Overwhelmed and exhausted? Mom burnout is a problem most of us have at some point—here’s how to recognize it and what to do about it.
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It was a Friday not too long ago and I was T-I-R-E-D. When my husband asked how I was doing, I just gave him “the look.”
You probably know it. It’s the I-have-been-dealing-with-kids-all-week-and-you-don’t-even-know-how-exhausting-this-is-because-my-to-do-list-is-still-18-miles-long-and-my-head-hurts-and-I-would-love-to-just-escape-to-your-office-and-do-grown-up-work-for-a-change. A.k.a the “mommy burnout” look.
I knew I was in a bad place because I started to indulge in one of my fantasies. This particular one was having an 8–5 job where I could dress professionally, change the world and make a lot of money. Another one would be taking a one-way drive to…anywhere but here. By myself.
Of course, my logical brain knew that I would probably be even more stressed if I went back to work at our current life stage and it probably wouldn’t live up to my fantasy expectations. And no family really ever benefited from the wife/mother running away.
If you’re a mom, stress and burnout are just things that you deal with. Probably more than you’d like to admit.
If you’re like me, you’re probably pushing yourself so hard that you don’t notice that burnout is even happening…until it’s too late. You break, sometimes with adverse side effects to your loved ones and to your health.
But here’s the thing…in my observation, while moms hate feeling this way, in American culture we tend to wear stress likes it’s a badge of honor. Like the fewer hours of sleep and self-care you get, the more superhuman points you have.
Yes, stress and burnout happen to the best of us. Sometimes you’re going to be under pressure and snap.
But you know what else? This doesn’t have to be our normal, mamas. I’ve spent too much time feeling anxious, depressed and resentful about my motherhood season, and that is NOT the kind of mom I want to raise my kids.
12 Signs of Mom Burnout (and That Something Needs to Change)
Having kids does weird things to you. You think you’re a happy, healthy person…but then when a little bit of pressure happens (like having children around), that pretty version of yourself starts to fall apart.
Here are a few signs that you’re suffering from mom burnout, as evidenced by your physical and emotional health:
Even when you’re exhausted, you can’t fall asleep when you go to bed because your mind won’t shut down.
2. Muscle tension
If you suffer from upper back, neck or shoulder pain, chances are that you’re suffering from stress tension. This can be exacerbated by a weak core, poor flexibility, or poor alignment in the spine. I’ve struggled with this kind of pain for years…and whenever it comes back, it’s like an alarm bell for me that I need to address my stress.
If you experience tightness and pain at your forehead, or around the back of your head and neck, the tension may be caused by stress.
4. Skin conditions
Rashes and other outbreaks sometimes indicate that your immune system is run down and not protecting your body the way it should. I personally get a weird fungus on the palms of my hands, especially when I’m not getting enough sleep.
5. Frequent illnesses
If you feel like you just can’t beat the colds that are coming your way, it may be another sign that your immune system isn’t functioning as it should due to stress.
This is a blanket term, but if you’re suffering from severe conditions like panic attacks and a racing pulse, that’s a sign that something is very wrong! (Please see a doctor.) Even if you don’t experience the obvious physical systems, ongoing worry and anxiety will wear on you emotionally and physically.
7. Menstrual cycle fluctuations
When your body is in the stress response, it is essentially telling your ovaries that now is not a good time to make babies. If you’re having abnormal fluctuations, stress may be the cause.
8. Weight fluctuations
Stress can affect your weight in either direction, due to emotional eating, loss of appetite or poor digestion.
9. Digestive issues
When you’re under stress, your body will naturally be focused on tasks related to immediate survival (for our ancestors, that was often running away from danger). When this happens, the body saves energy by pulling away from less important tasks—like digesting your food properly. If you deal with a range of digestion issues, consider stress.
10. Moodiness and irritability
This is perhaps less extreme than some of the physical symptoms, but it may be one of the things that bother you the most. If you are unreasonably emotionally reactive to the people you love or things in your everyday life, it may be a symptom of underlying stress. Stress affects your hormones, which can cause you to be depressed and cranky.
