Mom Burnout: 9 Signs You’re Experiencing It and 9 Ways to Overcome It
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Mom burnout: The emotional and physical exhaustion that you feel from the chronic stress of parenting.
Burnout feels like you’re stumbling through life, trying to make it through the day until bedtime, only to wake up and have to do it all over again. Burnout steals your joy, your energy, and your happiness. It’s that feeling of just being “over it.” And it can feel like it’s never-ending – the infant stage brings burnout from the sleepless nights, then we head into potty training, and after that comes managing screen time… Unfortunately, there is not a single stage of parenting where the burnout goes away completely.
No matter how much sleep you get, you’re always tired. You can’t remember what you ate for your last meal – or did you even eat at all? The kids grate on you sometimes, and you start to wonder what you even signed up for with this parenting gig. You feel like you’re never doing a good enough job, like you’re living the same day over and over, working hard all. day. long, but never feeling refreshed or accomplished. And these feelings of inadequacy have no end in sight.
And then you feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed and exhausted because every other mom seems to be handling this life just fine, so why can’t you? We assume that this must just be “normal,” so we complain about how busy, tired, and frustrated we are.
Running ourselves ragged has become a badge of honor, but I, for one, would like to stop. I want to have a beautiful, restful, unhurried life. I want to feel like I have enough time in my day to actually enjoy my children and my husband. I want to WANT to go to the playground or play a board game or build LEGO and not constantly be thinking of the hundreds of other things I *should* be doing.
My life seems to go through burnout cycles. I’m good for a while, then I slowly start to sink, and then BOOM. I’m done. I don’t like the way I feel or the way I act toward other people when I’m burnt out – I’m irrationally angry, I yell at my kids, I become a couch bum because the thought of living my life becomes too overwhelming to bear. I just feel prickly all over.
And, in my opinion anyway, I want to LIKE the way I feel and how I interact with others. I want to feel proud of who I am, especially as a wife and parent. It’s SO worth it to stop, take a breath, and slow down if it means that we’re going to be living a happier life.
So. Let’s unpack these feelings of overwhelm and burnout. Why does it happen? What are the signs that you’re burnt out? How can you fix it?
Why does it happen?
Mom burnout happens because we care TOO much! We care too much about how we love and take care of our children. We care too much about not making mistakes and failing as a parent. We care too much about getting it all done.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – it just IS, and we need to deal with it!
The pressures on parents today are greater than ever. Moms are expected to give all of themselves to their families all of the time. There are insane messages all over our culture that tell us what we need to do to be “successful.” Buy organic food. Plan, prep, and clean up after three healthy meals per day, plus plenty of snacks in between. Watch that screen time! Keep your child intellectually, emotionally, and physically stimulated around the clock. Create beautiful crafts and fun science experiments with your children. Be positive. And always, always be present.
Yikes. No wonder moms need more coffee than the average human (and wine, for that matter).
These expectations are impossible in the best of situations, but they don’t end there. Most moms have other responsibilities beyond caring for the kiddos, like husbands, jobs, friendships, volunteer work…
Moms are often left feeling completely depleted from all of the caring they do for others. And when this exhaustion goes on endlessly, moms experience burnout.
Is It Mom Burnout? Here Are the Signs
Mom burnout looks different for everyone. Some of us get irritable or lazy or foggy. I remember one time, when my kids were pretty young, maybe 1 and 3 or so, when I was driving us somewhere, and I was so exhausted and fuzzy-headed that I questioned whether or not I should even be operating a motor vehicle, especially with the precious cargo in the back.
There are many signs that overwhelm and burnout are settling into our lives. Are you experiencing any of them? Here are some of the more common signs that you’re suffering from burnout:
- That general feeling of blah-ness. When you’re burnt out, your physical well-being (or lack thereof) is often the first sign that something isn’t right. It’s not a sick feeling or a hurt feeling, it’s just a general sense of unwellness. Maybe you have stomachaches or headaches or leg aches. Maybe you’re really, really tired.
- Super short fuse. You might feel irrationally angry at your fussy baby. You might want to throw that beeping, music-playing toy against the wall. You may just want all of the noise to stop – why can’t they just be quiet??? When a mom feels extra overwhelmed, anger may be the first emotion that shows up, along with lots (and lots) of yelling.
- Forgetfulness. This is one of my first signs – I get so scatterbrained! It starts with forgetting what day of the week it is, and sometimes it gets so bad that I can’t focus on a conversation. I lose ideas mid-thought, and my brain can’t remember the words that it needs to spit out an intelligent thought.
- Crazy emotions. Maybe anger isn’t your thing. Maybe you turn into a weepy, emotional mess before the anger kicks in. Sometimes, in new moms at least, this is related to hormones. However, hormones aren’t the only factor – the emotions can also be related to stress.
