Stay at Home Mom Burnout Signs and 10 Ways to Recover

Stay at Home Mom Burnout Signs and 10 Ways to Recover

If you are dealing with stay-at-home mom burnout, you are not alone. Raising children full time is hard work and can get the best of anyone. 

While all mamas have the occasional hard day, a burnt out mama lives in survival mode. She has a torturously hard day everyday, or most days. She feels depleted, disconnected and discouraged.

stay-at-home mom burnout list

Here’s a picture of what mommy burnout looked like for me;

I woke up every day feeling exhausted after a poor night’s sleep. My 11-month-old baby was still waking frequently in the night and I was nursing around the clock.  

I was having bursts of irritability and anger throughout the day, and stuffing those feelings deep down inside of me, so that I would not yell at my children.

I was frustrated and exasperated with my 4-year-old when I had to ask him over and over to brush his teeth and get dressed. When I had to tell him no or not to do x, y, and z again and again.

I was trudging through my days and generally drowning in motherhood.

I was craving wine at the end of the day. I wanted to slip into a relaxed state of aloofness to get through dinner and bedtime routines.

And in the mornings, I wanted caffeine. I wanted caffeine all day long. I thought that it would somehow make up for all the hours of lost sleep and help me keep up with the demands of young children. If it were not for the fact that I was nursing, I’d certainly be polishing off bottles of wine and bags of coffee. Instead, I resorted to polishing off bags of cookies and sweet treats. Rationalizing my sugar intake was necessary fuel to face the day. 

And then there was the loneliness. That looming feeling of vacancy and bleakness. I was lonely at night, sitting in the dark in my nursing chair feed after feed. And lonely during the days when I found myself without any other adults to talk to. I wanted some mom friends, but I was too exhausted to put the effort in to make it happen. And in any free time, I just wanted to be alone in the quiet. So my world was starting to feel very small.

I had been clumsily staggering around in this state for weeks, not realizing that I was starting to circle the drain. What finally made me realize that I was on a sure and steady decline was when my body started to revolt. I started getting daily stomach cramps and was generally feeling unwell. My body was alerting me that things had gone too far.

I was fried, frazzled, and plain old burnt out. 

Once I realized that anger, irritability, chronic exhaustion, and an aching body were becoming my new norm, I realized that I desperately needed a mommy burnout intervention. STAT. I didn’t like being a tired mama. Not for myself, not for my children, and not for my partner.

How was I going to give my children all that they deserved when I was an empty vessel?

As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Symptoms of Mom Burnout

After writing down all of my burnout signs and symptoms, I realized they all fit into one of the following categories; physical exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, feelings of isolation, and escape fantasies.

Physical Exhaustion

  • Sleep deprived
  • Feeling physically unwell (stomach cramps, headaches, general aches and pains)
  • Undereating and/or overeating
  • Low energy
  • Brain fog
  • Overstimulated
  • Hypervigilance

Mental/Emotional Exhaustion

  • Feeling angry and irritable
  • Hypervigilant and anxious
  • Feelings of drudgery
  • Little to no joy in the day-to-day
  • Mom guilt and shame
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Overwhelmed
  • Bored

Isolation

  • Loneliness
  • Isolating
  • Having a hard time getting out of the house

Escape Fantasies

  • Fantasizing about days without motherhood responsibilities
  • Desire to self-medicate with alcohol or other mind-altering substances
  • Excessive tv watching

What Does Mom Burnout Feel Like?

Physical Exhaustion

Hypervigilance can become a state of being for many stay-at-home parents. Choking hazards, sharp objects and any other potential hazards take up a surprisingly large portion of my attention during the day. And even at night, I wake up to the smallest sniffle.

So this hypervigilance combined with a lack of sleep and the overstimulation of being around energetic young children everyday takes a toll on a mama’s nervous system.

And for breastfeeding moms, nursing a baby is its own full time physically demanding job. This on top of sometimes a long recovery process after pregnancy and childbirth, can leave moms feeling physically depleted. MedicineNet states that it may take up to a year or longer for some women’s bodies to return to normal after pregnancy and childbirth.

Additionally, premamawellness states that in the case of postnatal depletion, it can take up to 10 years to recover all the lost nutrients from pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

And if general exhaustion isn’t enough to get our attention, our bodies will start screaming at us. They will respond to chronic stress in unpleasant ways. Stomach aches, digestive issues, aches, pains, headaches, and nausea might start becoming regular occurrences. 

Emotional Exhaustion

Physical and emotional exhaustion usually go hand in hand. When we aren’t feeling the best version of ourselves physically, we tend to not feel very good emotionally.

