We were 6 months into our immigration and I was crying all the time! It was like I had no control over it and the slightest thing would send me into an emotional mess. Even at work in front of colleagues that barely knew me. It smelt like depression and it felt like burn out.
I struggled to be present with my hubby and my go-to, when I feel emotional, is to turn into a hard-ass b#%ch (which doesn’t do connection and intimacy any good). The big clincher was that I struggled to be present with my kids. My son was barely 1 years old and my daughter was 4 – two very demanding ages and I just couldn’t seem to keep it together enough to be the mom I wanted to be!
So what had happened?
Well we had just moved countries. We had no support and I was working a 40 hour week with a baby under 1 and a 4 year old to care for. Of course my husband has always been involved and helpful but as mothers we tend to take on the mental load too, don’t we? And that is exactly what sent me over the edge when we immigrated. I wasn’t able to reduce my work hours – our immigration visa’s depended on my full time employment. So I needed to find a way out of how I felt. And fast.
That has not been the only time I have experienced overwhelm, burn out and, effectively, depression. There have been times before and since then. I just seem to take on too much every now and then and find myself sliding quickly down the rabbit hole. Its when I have taken on an extra job, or I am working at an additional project and I have not managed to keep my self-care in check. That is when things start going south for me.
Especially when I am not looking after myself properly.
But I know what it looks like now and I know what works when it is happening.
It is nearing the end of the year and I can feel that familiar exhaustion creeping in. You know, the one where you realise you have taken on a lot this year and you are hanging out for a break? To top it off it has been 2020! I don’t think this needs more explanation, does it?
If I am feeling this way then no doubt many of you are too. We are not all that different, us working mothers. So I figured now was as good a time as any to share some “spot the burn-out” tips and strategies to keep it at bay.
3 Clear Signs You Are Headed For Burn-Out
1. You are irritable and it is for longer than just the standard week per month
We are all familiar with the weekly bout of irrational irritability (some of us more so than others). But when you start to feel like you are snapping at the smaller things and it has gone beyond being merely hormonal – think red flag.
Of course there are a variety of reasons you could be irritable – maybe some for good cause. But have a closer look here, Mama and see where you are at with this one. If your 8 year old’s attempt at making her own cereal leaving milk and cereal bits everywhere has just sent you over the edge, then maybe it is time to re-evaluate.
In times of burn out I have noticed that I struggle to keep patient and calm with the little things that may take a bit more time, such as tying shoe laces, brushing teeth, getting out of the house in general. I find myself snapping at the kids to move it along and feel overly annoyed at the smaller inconveniences
My husband cops it too. He gets the brunt of every misstep of his – putting the coffee cup in the wrong area of the dishwasher, not putting his clothes fully in the wash basket, parking the car too far forward… You see where I am headed with this?
Check your irritability level as it is often the first sign of overwhelm.
2. You Are Feeling Over-Attuned and Over Stimulated
This is a big red flag for most mothers struggling with burn out. When it seems as if you can no longer tolerate loud noise, mess, high energy, or rough hugs from rambunctious kids it is a clear sign you are tapped out.
Children screeching with laughter or talking loudly may be misheard as cries or sibling arguments. And this then leads to you feeling anxious and irritable as you want to make it stop. Or perhaps the baby crying sends you over the edge and feeling anxious as you desperately try establish the source of crying.
Now under normal circumstances you would probably feel calmer about the kids arguing over which couch to sit on. You may let baby cry an extra few seconds before flying out of bed to solve the problem.
But when we are near burn out these ‘disruptions’ to the harmony we so desperately need feel intolerable and, almost, cut to the quick.
Other clear signs of feeling over-stimulated include needing kids to settle down when all they are doing is enjoying energetic fun, turning down the volume of the TV or radio, feeling stressed out when too many people talk at the same time or cringing when your 5 year old son hurtles at you for a hug (you know it’s going to hurt LOL).
Feeling over-attuned to our kids needs or over-stimulated by the environment is a sure fire sign that burn out is here.
3. You Have Lost That Loving Feeling
Yes, I know we all have times when we dream of being childless. But we do so with fondness in our heart knowing full well we would never trade the hours with kids for the hours of imagined freedoms.
