going on (fight or flight). By taking slow breaths in and out we can help stop that feedback loop.
2. Reset your expectations and don’t compare yourself to what you see on social media. You don’t have to do it all and you don’t have to be perfect… that’s not real life. What you see other people post on social media is just a small snippet of the good stuff that’s going on in their life. It’s not the whole picture and not an accurate representation of life.
3. Brain Dump. The mental load is HUGE for us mums. There’s always something to remember, like errands to run, kids to pick up from school/daycare, extra activities to take them to, people to call back, appointments to make, etc. etc. Try writing/typing EVERYTHING down, either in a list or in your diary. Sometimes seeing everything written down as a to-do list helps you to work out what’s taking up most of your mental energy. You can then start to look at things logically and ask yourself
i) “Do I really need to be spending so much energy on this?”
ii) “What’s the worst that will happen if it doesn’t get done?”
iii) “Can I delegate this to someone else or postpone it?”
4. Track your cycle. For some women, negative mood and stress levels can feel more intense during the luteal phase (a few weeks before your period) of their cycle (Gollenberg et al. 2010, Journal of Women’s Health). Keep track of where you’re at in your cycle and be kind to yourself if the little things feel more intense than they should.
5. Take time out for yourself. Think about what fills your cup and schedule it in and share what you need with your partner or family. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, a simple 20-minute walk on your own or a cup of tea in peace and quiet a few times a week might be enough. The important thing is that you schedule it in and ask those around you to support you in making it happen.
6. Get a good balance of sleep (or rest) and physical activity. Exercise is great for helping us unwind and switch off but if you’re running on very little sleep or rest and exercising to a high intensity, then your body will reach burnout very quickly. Make sure there’s balance between the two.
7. Get social and build a support network. Join a Mothers’ Group if you’ve recently had a baby, a book club, a regular coffee catch up with girlfriends or, no matter what stage of motherhood you’re at, you can join a MumSafe™ exercise group. It doesn’t have to be exercise. Just reach out on a regular basis to a support network who will understand and support you.
There’s no medal or award for pushing through and reaching burnout. Motherhood is hard and it takes courage to raise your hand and say, “I need help”.
Louise runs Strong Mums in Gosford, NSW. She has a background in clinical and research psychology and became a mums’ fitness professional after having her first baby.
To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.