11. Escapism and addiction
Do you have a bad habit that you’re having a hard time mastering? It could be anything from overeating to drug abuse to social media addiction. In times of stress, you’re going to be a lot more likely to turn to self-medicating.0
12. Inability to focus or remember
Remember, when your body is in the stress response, your brain is focused on survival and doing what it perceives is most important. But that means that details like where you left your car keys can be forgotten.
I don’t share this list to scare you. But as you can see, there are consequences to living this way. An estimated 75-90 percent of doctor visits are related to stress-related conditions!
Not dealing with the minor symptoms now can lead to major problems down the road. Plus, no one wants to be stuck as a cranky, irrational mom. I sure don’t.
Practical Ways to Deal with Mom Burnout
I already know what you’re thinking, because I think it too: being a mom is so stinking demanding. It just doesn’t seem realistic to go on a six-month sabbatical or spend an hour in meditative prayer each morning.
So what can we do?
We’re not fighting this battle alone. Jesus said that those who are beaten, broken, weary and burdened are blessed. Not because they’re tough, but because he loves them.
When we are weak, his strength can shine (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Having said that, if you’re feeling burned out as a mom, I don’t want to just give you a feel-good pat on the back. The more I’ve lived and studied and learned, the more strongly I believe that when we really look to Jesus and the wisdom of the Bible, we are fully equipped to be better wives and moms.
Stress-free? No. But made better and stronger through our trials? Yes.
I believe that mom burnout doesn’t have to be our m.o. But in order to beat it, we have to first recognize it and its consequences, and then respond with intention.
You’ve probably heard about “fight or flight” mode. You’ve probably been told that stress is bad for you and makes you sick and that you should avoid it. Maybe you even grabbed a handy but vague flyer from the doctor’s office about stress management.
These things are not helpful for a mom suffering from burnout! They probably make you feel more stressed!
Here’s the deal: God designed you to respond to stress for your good. It is part of living and life. It’s the way your body responds when something you care about it is at stake.
So let me rephrase that: stress is actually good for you. The Bible doesn’t use the word “stress” the way we understand it, but it sure does refer to suffering. And suffering, while not pleasant, helps us grow.
Once you understand that, you can start processing the reality of stress in your life in healthy ways. Here are a few suggestions:
- Recognize what you can and can’t control. If you took a few minutes and wrote down the things that were causing you stress, how many of them do you think are factors that you can change? My guess is very few.
- Pray with focus and intention. Those things you can’t change? Submit them to the one who has the power to do anything. You might not get the outcome you want, but by relinquishing control you are taking a load off your shoulders. (See more on how to pray.)
- Set priorities and boundaries. You do have control over how you spend your time and energy. Protect what’s yours. Simplify your life and learn how to manage your time.
- Take your thoughts captive. Toxic thinking leads to more toxic thinking and actually harms your brain. You can change the way you think.
- Practice rest and self-care. I used to think that I would rest after my kids got older. While being a mom is demanding, I still have a responsibility to take care of these limited resources called my body and my mind. Sabbath rest was instituted in the Bible from the first chapter. We’re not exempt just because we’re busy.
- Lean on your support system. Human beings were created to live in community, yet so many of us are trying to raise our families in isolation. I know it’s hard, but recognize your limits and ask for support—whether it’s from your husband, your family or the neighbor you don’t know very well. And if you don’t know whom to ask (because I’ve been there), then that is the first thing you can start praying about.
Fortunately for the innocent bystanders in my household, I’ve had enough mom burnout moments that I’ve learned how to recover quickly. Over that weekend I was able to take time to recharge and strategize about how to not be psycho wife. And for the most part, it worked.
Mom burnout happens, but I believe that when you recognize your limits and manage your stress response prayerfully, it doesn’t have to be the norm.
Want to learn more about managing stress, biblically and practically? Be sure to sign up for StressLESS!
Do you think you might be suffering from mom burnout? What are you going to do about it?