Mom Burnout Is Real, And It's Freaking Brutal

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My kids have headed back to school this week. We’ve had a fun, eventful summer. I loved having them home and have enjoyed their company. I put a lot of effort into keeping them busy while I worked, and also making sure we made fun memories together. But after going back-to-school shopping, attending school orientations, scrambling to get all their supplies, ice cream socials, and team meetings, I am done.

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And by done, I mean I’m burnt to a crisp.

Burnout is brutal, and we all suffer from it at one point or another. We run out of steam when it comes to parenting, work, and staying on top of our health, obligations, and our kids’ social calendars and extracurricular activities. Our society suffers from feeling weary because we think we’re expected to be “on” all the time. It’s so easy to look on someone’s Facebook page and get a bad case of FOMO and feel like we aren’t enough, or get an email about helping with the school play and agree to chip in even though we know it’s going to be a stretch on top of all the other activities we have already agreed to.

Burnout feels like you are staggering through life, trying to make it through the day until you can hit the sheets. Only to wake up and have to do it all over again. Burnout steals your joy. Zaps your energy. Makes you moody.

It feels like not remembering what you ate for your last meal. It’s agreeing to something you don’t want to do but feel you should since everyone else seems to be doing all the things, then getting really pissed about it. It feels like living the same day over and over, getting a ton of shit done, yet never feeling refreshed or accomplished.

And we are calling this our “normal” life as we complain about how busy we are, how tired we are, how frustrated we are, and how we literally have no time to come up for air. I’ve done it; you’ve done it; the woman who teaches a class on meditation and centering oneself has done it.

Brené Brown is the author of three No. 1 New York Times best-sellers — The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong. She’s been studying vulnerability, courage, and shame for the past 16 years and shares some amazing advice on the subject: “Burnout is so epidemic that it can even become our shtick.” I hear that.

Running ourselves ragged, like anything else we do over and over, can become a habit. Brown once heard advice from a priest that has stuck with her: “If you don’t want to burn out, stop living like you’re on fire.” Holy shit, yes. Talk about a lightbulb moment. Isn’t it about time we stopped the self-induced madness?

Like all of us, Brown goes on to say that when she starts to get frazzled she doesn’t like the way she feels or interacts with other people. “I don’t like the person I become. That person does not reflect my values, and she’s not who I want to be as a researcher or a parent,” she says.

And isn’t that the most important thing? To like the way we feel and how we interact with others? To feel proud of who we are as a person, parent, spouse, friend? It’s worth it to slow down if it means we are going to be better at parenting, our job, and living a happy life.

Brown suggests that once we start to feel anxiety because we aren’t busy, it is a sign we are looking for validation through our schedules and “we must change not just our schedules but also our thinking.” Staying busy can help us push uncomfortable emotions like fear and pain away, but it’s important to feel those feelings, along with pleasurable emotions, in order to be comfortable with who we are.

Knowledge is power, so Brown suggests the best way to tell if burnout is creeping up on you is to recognize the Three Dares and then act on them.

1. Dare to be honest about what burnout looks like for you.

It looks different for everyone. Some of us get super-irritable. Some are so exhausted they don’t remember where they are going while they are driving down the street. We can all relate to feeling completely overwhelmed, and it’s important to recognize when you feel it coming on so you can take on the second dare.

2. Dare to set boundaries.

Her advice on setting boundaries is golden, and I wrote it down and stuck it on my fridge: “I’ve finally learned that just because I can do something does not mean I should.” I am going to live by that mantra from now on. There are so many times we are doing something because we really can squeeze it in, or we think, I could do it, so I should just do it. It won’t affect me that much. But all these little things we take on can add up, and they do impact us in negative ways. Bottom line: We don’t have to say yes to everything or even most things for that matter.

Once you start saying no to things you don’t want to do, or feel that you can’t do, the liberation you feel will be contagious. Sweet relief. You’ll also realize that the world keeps turning, and your kids, partner, and friends still love you and value you even when you’re not breaking your back every day.

3. Dare to create a clearing for yourself.

Find the one thing that’s just for you. Something which makes your soul sing. Maybe it’s calling your best friend at the same time each week, reading a good book instead of answering emails, or taking a walk. Whatever it is, make it a priority — like all the other duties you take on because you feel like you should. Self-care is essential.

It’s not easy to avoid burnout, and it certainly isn’t easy to put yourself first. If it were easy, people wouldn’t talk about it so damn much. I think it’s important to remember if you start small and invest in your well-being a little more, it will soon become a habit and you will feel your body, soul, and life make a positive shift.

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