Mum burnout is real and some of us live with it every single day.
I know when I’m bone tired, I’m not the best mum I can be to my girls, but for many of us it’s the default place we parent from as we don’t have the support we crave from our village, or even have a village at all. For most of us, things like having multiple small children, working full time, having a new baby, having kids who don’t sleep well or even simply juggling the various responsibilities of being a parent and adult means we often feel like we just can’t do it all again tomorrow. And then tomorrow comes and we do it all anyway.
Standard suggestions for dealing with exhaustion are no always possible when you’re a mum. In fact they can be downright insulting. Get more sleep? Ha! Halve the to-do list? Yeah, right. I find if I halve my list and just don’t do some of my regular workload, the work doesn’t just go away. Instead it gets pushed forward to another day and in just a week or two I’m completely overwhelmed and sinking. The list that gets halved one day actually ends up doubling my workload at the end of the month.
I’m all for being kinder to myself and letting things go as a mum, but if I’m honest, as a modern mum, I have a lot going on.
Whether we choose to work or not (sometimes we have to), or have a partner that helps with the household chores or not, being a mum is a tiring business.
How do you know if you have mum burnout?
I know I have mum exhaustion when I have no motivation or energy to get on with the day. I’m a happy go-getter type person, so if I feel unmotivated, I know it has to do with my energy levels.
Another way to test for exhaustion is to see your GP. Sometimes a deficiency in iron or other essential minerals or vitamins can cause us to feel drained and tired. Your doctor can assess whether this is the case for you and determine a course for treatment or medication if needed.
When I visited my doctor, my test results came back normal. I was told my exhaustion must be due to my lifestyle. As I listed all that I did in a day, my doctor told me my exhaustion was simply because I was doing too much and not getting enough sleep and down time.
So how do you deal with mum burnout?
Every mum will have different ways to deal with exhaustion. What may work for me, may not work for you. But here are some ways I’ve helped myself get out of the exhaustion rut.
One of the first things I looked at was what I was eating. Last year, I’m ashamed to admit I would eat half a block of chocolate for lunch in an effort to get me through my day. No wonder I was feeling sluggish by mid-afternoon. This year, I have made myself a lunch packed with vegetables and protein that really improves both my mood and my energy levels. I prepare lunches on Sunday for the week, ready to go in the fridge so I don’t have to worry about finding the time to prepare them when I’m busy looking after my girls. To keep me in my habit of eating a good lunch each day, I started a new lunch recipe series on my blog to hold me accountable with my new lifestyle change. I didn’t go cold-turkey on the chocolate. I just have one or two squares instead!
2. Daily Brain Dump
A brain dump is a tactic I learned from Brooke McAlary from her book Destination Simple. The way it works is each night, before I go to sleep, I write down everything I need to get done and all the things I’m worried about. This helps me go to sleep without thinking or stressing about things I may or may not forget to do. It also closes the tabs I often have open in my mind that I know need to be actioned. A lot of my exhaustion stems from thinking ahead and not living in the moment. Check ouy Brooke’s book or blog on simple ways to slow your home. A lifestyle change may be essential for a slower pace, which will have a positive affect on your exhaustion levels.
RELATED: How to Unplug From Your Online Life (and Why You Need To) by Brooke McAlary
Once I realised my exhaustion was caused by my lifestyle, I looked at ways to change how I started and finished my day. This is still a work in progress, but I find having a set bed time and wake up time helps. It means I’m working with my body clock rather than against it.
If I feel really exhausted, I will have a timed nap just to ensure I get through the afternoon and kids’ dinner, bath and bedtime routine. Every Sunday afternoon is my rest time and I am very protective of that time. All our girls have quiet time or a nap in their rooms, and the afternoon is for me and my husband to rest/nap/read or do what’s needed to build our energy levels up.
When it comes to sleep, I find that taking the nights in turn with my husband can help me settle and switch off when it’s not ‘my night’. Broken sleep can be just as common in the toddler years as the newborn years (and, dare I say, beyond). Once the kids are in a big bed, they are free to wander and wake you up in the night for toilet trips, scary moments or just because it’s dark and they want a chat. On my nights, I’m there for my girls, but on my husband’s nights I know he’ll deal with any issues and this allows me to reach a deeper level of quality sleep.
5. Time Away
The easiest way for me to have necessary time away from my kids is to book away for a girl’s weekend, a night away with my husband or attend a conference where I can be just myself. Not only are these trips away essential for a good night’s sleep, they also allow me to recharge without having to mother. I can do what I want, when I want without the consideration of my little people constantly pulling my focus. I don’t take trips away often enough – maybe twice a year – but I do notice how different I feel once I return.
The less I have to think about, the more energy I have for my family. I try to organise my days so I’m not feeling rushed to complete a schedule full of chores. For example, I will put the slow cooker on for dinner to help ease us through the witching hour at night. Or I cook ahead so have one or two spare dinners ready in the freezer for those nights everything goes pear-shaped. I get the kids to be more organised too so I’m not left to do all the things on my own. I find that having a loose routine helps with all of this.
7. Say No
I try to say no to overscheduling commitments and social obligations. I’m already so busy with family, work and volunteer commitments, that it’s too easy to feel rushed and hurried day after day. Saying no allows me to keep weekends free or only do things one or two nights or days a week instead of more. For instance, I can’t make it to all the P&C and committee meetings at my daughter’s school. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on one committee only and do a good job of it. When all my girls are in school, I can commit more time to attending the school meetings, but for now, one committee is enough.
8. Meditation or Prayer
I get my trust from my relationship with God, but you might find that meditation can add the same quiet spaces to your day that allows you to refill. We all need those moments of reflection and self-belief (and trust in a higher power, if that’s your thing). We all need the opportunity to step outside of our daily life for a short while to work out what will best refill our cup in the moments ahead.
So while exhaustion can be a short or long season for many mums, I believe we can work through it. It simply comes down to analysing our priorities, and prioritising time for rest and soul replenishment. If the exhaustion continues, see your doctor and get a thorough check-up. Lifestyle changes will do little to improve your energy levels if there is something medical causing your exhaustion.