So little things that normally aren’t a big deal may start to trigger big yucky feelings, most notably anger and irritation. In my case, I also started noticing I was experiencing feelings of drudgery around caring for my children. 

Moms often get the message that they are supposed to cherish every day with their young children, because they don’t last forever. Insert; mom shame and mom guilt. What if you don’t love everyday and moment of being a mom? Does that make you a bad mom?

Certainly not. But sometimes it feels like it does. 

Feelings of inadequacy also start to creep in when dealing with mom burnout. Negative self-talk becomes the norm and you start wondering why you can’t do everything like all those rockstar moms you scroll by on social media. 

Isolation

The idea of having a group of mom friends sounds amazing. In reality, that takes time and effort which can feel impossible for a tired stay-at-home mama. There is no longer that automatic socializing that happens with coworkers in an office space when you are a sahm. 

Any socializing during the day as a stay-at-home parent has to be strategically planned and executed (unless you count talking to the grocery store clerk as socializing, which sadly I have).

And if you are a mama without any family members close by, that pretty much leaves you with you, yourself, and your kids when your partner is at work. That lack of a support system and social network can feel pretty darn isolating. You know you should do something about it, but trying to find that proverbial village is just one more thing on your never ending to-do list. 

Additionally, when it comes to just getting out of the house with kids, there are many steps involved that exhausted moms are not always up for; packing snacks, grabbing diapers and extra clothes, loading up the stroller, making everyone go potty, nursing, etc etc.

And then once you have finally managed to get out of the house, there is always the question of whether or not your child will have a meltdown, how much patience you will need to exercise, and how well your children will listen in busy parking lots or crowded store aisles.

Escape Fantasies

While I may daydream about long, slow quiet days without the responsibilities of motherhood, never do I ever want to trade this mom life for another. 

Still though, at my pinnacle of burnout, staying in bed all day by myself sounded like the ultimate dream vacation. Never mind those fantasy vacations to the Maldives I once imagined. I could not even muster enough energy to pack a bag for that trip now. 

Aside from a vacation under a cozy blanket, I also found myself thinking about how nice an escape into a glass of wine would be. While I’m not at all opposed to a glass here and there, I know that there is a difference between enjoying the occasional glass verses drinking as an escape.

In the same vein, bingeing on a good tv show can make for a fun relaxing night; however, binge-watching every single night is not ideal. Not only does it mean lost hours of sleep, but it can also be a sign of feeling unfulfilled in your own life as you lose yourself in the orchestrated lives of tv characters. 


Mommy Burnout Intervention

Feeling burnt out and on the verge of a breakdown is no way to live. In a research article on burnout, the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology explains that in the final stage of burnout, their study participants felt that they had no control over their stressors and had lost motivation to continue performing tasks. Fizzling out like that is simply not an option for us mamas. Our families need us and we need them.

So I signed myself up for a mom burnout recovery intervention. I am already seeing results from this self-directed intervention, but I know that I will seek professional help if I end up getting stuck in parental burnout mode for too long. Because if symptoms persist despite making some changes, it’s important to either rule out or get treatment for other mental health issues such as postpartum depression.

There are differences between mom burnout and postpartum depression, but they can look very similar. Generally speaking, What to Expect explains that postpartum depression impacts how a mom feels about all areas of life, whereas parental burnout is more specific to child-rearing stressors.

10 Ways to Recover from SAHM Burnout

Making a concrete plan to address mom burnout is the first step in healing and recovery. And writing that plan down in a journal can help keep you accountable along your journey. A written record also helps you clearly see how things are progressing and what’s helping or what’s not.

mom burnout journal

Additionally, keeping a small journal with recovery steps and progress notes sends a message to yourself that your recovery is important and worth giving your time and attention.

Here are 10 tips to include in your recovery plan.

1. Prioritize and Honor Your Limits

Young children need A LOT of time and energy from their parents. As such, I have found that I need to adjust my high expectations about what I can get done in the limited time in a day. When I take some of the pressure off and recognize my limits, I do not try to push myself beyond what is healthy and sustainable.

While reaching for the stars is a great sentiment in life and with goal setting, sometimes the glow-in-the-dark stars in your child’s bedroom are better metaphorical stars to reach for than the ones that are light years away. This doesn’t mean we have to give up on our dreams and ambitions, but rather accept that things likely need to happen in stages and more slowly than we originally planned.

There is always going to be enough time for the most important things. Pick those things that are most important to you, and focus on those first. The rest will come in time.

If you are tempted to try and fit everything in, it can be helpful to make a NOT to-do list in addition to a to-do list with priorities. 