- Complete and utter exhaustion. Being a mom means constant and continuous movement. You work so hard physically and mentally. A mom’s mind is always in 17 places at once, and that alone is tiring beyond belief. If this kind of exhaustion continues and nothing provides relief, burnout might be involved.
- Unhealthy coping behaviors. Coffee all day, wine all night? Spending too much money on Amazon? Wondering what is even the point of all this? You might be suffering from burnout.
- Lack of motivation. You’re not caught up on anything, but you just can’t bring yourself to do anything about it. You’re going through the motions day after day, doing the bare minimum to survive.
- Days blur together. When you feel this way, you are constantly trying to catch up on what you’ve fallen behind with. You’re also working hard to keep your family happy and healthy. You forget what day of the week it is, and you find yourself forgetting little but important details.
- Forced happiness. Forcing yourself to be happy isn’t how it’s supposed to be. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve genuinely smiled or laughed, it’s a pretty sure bet that you’re overwhelmed. What makes this feeling even worse is when society tells you that motherhood is supposed to be the happiest time in your life, which adds guilt on top of the burnout.
If you’re feeling truly depressed and things are seeming pretty hopeless, please seek professional help!
Ways to Overcome and Avoid Mom Burnout
Luckily there’s hope. For me, I’ve been doing this mom thing for long enough that I recognize the signs, so I’m able to head off the burnout before it really settles in and makes itself at home. You’ll get to that point, too!
As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. No one is better off when moms give so much of themselves that they have nothing left. It’s important to challenge the unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves and starting taking care of ourselves NOW.
Here are some suggestions, in no particular order:
1. Change Up Your Morning (or Evening) Routine
As a busy mom, you need some time every day to regroup and refresh. The most obvious time slots are in the morning before the kids wake up or in the evening after they go to bed.
Most of us take this time anyway – you know, the mindless Facebook scrolling you do after the kids are in bed when you’re too tired to do anything else. Even the thought of getting ready for bed feels like too much work, so you stay up too late doing things that aren’t going to make you feel any less burnt out, all in the name of “alone time.”
I typically recommend changing your morning routine – you can do a few things just for yourself BEFORE you need to be mom for the day. There are no excuses when you take this time first thing in the morning.
Is it hard to wake before the kids? Yes. Especially when their wake-up times are fairly random.
I started getting up before my kids when my first set of twins were still infants. It was the only way I could guarantee myself a shower, a hot cup of coffee, and some time to myself. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now (I even get up early on the weekends!), and I feel a huge difference in my mindset and my parenting when I stay in bed until the kids get up. Somehow, kids are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the SECOND they jump out of bed in the morning, so this morning time gives me the ability to be truly ready for them when they get up.
The takeaway here is to make this time work for you. Plan ahead – what are you going to do with your time? I recommend a hot beverage and a book or podcast. Or maybe a workout, if that’s your thing. You don’t have to tackle your never-ending to-do list during these times unless you want to. The point is to either get into the right mindset to start or day or to relax and unwind (without social media!) before you go to bed.
2. Take Care of Your Body
If I had to choose just one piece of advice to give to just about anybody for just about any problem, it would be to SLEEP. Go to bed just a little bit earlier, and wind down beforehand with a book and a cup of tea rather than TV and a glass of wine. I can’t even express to you how amazingly, fantastically much this one simple tip can change everything. When I get at least 7 hours of sleep per night (because 8 hours is virtually impossible), I feel better, snap at the kids less, and get more done. And when I’m happy and productive, the whole world looks a little brighter.
Beyond sleep, drink water and eat well. Eating well doesn’t have to involve anything fancy – just whole, unprocessed foods. And eat those foods slowly! No scarfing down leftover chicken nuggets while you’re loading the dishwasher and wiping the counters!
When I’m stressed and overwhelmed, I tend to forget to eat, so I get so starving that I throw whatever I can find down my throat as quickly as possible. And then I feel guilty and gross, because it’s not strawberries and carrots that I’ve eaten, it’s graham crackers and potato chips and granola bars. And then I get shaky a couple hours later from the sugar crash, so I do it all over again.
You may not think that changing your sleep and diet will help with the mom burnout, but taking care of your body will lead to more energy and less illness, and it will better equip you to face the challenges of day-to-day life.
3. Be Selfish With Your Time
Very, very selfish. In other words, set some boundaries. Say “no” more often, and protect your family from over-scheduling.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. We often do things because we can squeeze them in, or we feel like they’re obligations, or we decide that they won’t affect our lives that much. However, all of these little things can add up, and they actually do impact us. We don’t have to say “yes” to everything!
We all start to fall into this trap every now and again. Baking cookies for the bake sale, volunteering at your kids’ school, going to every activity you’re invited to… We agree to all of these things because we feel guilty if we don’t. Start saying no, and stop feeling guilty about it. Do you really have time for all of these extra activities?
