It’s early in the morning, and my older toddler comes running into our bedroom, brown curls bouncing up and down, a big grin on her face. She throws herself on the bed and climbs on top of me, sometimes with a cache of toys, stuffed animals, or dolls. She happily exclaims, “Sun’s up, mommy! Sun’s up!” It’s a typical morning, and my toddlers—a one-year-old and an almost-three-year-old—are awake and chattering at dawn. I wish I could share in her early morning joy. But I am one tired mom and not in the I-stayed-up-too-late sense of the term. I have mommy burnout, like many other tired moms, and it’s starting to show.
Rubbing my eyes and trying to sit up, I give her my best smile and agree, “Yes, the sun’s up alright.” I wrap her in a big, sleepy hug. The world has changed, and we’re changing with it. Our role as moms of young and school-age children has shifted—for many of us—tremendously.
Mom Burn-Out is Real
Before Covid-19, we moms used to have a bit more time and space to ourselves. Maybe we were able to catch up on sleep on the weekend. Or we had some alone time when we sent our kids off to school, full-time or part-time. A lot of us hired people to help us with childcare and cleaning. Or sometimes, we would get a manicure, massage, or haircut to treat ourselves. Maybe you went to the gym to release stress or spent time over coffee with friends talking, laughing, and decompressing. These options that once allowed us to recharge our batteries and renew our minds have either changed or evaporated entirely.
Even under more normal circumstances, we moms were burnt out. Even with the little time we managed to get for ourselves or the help we managed to secure for our home or family, we still struggled with exhaustion. But since the outbreak of Covid-19 and quarantine measures began, I’ve grappled with some deep, bone-aching tiredness. And I’m willing to bet I am not alone.
Self-Care is Great, But It’s Not Enough
If you are a mama who feels exhausted or depleted, please know that you are not alone in your experience. Many of us have known for a while that self-care is important. Many of us have taken measures to try to continue what self-care we can muster these days. At this point, though, self-care may not be enough anymore. If you feel burnt out to the point that self-care is insufficient, you may need to explore some lifestyle changes that may help you get the rest you need.
I want you to have hope that it can get better! Today, I’m sharing some ways I’ve recently employed, which have gone beyond self-care as we know it. These lifestyle adjustments have helped me regain my energy and take back some of my physical and emotional strength.
Lower Your Expectations
Moms are tired, partly because we expect so much of ourselves and our family. Sometimes, the best way to give yourself rest is to lower those expectations. Stop trying to do as much as you used to or with the same intensity you used to do. We are collectively in a new phase of life across the country and the world. This new era is calling for you to cut back and slow down. You can’t do that unless you lower your expectations for yourself and your family and see that this is actually a good thing.
A primary way I’ve improved my energy level and decreased my tiredness is by lowering my expectations for myself and those around me. Honestly, this has been the absolute hardest thing I’ve done all year. I have a type-A, sometimes over-achiever personality, so asking me not to accomplish the things I want to accomplish is a challenge.
But through many conversations with friends and mentors, I have realized that expecting less of my family and myself is healthy for us. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to-do lists or set goals. It means those lists and goals are less ambitious and less stressful. I can be more flexible and even grateful and positive if the winds change direction and I have to modify the schedule for our day.
This also means I’m not as tired anymore. I’m not forcing myself to accomplish things that, while they used to be easy to do, are now much harder to do. I’m learning to let go. Friends of mine who have kids in school have told me they’ve relaxed some expectations for their children and teens around schoolwork. For them, it has resulted in happier children, a more relaxed mother, and a more peaceful household.
Talk to your people, including your husband, friends, mentors, or a woman’s support group, about your intentions to lower expectations. Ask for practical ideas they may have. Surrounding yourself with people who give you space and encouragement to be kind and gentle with yourself. Consult with your partner and children and ask them to begin making the mental switch as well. This is an important step in switching to a more calm household.
Join A Support Group
A support group can look like anything from a group of friends meeting weekly on FaceTime to an online book club or a 12-Step Recovery program that meets daily or weekly. Find a shared interest group that works for you. The important thing is that you feel safe and supported to share about yourself and your experiences. You might have to try a few meetings with that group to get a feel for it before deciding what works best for you.
There are numerous communities and online gatherings that will welcome you into their program, whatever that may be. I have found that having a sacred space where I feel safe to share about my life has been so important for my emotional rejuvenation and spiritual fulfillment. When I don’t connect with my group weekly, I tend to rely too heavily on my partner to emotionally meet my needs, which can become unhealthy for our marriage.
