It used to be hard for me to find the time to fit food shopping in. With three kids in the house, it was typical for me to do a big shop before the weekend. Something always came up, though, and I’d have to pop in a few more times a week — a child needed something for a school project, I forgot almond milk for my lactose-intolerant kid, I thought we had enough bread but my sixteen-year-old got really interested in sandwiches overnight. You catch my drift. Fitting one extra thing into our busy lives (and my busy mind) made me feel like a Jenga game teetering on the edge of a coffee table.
Now, everything is shut down and my kids’ schedules have come to a screeching halt — so you’d think I’d be able to breathe a little bit. But I’m more burnt out than ever. I know you are, too.
I bet you are still waking up just as early as you were before this started. Only now, you’re wondering what this day will bring. How will I get the work I need to get done for my job while keeping my kids occupied? How can I keep my patience while teaching my 3rd grader today? What can I scrape together so I don’t have to go to the grocery store and risk our health?
And that’s just the day to day. We’re dealing with a whole new kind of burnout now, my fellow moms.
I used to think the daily to-dos were stressful. I used to wonder how I was going to remember all I had to remember and stay on top of it all. Now, everyone is sidetracked with trying to normalize a very abnormal situation because we literally don’t have a choice.
And the big picture is, there’s no end in sight. We have to be mindful of every little thing we do. We need a designated spot to put the grocery bags, so we are mindful of spreading germs throughout our house. If we are going for a walk with our children, we need to keep them close so they don’t break the six-foot rule if they see their neighborhood pals. We can’t simply run out to get more aspirin or Rocky Road because we have a headache or a craving. And though we may have the time to suit up for a trip to the store without trying to squeeze it in, now we have to disinfect everything that comes into our home, and then wipe down the car after going to the pharmacy or store. Just walking into a grocery store right now can feel you with anxiety and gloom.
If we are still working, we know this pandemic is going to have long-term effects. We have no idea what the outcome will be, or if those paychecks will continue in the coming months. The unemployment phone lines are bogged down as people try to file their claims.
We are trying to comfort our children as they grow restless and possibly lonely, trying to make sure their transition into this “new normal” goes as smoothly as possible. I’m worried about my three teens’ mental health, as they haven’t seen anyone except their parents in a month and have stopped FaceTiming with their friends. Are they getting enough interaction? Are they too isolated? What signs should I be looking out for?
As mothers, we want to stay educated and informed on what’s happening, but the news can be such a life-suck — then we’re filled with feelings of guilt for having anxiety and not being the mom who is color-coding schedules and directing theatrical productions in our living room.
It’s clear that COVID-19 isn’t here to play. It’s a long game that we are forced to ride out. We don’t know how long we’re going to have to be moms, teachers, employees, partners, caretakers, and experts at disinfecting — all while keeping it together within the four walls that seem to be closing in on us by the second.
We were suffering from burnout before, without a doubt. But this? This is a whole other level none of us have faced before. Just because many moms now have less to do outside the home doesn’t make our jobs any easier. In fact, it complicates things a whole lot. We have more to do inside the home than we ever have, and a lot of our tools and coping mechanisms have been taken away — yoga class, girls’ night, the freedom to go to the store for craft supplies, or to a coffee place for a hot cup and to stare out the window and chill.
If you’re feeling fried to the core, thinking you shouldn’t be so burned out because your work commute, kids’ activities, and social life have stopped, think again. You are taking on a huge mental and emotional load right now. The decisions you make are based on keeping your family safe, maintaining a sense of normalcy for them, and wondering what you can do now to ensure your finances will get you through this — all while trying to adjust, and coping with the inevitable fears that come with living in a pandemic. This is causing our brains to fire on all cylinders.
You are going to have moments when you don’t feel like you are okay. You are going to be irritable, overwhelmed, and feel like you want distance from your children.
So what can you do right now to alleviate some of the burnout? According to an article from the BBC, you need to find what works for you right now. If being productive is your jam, great. But if you are scrolling through social media and getting pelted with messages and pictures about how this is a great time to write a book, get in stellar shape, or finish a house project, and it’s leaving you feeling less-than and paralyzed, close out and do something that makes you feel better. As “non-productive” as that may feel. Your mental health is your priority right now.
Elizabeth Yuko, a Fordham University adjunct professor in bioethics — the field that studies ethical implications in healthcare, medicine and other areas of life science — explained to the BBC, “By staying in our houses, apartments, et cetera – that itself is doing something positive, and really the best thing we can do right now. By doing nothing, you’re doing something.”
And if you ask me, pandemic or not, that’s the best advice I’ve heard on burnout yet.