2. Get Some Sleep 

Speaking of prioritizing, the first thing that should be on a priority list is addressing sleep deprivation and getting some quality rest. I’ve noticed that my moods and physical symptoms like stomach aches and digestive upsets are directly related to how much sleep I’ve had. 

While I spent most of my young adult life going to bed well past midnight, I have now finally come around to the fact that as long as I’m waking up multiple times in the night and early in the mornings, I simply must go to bed right after my children are asleep. Without enough sleep, there’s no getting past major burn out. 

3. Write Down Problems and Their Solutions

Perhaps the best thing I did to start addressing my sahm burnout was to sit down and write down the problems contributing to my burnout.

When I got clear on the problems and made them concrete with words, the answers to address those problems became clear and manageable as well.

4. Daily Relaxation Exercise

While taking a day off from motherhood usually isn’t possible, busy mamas can always find the time to take some deep breaths. It may not sound like a big deal, but consciously breathing in and out sends a signal to the brain and body that all is well. It can help soothe the nervous system and take us out of flight, fight or freeze mode.

And when my husband is home and I can retreat to a quiet undisturbed space, I like to lay down and listen to a guided meditation or hypnosis audio on YouTube (I like Jayne Corner’s channel, The Calm and Happy Gut). Relaxing the body through conscious breathwork and mental relaxation is especially important if you are experiencing physical symptoms of burnout. 

5. Take Personal Time

It’s easy to feel like you should always be doing something for your children and taking care of your family. We get used to having very little quiet time, so we start to normalize a life without rest.

Even small pockets of time can be used to recharge, and we have to take these pockets whenever we can get them. Some moms may find rest and rejuvenation through quiet alone time, while others may find it while out on a date night or out to dinner with friends.

relaxing with coffee and tea to recover from burnout

The point is to just do whatever it is you find to be totally relaxing. For me, that’s watching a tv show in bed with multiple hot drinks!

6. Slow the Day to Day Down as Much as Possible

Anything that isn’t urgent (and most things aren’t), can be addressed slowly and mindfully. Or at least not in a frenzied state. We can focus on one task at a time and tell ourselves we will get done what we can. This gives us some breathing room and helps keep busy parents from becoming overwhelmed or feeling like they have to do it all. 

We can apply this slow and mindful approach to eating and keeping our minds and bodies properly fueled throughout the day as well. As a nursing mama, I try to keep lots of my favorite nutritious easy snacks on hand.

7. Acknowledge Difficult Feelings

Feelings come and go. The good ones and the bad ones. One of my favorite terms by Dan Siegel is, “name it to tame it”. By simply naming and acknowledging our feelings, we lessen their power over us. If a feeling can be identified and contained with words, it is not so overwhelming. It can be felt and it can be managed.

8. Be Assertive

It’s time to start calmly, clearly, and with love set boundaries; for ourselves and others. As I learn assertive parenting skills, I find myself feeling less overwhelmed during the day. 

We can assert healthy boundaries around daily routines like bedtimes, clean up and quiet time (for ourselves and our children).

9. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Moms

When we are feeling vulnerable, it is easy to compare ourselves to others; at least to how we perceive them, whether or not those perceptions are accurate. 

We all have our own experiences and struggles, and comparison is simply not a good lens to use when examining who we are as mothers or individuals.

I am definitely not a perfect parent or a tireless wonder woman, but I am a decently good mom. I am a good enough mom because I am aware of my struggles, and I am always willing to put the work in to do better; for me and my family. 

10. Know that Recovery Takes Time

In our culture of instant gratification, we do not like to hear that something is going to take a long time. Medical News Today states that recovering from burnout can take anywhere from a few months to over a year.

That timeline sounds pretty daunting, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s a quick blip in time. So lets all start taking small steps today to take care of ourselves. We can not expect to feel 100% in a day or two. We need to remember that recovery and healing takes time and persistence.


Learning to Mother Ourselves

If strategizing about a hundred different ways to recover from parental burnout feels like too much, a simpler way to approach it is this;

Start mothering yourself.

We mother our children by doing everything we can to nurture them physically, mentally and emotionally. We do this by establishing routines, setting boundaries and giving them all of our love and care. This is what we need to do for ourselves too. 

So love yourself, support yourself and keep on keeping on!



Related:

Postpartum Insomnia and Strategies for a Better Night’s Sleep
Fighting Stay at Home Mom Shame
Minimalist Practices to Prevent Parent Burnout

Assertive Parenting Style to Help Mom Keep Her Calm
Fighting Mom Guilt on Mother’s Day (and every other day)

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