Do you wake at 5:30, 4:30, or even 3:30 to complete household chores before you go to work? Do you work full time in addition to caring for your children and doing the laundry, the dishes, the cooking, and the cleaning? Does the stress of managing everything keep you up at night? Are you chronically fatigued, demoralized, exhausted, and stressed out?
Well then you are likely feeling burnout, which is becoming an epidemic among mothers.
Burnout, Parents says, recognized as an actual condition by the World Health Organization, is narrowly defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It’s a “restrictive” phrase, says a researcher Parents consulted, who notes that it leaves out household stress: caring for children, cleaning, and juggling everything expected of a modern mom. These things disproportionately fall on moms, leaving them more susceptible to burnout.
According to CNN, someone who suffers from burnout experiences constant stress and exhaustion, and it’s a serious condition. This includes people whose source of stress comes not from their jobs, but from their household. Sound familiar?
A full 63% of moms, reports one study, “feel like they’ve worked a full day after handling their family’s needs in the morning”: the tooth brushing, the lunch-packing, the dishes, the laundry, the dressing small children, the finding and putting on children’s shoes (much harder than non-parents think), the carpool. 48% of those women feel like burnout is keeping them up at night. I know it’s keeping me up: I’ve been known to spend half an hour worrying aloud to my husband, at night, about what a terrible parent I’ve been that day — simply because I’ve been unable to finish everything I think I should have.
This isn’t news to moms.
But burnout can cause any number of dangerous outcomes, reports CNN: everything from “anger, anxiety, depression, exhaustion and many chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease and heart failure.” It’s especially linked to something called atrial fibrillation (AFib), a dangerous heart arrhythmia that sends 750,000 Americans to the hospital every year — and kills 130,000.
In other words, your exhaustion, mental and physical, may be setting you on the road to an early grave.
Sound terrifying? It should be. Chronic stress and exhaustion are major factors that contribute to AFib: the very things caused by burnout. Afib can manifest as fatigue, chest pains, heart palpitations, or shortness of breath. But other people have no symptoms at all. In other words, you don’t know if you have it until the heart arrhythmia starts, and even that could be symptomless.
Obviously, we need to prevent burnout. Luckily, it involves the same strategies you’d take to minimize the amount of stress in your life.
1. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep
We all know we’re are supposed to get the proverbial eight hours of sleep a night. Healthline reports that only 10% of parents are getting the recommended 7+ hours of sleep. In fact, most new parents get only five or six hours. That adds up.
But Parents also reports that we need not just a certain amount of sleep, but a certain quality of sleep. 7.2 hours of sleep, the average of new moms, doesn’t count when you’re up every hour. The Huffington Post says that new parents report “highly fragmented sleep,” which leaves them exhausted — a major risk for burnout.
Don’t want burnout? Make sure you’re sleeping enough. While that can sound admittedly impossible for many parents — especially new ones — asking a partner to step up, hiring help if you can afford it, and even letting certain household chores go can help.
2. Take Care of Yourself
Experts love to tout self-care as a means to prevent burnout. But what’s self-care? Easier said than done when you’re a busy and overwhelmed mom. So start small. Take the time to do things you enjoy, things just for yourself and no one else. Read a book. Work on your favorite hobby. Drink your coffee alone. Can’t manage an hour to de-stress? Try taking mini-breaks throughout the day. And believe me: half an hour of Sesame Street won’t permanently damage your child, and will likely benefit them — by saving you from burnout — while you take a few minutes for yourself.
3. Ask for Help
Maybe you have family. Maybe you have friends. Maybe you have neighbors or even people you can hire to help you. Or, major shock: you can ask your partner to step up to the plate, says Parents. Whoever you ask, tell them what you need, then step back and let them do it. Drop the notion that it makes you weak, that you don’t deserve it, or that you should be able to do it all.
4. Meditation Can Help Prevent Burnout
Meditation, says WebMD, can reduce anxiety, help your cardiovascular health — a major risk of burnout — and even make you better at relaxing. That translates to better sleep. Moreover, the techniques they describe take only ten minutes, and the results can be even better if you do it twice a day. You can find 20 minutes, even if means plopping the kids in front of the iPad. It’s more important to prevent burnout than to freak out about your eight-year-old playing Angry Birds.
5. Unplug from Social Media
Minimizing the use of social media can also help by giving you some “found time” in your day. You should also be mindful of the kind of content you follow: if you’re worrying about climate change, the state of the world, and other bad news, you’ll be more stressed than if you take that in smaller doses. And we all know that social media can lead to comparison with other families, which may make you feel inadequate and contribute to burnout.
Whatever you decide to do, do something. Take care of yourself. Burnout is real. You’re not the only one suffering from it. You aren’t alone, and for the sake of your partner, your kids, and a happier home, you need to manage it. That means that when you take care of everyone, you need to include yourself in that equation. It may seem extraneous. It may seem like you don’t have the hours in the day.
Make them. Your kids and partner are depending on you.
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