When you’re asked to commit to something, ask yourself these three questions:
- Do I need to do this?
- Do I want to do this?
- Does this give me energy?
If you’re unable to answer “yes!” to at least one of those questions, the answer to the request is NO.
Once you start saying no to things you don’t want to do and people you don’t want to spend time with, the freedom that you feel will be invigorating. You’ll also realize that Earth doesn’t stop turning, and your family and friends still love and value you even when you don’t participate in every little activity you’re asked or invited to do.
4. Write it Down
Sometimes the largest source of overwhelm in a parent’s life is knowing that there are approximately 9,385 things to do, but having no idea where to start or what exactly needs to be done. Have you ever stood in the middle of a messy room and had no idea where to start? Looked at your tornado kitchen and felt so overwhelmed that you sat back down on the couch and ignored it?
You know that the whole thing needs to be done, but the paralysis of not knowing where to begin can be debilitating. If you’re like me, when you think of (and look around at) all there is to accomplish, you find yourself losing all motivation.
It may seem silly to put “do the dishes” on your to-do list, but I promise you it’s not. Write a list of EVERYTHING that needs to get done. Every single day, I write down the 6 daily tasks that I do – kitchen (dishes and counters), make the bed, scoop the cat litter, quickly clean bathroom sinks and toilets, figure out dinner and pull what I need out of the freezer, and put away the laundry that I did the day before. These are my “anyway” tasks – I do them out of habit and because I like to start my day with a clean-ish house. But I write them down anyway because it feels so dang good to cross things off my to-do list.
In the evening, make a list of everything that has to be done the next day. Keep it with you and add to it as your day progresses. It may seem old school, but using actual paper or a calendar can be super helpful in sorting out your thoughts when your mind is racing. Physically writing out your routine can provide your mind with the clarity it needs to prepare for the day or week ahead.
You can also do this weekly – Sunday afternoon or evening is a good time. It may be a bit overwhelming to see such a long list, but it’s such a motivator to check items off!
You will be amazed at the amount of stress you can let go of when you’re sure you’re not going to forget something because you have a physical reminder.
5. Ask for Help
Asking for help is necessary and absolutely normal. So many moms try to do it all themselves, all the time. Of course you’re going to burn out if you’re burdened with all of the tasks and projects that have to do with parenting, your job, and your home.
Today’s society (I mean, Facebook and Instagram) makes us feel like we should be able to handle all of the mom, home, and work tasks, and put on makeup and blow-dry our hair on top of it. We feel such pressure from these unrealistic expectations because society tells us that we need to do it all to be a valuable woman. It’s all lies. You might get a momentary high from doing everything yourself, like you’ve proven something or shown someone what you’re made of, but it’s not sustainable, and you WILL crash at some point.
Asking for help can be as simple as asking your husband to handle the kids for a couple hours on a Saturday so you can sit in a coffee shop or on a park bench and read in peace or run a bunch of errands without hauling kids out of carseats at every stop. Grandparents usually like to help as well!
If you’re financially able, hire a sitter or a house cleaner for a couple hours a week. You can also find a friend to swap childcare hours with – she’ll likely appreciate the idea as much as you do. Order pizza or takeout once a week. Buy a couple of pre-made dinners from the grocery store to make dinner a no-brainer.
This job is simply too hard to do alone. Ask for help when you need it.
6. Do Something Unproductive
Just stop and take a break. Do absolutely nothing for an hour – or even a whole day!
I know how hard this is – I struggle with this one too. There are a million tasks running through your mind, and it’s HARD to be purposefully unproductive without feeling guilty. Sometimes we need to slow down in order to speed up. You have the authority to give yourself this lazy time! Write it on your to-do list if that’s something that will help you feel like you have permission.
Just because something is “unproductive” doesn’t make it unworthy of your time. Snuggle those kids on the couch and watch a movie together. Take a nap. Read a book for an hour in the middle of the day, just because. Let your mind wander – daydream about the future, your dream home, or a tropical vacation.
Un-productivity is a necessary element of caring for yourself and of recovering your body and brain from the hard work you do day in and day out. Figure out how you can appreciate and enjoy rest, and fight back against the urge to always be productive.
7. Seek Professional Help
It’s sad that there’s still such a stigma when it comes to mental health. There is NO shame in realizing you need more help than you’re able to give yourself. Professional guidance can mean the difference between pushing through a burnout situation or continuing to feel those stressors. Seek out a therapist, counselor, or doctor if you’re exhibiting symptoms of burnout or if you’re feeling truly overwhelmed by life in general.
Therapists are amazing. They are impartial and easy to talk to, and they can help you sort through your stressors and give you tools to cope with them. We check in every year with our doctors and dentists – why shouldn’t it be the same for our mental and emotional health?