But when things become too much, the fondness for parenting seems to wane. In fact, parenting can feel downright difficult. The temper tantrums feel too much. The tween’s attitude is unbearable. The continuous demands become too much. And that deep glow of happy love you have for your kids feels like it dims – sometimes quite a bit. When this happens, acknowledge your burn out Mama and get some help.
Left unchecked, this feeling can evolve into believing you are not good enough, aren’t cut out for parenting, or simply put; “bad mothers”. A vicious cycle develops here and it is not pretty.
Parenting is not the only department in which the loving feeling disappears. Burn out can cause your libido to go running for the hills. So if you aren’t feeling particularly frisky, either it could be another sign that you are burnt-out.
3 Things You Can Do Today
So if you have recognised yourself in some, or all, of the above. Then it is time to take action and get this situation under control.
1. Take a Break
Well, duh! But do we take the break when we need one? Often not. Our own needs are at the bottom of the priority list and we will far sooner ditch the hour alone in favour of “some-other-very-important-thing-that-needs-to-be-seen-to-right-away”
So while this seems self-evident, maybe you just need the permission to go ahead and take the break.
And taking a break when we are super busy is always easier said than done. But taking a break could be setting aside some intentional time to go for a mindful walk. 15 minutes is all it takes with the intention to stop, pause, breathe and care for yourself. Taking a break may mean eating a proper, healthy meal today instead of doing it on the fly or simply grabbing a snack from the kids lunch box. Or taking a break could mean you go to bed earlier and leave the laundry for tomorrow.
There are many ways you could give yourself a break. And now, more than ever, you need it.
2. Practice Self Compassion
Being irritable, snapping at the kids and feeling like a less than stellar mother is bound to bring your inner critic right up front and centre. Berating yourself for the way you are currently showing up is not going to do your mood or your mental state any good.
Try imagine a friend in the same position as you. What would you say to her? Would you beat down on her for the way she was showing up in her state of burn out? Or would you practice compassion and kindness in that moment?
Now is the time to be kind to yourself, Mama. Along with giving yourself a break, try use kind words to yourself the way you would support a friend.
Tell yourself that you normally rock as a mother and that, while this is not your finest moment, it does not define you. Reassure yourself that with some self-care and help you will be back on top form in no time. Remind yourself that, despite having less patience and snapping more, you are still 100% invested in your family’s wellbeing, which makes you the best mom they could ask for.
Take a breath and practice some self-acceptance and, if you are into it, some mindfulness of emotions.
3. Ask for Help
Again, a no-brainer. But also something we don’t easily do, right.
Burn out happens when we simply have too much going on. When you notice the signs, stop and recover. Ask for help. This might be in the form of asking the supermarket to deliver your groceries after you have done an online shop in the comfort of your PJs.
Perhaps you ask your babysitter to have the kids for an extra hour so that you can have some “me-time”. Or maybe it is time to have a conversation with your partner about division of labour at home.
Help can come in so many forms. You could ask a friend to go out for a girls night. A simple evening of girl chat and wine can do wonders for a tired soul.
Or maybe it is time to ask for help in other forms – are you sleeping well? And if not – what would help you sleep better? Are you feeling healthy? And if not, what would help you feel better?
There is no time like the present to reach out and ask for help in some form or another.
So Where to From Here?
As a working mother you are pre-disposed to taking too much on. And if you are like me with goals and ambitions you reach for, then you tend to pile your plate way higher than you should. Burn out is inevitable. But it is not a lifelong condition. And neither is depression.
As with most setbacks we simply need to re-evaluate what is working and what is not and take some strides toward changing things up.
I have recovered on several occasions. You would think I would learn from the time before, but each life phase comes with it’s own new and exciting challenges. I do know what to look out for now and I take action when those red flags are raised.
Practicing mindfulness, surprisingly, has changed things around for me and I am more able to keep calm when the overwhelm hits and spot the red flags sooner. It’s an evidenced-based practice that keeps me present, available and practicing self-acceptance and compassion. Check it out here if you want to know more.