Do you think you might be suffering from mom burnout? In this post, we explain what exactly mom burnout is, the common mom burnout symptoms to look out for, and how to recover from mom burnout in order to reclaim the joy you’ve been missing in your motherhood.
We’ve all been there.
At some point, every mom has felt as though she has too little time, resources, and support to do all she needs to do.
Like she can’t handle one.more.thing.
It’s perfectly normal to be overwhelmed by motherhood at times. BUT, if feeling completely and utterly exhausted, like you’re at your breaking point with the weight of everything crashing down on you, is your constant state, then it’s possible you’re experiencing mom burnout.
What is mom burnout?
We have all likely heard the term “burnout” before. It’s kind of a buzz word lately, especially during and since the pandemic. But what does this term actually mean and where did it come from?
The definition of burnout is the “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration”. It was originally studied in relation to the workplace in which three key dimensions of burnout were identified – an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
Similar to workplace burnout, mom burnout is also a multidimensional state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion as it relates to the “job” of being a mother.
What does mom burnout feel like?
Moms experiencing burnout often have feelings of intense exhaustion or depletion, and feel disengaged and ineffective in their role as a parent.
Mom burnout often manifests in a mother feeling as if she’s simply “going through the motions,” rather than being truly present and engaged with her children and often leads to feelings of inadequacy and doubts on whether she is a good mother at all.
While the signs of mom burnout will look different from mother to mother, the common symptoms to be aware of are as follows (source: parents.com).
Mom Burnout Symptoms
- Withdrawing from others
- Losing interest in things you once loved
- Sleep problems
- Changes in appetite
- Exhaustion or low energy
- Having trouble controlling your worries
- Feeling less hope
- Feeling emotional—sadness, irritability, or anxiety
- Feeling like you need a break (more than just wanting a break)
- Shorter temper and more frequent yelling
- Feeling as though any new task puts you over the edge
- Needing to not be touched or needing to be alone
- Waking up not wanting to do the day
- Feelings of resentment (toward your children, partner, and/or everyone else)
- Guilt for wanting or needing a break
What causes mom burnout?
No one can deny that the pressures on moms these days are greater than ever. We’re expected to be present, composed, and emotionally available to our kids at all times, while keeping them fed, clothed, and cared for intellectually, emotionally, and socially.
Between being a mom, working to have a healthy marriage, excelling at a career, taking care of aging parents, and staying on top of your wellness, fitness, friendships, and more, it’s a lot to manage.
Especially when you’re expected to manage it all perfectly with a positive attitude and oftentimes with little or no support.
Traditional gender roles in our society place the bulk of caregiving demands on the mother, whether she works outside of the home or not. It seems our culture expects mothers to work like we don’t have children and to raise our children like we don’t work.
It’s impossible to meet these standards in the best of situations, with all the resources possible. But the reality is that the majority of moms do not have unlimited financial resources, perfect health, flexible work schedules, access to affordable or even available childcare, among all the other limitations of “real” life.
It’s no wonder moms are often left feeling unsupported, overwhelmed, and utterly depleted. When this state of exhaustion goes on for too long, without recovery, this is when moms experience burnout.
How to Recover from Mom Burnout
No one benefits when moms give so much of themselves that they have nothing left. That’s why it’s important to challenge these unrealistic expectations by creating a support structure for mothers that allows for the practice of well-rounded self-care.
However, we all know that this doesn’t always happen on the regular, even with the best of intentions. Thus, there are times when a mom will get to this point of depletion where she enters the burnout stage.
11 Steps to Recover from Mom Burnout
Luckily, even once this stage takes hold, there are some steps you can take to recover from mom burnout.
1.) Recognize the signs of mom burnout
Repairing mom burnout first requires noticing the symptoms to begin with and admitting to yourself that you are suffering from burnout.
One of the hardest things for moms to do is admit that they are overwhelmed, despite how common it is to feel this way. There is no shame in admitting that you’re struggling.
Also, recognizing that you have a problem is necessary if you’re going to take the steps to restore yourself.
2.) Talk to loved ones
Once mom burnout takes hold, you tend to retreat into yourself and become isolated, which often makes the situation worse.
If you’re able to recognize that you have some of the signs of mom burnout, it’s important to fight against this tendency, and instead reach out to family and friends for support. Be honest about how you’ve been feeling and talk openly with people you trust.
Mom friends and mom support groups in your community or online can be great resources and help to reassure you that you’re not alone.
3.) Identify your main sources of struggle
You may be feeling completely exhausted by everything in life and that’s totally normal. But, if at all possible, try to identify 1-2 key sources of what is draining your energy the most.
Think about all the activities in your day that require an output of energy, taking into account not only the physical demands on you, but also the mental and emotional load of managing everything that you do on a daily basis – kids, job, housework, extended family relationships, etc.