When I need to talk to a professional, I’m able to tell because I feel physically unable to get off the couch to do anything other than the absolute bare minimum to keep the kids alive. As I sit there, completely stuck, I also feel extreme guilt for not doing anything. It’s a horribly paralyzing situation for me.
I’m so grateful, though, that I’ve learned to recognize the signs in myself. If this feeling goes on more more than a few days, I make a therapy appointment. Sometimes a few weekly sessions are all I need to get back on track. Other times, it takes pharmaceuticals. Either way, the sooner I realize that I need additional help, the more quickly I’m able to get back on track.
By getting involved in counseling right when you start to experience the symptoms of burnout (or even before!), you’re providing yourself with positive energy that will promote a healthy lifestyle for you and your family.
8. Prioritize Yourself
Identify what makes you feel renewed and refreshed, and make time for it. Maybe you crave physical activity or time in nature. Maybe you need alone time to recharge. Figure out what renews your energy and make it a priority to have more of that in your life. Make it not optional. It cannot be the last thing on the list each day, because we all know how that works out. Carve out dedicated time, and teach the people in your life to respect this.
You can choose activities that don’t require leaving the house, such as reading or taking a long, hot bath. Or you can look beyond what you can do in your own home – join a gym or take up running. Meet a friend for lunch or coffee. Go to the library without the kids (this one is my favorite – it doesn’t take a super long time, and when I get home with all my “new” books, I’m re-inspired to read).
As part of making this time for yourself, try to choose something that doesn’t belong to anyone else.
As parents, we start to feel burnt out because we’re constantly doing things for everyone else – taking care of the hubs and kids, working unfulfilling jobs to pay the bills, and all those other things we “need” to do. It feels like we share EVERYTHING with everyone else. I mean, I can’t even eat a bowl of ice cream without scooping four extra bowls so the kids can have it too. Heck, even my body doesn’t feel like my own most days with all of these kids wanting snuggles and back scratches.
Find the one thing that’s just for you. Something that you don’t have to share with anyone else. Something that makes your heart happy. Hobbies fit the bill really well. So do hidden passions that have been left by the wayside during this busy season of your life.
I’ve gone through multiple iterations of this in my own life. I’ve worked from home as a medical transcriptionist (yes, it was a job and not something necessarily fun, but I enjoyed doing it, and it was MINE). I’ve done direct sales, which was fun, but not really my thing (nothing against direct sales – I love to support my friends because I think they’re fun, they can create an income, and they’re huge confidence-boosters, especially for women who have been out of the workforce for a while!). I’ve tried to start sewing again, but that wasn’t something I was able to do first thing in the morning, which is the only time of day that I’m guaranteed some peace and quiet.
So here I sit, blogging at 6:00 a.m., because this is MY time and blogging is MY thing 🙂
It can take time to find something that you want to do badly enough that you’re able to fit it into your schedule at least a couple times per week. Whatever it is, make it a priority. Not only are you taking time to do something for you (something that’s not necessarily serving anyone else!), you’re also leading your kiddos by example and teaching them that wellness and balance are important. Mom’s a person, too!
9. Focus on Your Victories
Last, but not least, Focus on what went well instead of all of the tasks that didn’t get accomplished. Celebrate your victories, no matter how small.
Acknowledge that motherhood is HARD – not just for you, but for all moms. You get the privilege of keeping these stubborn, opinionated tiny humans sheltered, clothed, and fed. Our to-do lists are never-ending, and it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by all the stuff we didn’t get to do.
Some days, that list is really, discouragingly short.
I’ll sometimes text my husband while he’s at work just to say, “Well, at least I kept four kids alive today!” That’s pretty much our code phrase to let him know not to expect much in the way of cleanliness or dinner when he gets home.
But, wow – I kept FOUR kids alive. That’s NOT nothing.
Other days, the list of victories will be longer. Regardless of the length of the list, every day has victories. Choose to focus on those wins, no matter how small or few, and ignore what didn’t get done. I think you’ll be amazed at what you actually accomplished 🙂
You did your best. The important things got done. It was a good day!
It’s not easy to avoid mom burnout, and it certainly isn’t easy to put yourself first. It’s important to be honest about what this struggle looks like for you.
You’re a busy mom, so that means you already do more than most people every day! The fact that you’ve even gotten this far in this post means that you care about your family and yourself enough to know that there’s more to life than rushing around, trying to accomplish anything and everything in your day.
Have some compassion for yourself. Treat yourself how you’d treat your best friend. When those we love fall short, we make allowances, show grace, and offer support. As moms, we rarely, if ever, offer ourselves the same kindness. We focus only on our shortcomings. We set our expectations too high and get caught in the cycle of negative thinking.
Remember to start small. Once you get started with investing in your well-being, it will become a habit, and you’ll be able to feel the positive shift.
How do you deal with the overwhelm of being a mom? Do you have any tips to add? Share in the comments!