Mom Burnout Is Real—Here’s How to Deal With It
Here’s three tips for coping with mom burnout, a very real state of mental, emotional, and physical fatigue related to parenting.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
November 10, 2023
Table of Contents
What is mom burnout?
Being a parent is an immense responsibility. As a mom, your early days are consumed with feedings, diapers, and meeting milestones. Then, your children get older, and you start to focus on their education, socialization, and how to keep them safe, happy, and healthy in today’s world (an increasingly challenging task). And in between all of this, there are carpools and playdates and making lunches, and booking appointments.
With all of those responsibilities, it can be tough to find the time to prioritize your own mental health and wellness. Enter “mom burnout.” While not an official mental health condition in and of itself, mom burnout is a very real state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion related to parenting. Many parents are so overwhelmed and fatigued by the day-to-day of parenting that it starts to diminish their energetic resources, leading to burnout over time. If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone. Below, we delve into signs and symptoms of mom burnout and what you can do to ease the burden.
Where did the term burnout come from?
The term burnout was first coined by a psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. It was originally a reference to doctors, nurses, and others in “helping professions” whose work left them feeling exhausted and depleted, but today, burnout can apply to any profession.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). According to the WHO, burnout is an occupational phenomenon that results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Their definition notes that burnout is characterized by three symptoms:
- Feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion
- Reduced professional efficacy
- Increased mental distance from your job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to your job
Many mothers are the primary caregivers in their families, placing them at an increased risk for high levels of stress. In fact, some research found that two-thirds of moms reported experiencing anxiety, with more than one-third rating their current levels as “moderate” to “severe.”
Signs and symptoms of mom burnout
Mom burnout occurs for a myriad of reasons, such as unrealistic parenting expectations, lack of support, lack of self-care, or simply not having enough time in the day to tackle parenting, work, and household responsibilities. If you think you’re heading toward a breaking point or are already experiencing symptoms, keep an eye out for these physical and emotional signs of mom burnout.
Feeling like a bad mom
Feeling emotionally depleted
Questioning your choices
1. Extreme fatigue
Burnout can cause mental or physical fatigue, even after a full night’s sleep or a daily nap.
2. Feeling like a bad mom
Another sign of burnout is feeling like you’re a bad mom or somehow failing your child. You may be doing your very best, but mom burnout can still cause feelings of inadequacy or guilt about not being the perfect parent.
3. Mom rage
Kids have an innate way of getting under their parents’ skin, but mom burnout can exacerbate these moments. A short temper, extreme mood changes, hostility, and irritability may all be symptoms of mom rage.
4. Feeling emotionally depleted
This can mean feeling numb, disconnected, hopeless, or having trouble finding joy in parenting or other aspects of life.
5. Feeling isolated
Even if you’re with your children all day, being a parent (especially a stay-at-home parent) can be extremely isolating. You may feel disconnected from your partner, friends who aren’t local or don’t have kids, or people in your professional network.
6. Limited patience
Having less patience, easily snapping, or becoming increasingly frustrated with your kids may all be symptoms of mom burnout.
7. Questioning your choices
It’s normal to occasionally think about what life would have been like if you chose another path, but repeated thoughts about living another life or regretting having children may indicate a problem.
8. Decreased productivity
Tackling your to-do list can seem like an impossible feat when you’re struggling with mom burnout. If you notice yourself struggling to complete the usual tasks, like laundry or packing lunches, consider seeking help.
What can you do to cope with parental burnout?
Everyone handles parenting stress in their own way, but burnout may indicate a bigger mental health problem. When left unmanaged, burnout can have negative effects on you, your children, and your overall family dynamic. For example, some research suggests that high levels of parenting stress are associated with a lower quality of parenting, an increased risk of depression and anxiety in parents, and psychosocial and behavioral problems in their children.
To help you before you get to this point, consider the following three tips for reducing mom burnout:
1. Build a support system
Research shows that having a social support network can help reduce stress and make people more resilient. For moms, this means creating a network of folks to help lighten the mental, physical, and emotional load of parenting.
If you’re a new parent or have young children, consider joining a local support group to connect with other parents who are experiencing similar situations. This is an opportunity to socialize, troubleshoot parenting problems, and connect with others who understand exactly what you’re going through (both the challenges and the joys).
You can also expand your network and support system in ways that don’t directly relate to parenting. Find activities that are interesting to you as a person, not just as a parent, so that you can prioritize your own growth and well-being. For example, join a running club, book club, or any other activity that will help you feel your best.
2. Consider additional approaches to parenting
When you’re feeling drained at the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is work on your parenting skills. But the truth is, there are countless resources designed to help moms overcome parenting hurdles, feel more confident, and reduce burnout.
For example, if you’re a working mom who’s struggling at the office due to your child’s inconsistent sleep schedule, consider learning more about how to manage sleep regressions. Or if two unsuccessful months of potty training have your head spinning, consider finding a different technique to help your little one to finally master the toilet.
Some parenting experts, such as Dr. Becky Kennedy, even teach moms how to relieve parental anxiety and stress. Dr. Jazmine, a clinical psychologist and mom of two, is another parenting expert dedicated to offering parenting tips and reminding people about the joys of motherhood.
3. Seek mental health support
If you’re one of the many parents who are struggling with their mental wellbeing, please don’t hesitate to seek support. Whether you’re a new parent or you’re raising older children, your thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve to be heard.
When left untreated, mom burnout can lead to serious mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Mom burnout can also contribute to postpartum depression, a type of depression that occurs after the birth of a child and can lead to severe anxiety and panic attacks, intense anger, and changes in sleep or eating habits. Research shows that approximately 13% of women will experience anxiety, and up to 21% will experience symptoms of depression in the year following birth.
Many therapists will use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help moms align their thoughts, feelings, and actions with their mental health goals. More specifically, CBT can help people:
- Deal with difficult emotions
- Improve relationships
- Improve self-confidence and self-esteem
- Cope with stress
- Change negative thoughts
- Manage mental health disorders
Learn how to manage mom burnout with Charlie Health
If you’re struggling to juggle parenthood and all your other life responsibilities, Charlie Health is here to help. Remember: it takes a village, and seeking professional help is a sign of strength.
Charlie Health’s personalized virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers mental health treatment for complex mental health struggles, including supporting those with parental burnout, chronic stress from parenting, postpartum depression, and more. Our program combines group sessions, individual counseling, and family therapy to offer holistic professional help.
Charlie Health’s compassionate team of mental health professionals are here to listen to your story, understand your needs, and match you with an appropriate treatment plan to help you feel your best for both you and your family.