Make a list of everything you’ve come up with and use it to evaluate what tasks or responsibilities are zapping your energy the most. This will allow you to identify where you might be able to ask for help or start doing some things differently.
It also can be validating to create a list of all you manage in a day in order to recognize that there is merit behind why you feel so drained.
4.) Begin letting go
Once you have your list of where your energy is going on a daily basis, see if you can identify just one responsibility you might let go of today. Start with something that feels relatively easy to take off your to-do list and notice how you feel without that responsibility.
Perhaps there’s a task you could delegate to someone else at work or you could involve your family in sharing more of the household chores? Maybe there are even some things you do on a daily basis that you could completely remove from your routine…
Start small and see how it feels to lighten your load.
5.) Set new boundaries
Letting go of sources that are draining your energy also involves assessing your mental load and the emotional demands that are put on you by the people in your life.
This may involve setting some new boundaries and saying no to others when it involves requests for your time and energy that feel like burdens.
With that may come disappointing others. But being okay with disappointing other people so that you do not have to disappoint yourself is an integral part of how to recover from mom burnout.
It’s imperative to protect your space with healthy boundaries if you’re going to heal.
6.) Renew your energy
Maybe you need alone time to recharge or time spent on your favorite hobby? Perhaps physical activity or time in nature will help you feel refreshed?
Figure out what helps restore you to feel your best and work it into your daily life. This part isn’t optional. If you want to start recovering from mom burnout, it’s essential that you take care of yourself – mind, body, and soul.
7.) Focus on what matters most
One of the symptoms of mom burnout is feeling as if you’re not truly present, just going through the motions or operating on autopilot. But when you operate on autopilot, you give little thought to why you’re doing the things you do and how (or if) they add value to your life.
In order to relieve some of the expectations you put on yourself that may not accurately represent what’s important to you, try to be more intentional with your time and choices.
Striving to be intentional helps you make choices that better align with your values and focus on what matters most to you. By doing so, it becomes easier to release yourself from the excessive expectations that are contributing to your mom burnout.
8.) Keep track of your “heart moments”
Science shows that our brains tend to focus on the negatives, but have a much harder time noticing and recalling the positives. A gratitude practice helps us retrain our brains to more easily notice the positives and keep them at the forefront of our minds.
A powerful way to bring a gratitude practice to your motherhood journey is to start keeping track of your “heart moments”.
You’re certainly not going to feel grateful in every moment of motherhood, but if you can find a moment here and there that makes you stop and fills your heart with love, that is a “heart moment”.
Take notice of these moments throughout your day and start writing them down in a journal or even in the notes section of your phone. This will help you to see what is going well in your life and in your motherhood.
In effect, you’re creating your own gratitude journal for your motherhood journey that you can refer back to when you’re feeling really down and need a reminder of what is good.
9.) Embrace the parts of motherhood you enjoy
Although everything in your being is telling you to run away and disengage, instead try leaning into the motherhood activities that you actually do enjoy.
Remind yourself that although you are burnt out by motherhood, your children are not the problem. You love these little humans and there are also things you love about being their mother.
Help yourself remember this by brainstorming activities you enjoy doing with your children in an effort to find ways of investing into your relationship with your kids so you can start feeling more connected again.
10.) Take a break
You don’t have to always “do all the things”. It’s important to create balance in your life and give yourself permission to take a break when needed.
Whether it be short breaks of “me” time that you schedule into your days or a longer break during which you might go away by yourself for a few days to recharge (if that’s an option for you), take the break that you need and don’t feel guilty about it.
You must take care of yourself first and foremost and prioritize your need for a break, as it can help you recover from mom burnout.
11.) Seek further help
If you find yourself struggling to recover from burnout and rest and downtime aren’t cutting it, or your symptoms are getting worse, it may be necessary to seek professional help.
Burnout is a precursor for depression, which is a medically treatable condition. This blog post, or any others that you may read like it, should NOT take the place of medical advice.
Please don’t be shy when it comes to seeking the help you need from a licensed medical professional.
Understanding how to recover from mom burnout is not easy.
Preventing and recovering from mom burnout is no easy feat, especially because putting yourself first often feels impossible, but you can overcome mom burnout.
If you find yourself in this position, I truly hope you are able to take the necessary steps to recover from mom burnout and seek out the help you need so you can once again become a thriving mama and person.
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Carly is a wife, mom, and former NYC fashion industry executive turned writer and life coach. Through her writings on littlevoicebigmatter.com, she shares practical advice, heartfelt insights, and actionable resources to inspire and support women in motherhood, relationships, wellness, and life. Carly also helps women create better balance in their lives and live with more joy, purpose, and connection every day through her coaching.