This Is What 'Mom Burnout' Feels Like

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You are probably a lot like me. As a mother, you’ve had days when you slump down the wall and feel like you cannot function, no matter what you try to do or how you try to change your mindset. You cry. You tell yourself you can do better and you are lucky to have kids in your life. Every little thing bugs you and you want to scream and slam your fists on the counter. And as soon as you see a break in the clouds — a moment of silence or a second away — something else happens.

Maybe it’s a spill. Perhaps it’s a tattling child. It could be another dirty diaper that sends you over the edge. Whatever it is, you can’t seem to pull it together and these are the days you know with your entire being that you need a damn break.

But then there are the days your burnout isn’t so obvious. You just feel a little off, a bit tired despite a good night’s rest. You feel forgetful and short tempered even though everything is going as smoothly as it can.

These are the days we mentally take ourselves down pretty hard because we think, Things aren’t that bad. What’s my problem?

Just because a wound isn’t obviously bruised or throbbing doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Burnout in moms seems to be the same way. It’s not always blaring. We can’t always put our finger on it. There are days when it’s hard to recognize, so we keep plugging away because we are ignoring it or we literally don’t have a choice in the matter.

We are the ones who see when something needs to be taken care of like no one else can. My ex-husband once told me I could be in a deep sleep and wake up the minute one of our kids moved in bed, or he forgot to lock the door before he laid down.

Moms don’t get a day off, ever. Even on the rare occasion when we’re out of the house and have someone taking care of all the things (let’s face it, when the hell does this ever really happen?) our minds are spinning non-stop.

It’s exhausting, and yeah, it’s gonna cause some burnout.

Scary Mommy polled some of our readers to tell us what their mom burnout felt like, and this is what they said:

Sharon S. says that when she’s suffering from burnout, “I have no energy to stay focused and it’s too easy to react.”

Oh yes, I’ve been there a few times already today and it’s not even noon yet.

Gretchen K. reports how different burnout can feel, which may make it hard to recognize. “Can’t focus. At all. And it depends on which type of burnout. When the kids were young, I remember wishing for a non serious type of medical emergency (like appendicitis) that would put me in the hospital for a few days to catch up on sleep. Now it’s more the worry of teens/college students. SO MANY WORRIES.”

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And the mind just goes and goes which is so exhausting.

Katie K. feels her burnout physically, saying, “It’s physical pain in my neck and shoulders, crying at the drop of a hat and a hair trigger temper.”

So many mental struggles show up in physical ways, and we blame it on lack of sleep without realizing we just need a break.

Scary Mommy also talked via email with Dr. Pavan Madan, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry, the largest outpatient mental health organization in California.

Madan says, “There are three main symptoms of burnout — feeling physically or emotionally exhausted, not being able to handle usual tasks, and feeling annoyed easily.”

Hello, this is why your shoulders are tense, your head hurts, and you feel like you can’t focus.

A 2018 survey found half of all parents suffer from burnout — and those results were pre-pandemic. I think now we all feel more burned out than ever.

So, now that we are aware we have it and we know what it can feel like, what can we do about it?

Dr. Madan says, “Burnout can be prevented by having a better balance between family time vs. ‘me’ time for moms, and between hands-on activities vs. screen activities for all family members.”

Having a routine for our kids as far as sleep, meals, and study time “can help children feel prepared for the next activity and avoid some conflicts,” he says.

If you feel like you don’t have time to take a few minutes for yourself and get some breathing room as we so often do, Dr. Madan reminds us it’s important — as it will result in better health and that means we will be better parents.

Burnout is a serious thing that can impact our lives in many ways. But the truth is, moms don’t get the time needed away unless they are proactive about it.

Ask for help if you need it. Set a routine for your children. Don’t forget to schedule some time for yourself. Even a little bit may go a long way. If you find yourself thinking, I really don’t need to go for that walk today, or I really should say yes even though I don’t want to, remember you are worth it — and your family would cosign. You really are doing a service for all involved, so don’t gloss over it and tell yourself you can wait.

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