Regular human connection is essential to our physical and mental health.1 Cooperative interactions are ingrained in us; we are designed to connect and be with each other. Talking and videoing with like-minded people in support groups can help you work through your feelings of burnout and cultivate new ways of overcoming it.
Find a support group in your area or online (visit here). There are also groups on Facebook you can become a part of. Once you’ve joined a group, introduce yourself, and start interacting! It may seem intimidating initially, but you must reach out to start making those all-important human connections. The other people in the group are probably just as nervous as you!
I participate in a twelve-step recovery program to maintain my emotional sobriety. It helps me stay emotionally balanced and healthy on a day-to-day basis. I partake in a weekly online meeting (which used to be in-person) to support my mental health. Since quarantine began, our group added a second weekly meeting (both online), allowing me to meet with my support group twice a week.
Through this program, I have gained a close-knit group of women I trust and care about very much. We support each other, cheer each other on, and call and text each other during the week if we’re having a hard day. Or we call each other to celebrate when something is going well!
Ask For Help In Bold New Ways
Moms are tired because we don’t ask for help! Recently, I have had to ask for help in bold, new ways. I have had to ask for help with cleaning and childcare. I’ve had to ask for more sleep. I’ve had to hire a delivery person to do my grocery shopping when before, my husband or myself would do it, often with the kids in tow. As the curve has flattened in my state and some restrictions have changed, I’ve had to ask a few people (who are not in the vulnerable population) to help me out.
Before now, I used to do it all by myself. I never got the help I probably needed all along. Why? Because I never asked for it. Getting over my pride and putting my mental health first has been the best thing I do for my family every week. When caring for myself, I’m better able to care for my family.
What does asking for help look like for you? Maybe asking for help comes in the form of getting a counselor to help you sort through your thoughts and feelings. Maybe it means asking someone to take care of your children so you can focus on your needs a few times a week. Or asking a delivery company to do your grocery shopping for you. What bold, new ways can you ask for help from your tribe?
For me, it means I’ve asked my husband to watch our kids on the weekend so that I can sleep more—whether that means sleeping in or taking a nap in the afternoon. And if he needs extra sleep, I reciprocate and give him space for extra sleep. It means I have someone watching my kids while my husband is at work (he’s essential), and I’m writing. Picking up the phone and asking people who can lend a hand has been instrumental in supporting my family and me and helping me get enough sleep.
Exercise With An Online Community
Research shows that when you work out, you gain more energy and feel less tired!2 I used to go to the gym several times each week. Working out on a stationary bike, jogging on the treadmill, or taking a gym class was an excellent way to burn off stress and release those feel-good endorphins. Sometimes I worked out with one of my girlfriends or my husband. Or I made friends with people in my gym classes. Going to the gym was good for my physical health and allowed me to be socially connected to others.
Like many other tired moms, when the stay-at-home orders began, I was at a loss for what to do. I used to use the childcare at the gym whenever I’d work out. Now, I was home with two toddlers all the time and unsure how I’d exercise. What I found was a wonderful online community for fitness workouts.
A California fitness trainer I follow on Instagram began offering free online classes a couple of times per week. She has now built a following for her online classes, and I signed up to take them several times a week. They are short 30-45 minute workouts focusing on bodyweight workouts, which means you use your body to build and tone muscle. She also incorporates some HIIT workouts so that cardio is a part of the exercise routine. This is an easy way for any tired mom to incorporate that much-needed workout into her at-home routine!
There are many free online workout communities right now. Some require you to pay a monthly subscription, similar to a gym subscription. You can also find local classes from your local gyms, barre, and yoga studios. There are also online programs that offer accountability and mental health meetings in addition to a gym workout, offering a holistic approach to helping you maintain a healthy routine all week. Do a quick google search and sign up for one today!
Hang in there, tired moms!
Moms are tired. So tired. We are burnt out. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders now more than ever. But you can do these and other things to incorporate more balance in your life. Things that are beyond self-care, although it is still nice to indulge in that, too!
I’ve had a steep learning curve over these past two months trying to regain balance. I’ve had to lower my expectations of myself and others. I am asking for help in bold new ways. Community support and exercise have been moved to the top of my priority list. All these have helped me become a more energized—and ultimately happier and healthier—mother to my children and partner to my husband.
You got this, Mama!