Mothers: We are the queens of multitasking, the keepers of the schedules, the home-makers, the money-makers and everything in between. But sometimes, it all becomes too much and the house of cards begins to get a little shaky. So how does a mom figure out when she is simply busy or if she is actually facing burnout? What are the signs that signal the start of overwhelm and is the source in the schedule or somewhere deeper?
You’re getting forgetful
You may be used to holding a lot of information in your mind at any given moment. Typically this isn’t a problem, but lately you seem to be forgetting a bunch of important things you normally wouldn’t. And when you do, it feels disturbing. Like mixing up the day of the week and then forgetting to fetch your child from the right extra lesson on time. Or you start driving somewhere only to suddenly notice you’re driving in completely the wrong direction. When is it that things slip out of your mind in an ordinary way, and when is it that somewhere, unconsciously, in an attempt to save yourself from one more thing to worry about, you simply forget. In these moments, your mind is scrambling to protect you from the threat of overload.
Small tasks feel too much
You want to cry when you realise you have that last minute report to hand in at work. Or you feel exhausted at the thought of taking your child to one more play rehearsal. Ordinarily these things wouldn’t be an issue, but lately you find yourself getting overwhelmed by little tasks that would usually be taken in your stride. This is where ‘things’ and ‘thoughts’ meet. It’s like every little thing on your to do list is yet another tiny worry you have to carry. When you have a lot on your mind, thinking one more thought becomes a heavy burden laden with the threat of feeling. And things start to feel very heavy, very quickly.
You get extremely ‘shouty’
Usually you’re quite kind and considerate, but lately you’re a little snappy. A bit of mess around the house sends you over the edge, and your partner or coworkers just can’t seem to say the right thing. You notice you have quite sharp edges lately. Chances are you are carrying some anger inside you and it’s got nothing to do with what is actually triggering the snap.
It’s hard to find time to take care of yourself
You may cast off the fact that you haven’t had time to get to the gym lately because of your jam packed schedule. On one level this may be true, but on another, you may be unconsciously finding ways not to take care of yourself. Perhaps you need to make things even harder for yourself, or deep down you don’t feel like you’re actually allowed to be looked after. It’s worth investigating your true feelings about why you always put yourself last.
You can’t rest, even when you are exhausted
A mind that is too full, can’t find rest. Physically you are doing so much in a day that between adrenaline and cortisol your body is running on overtime. But in these times it might be necessary to understand if all the busyness is a way to stop yourself from thinking about something else. Remember what Sigmund Freud told us: that sleep is where dreaming happens, and dreams are where we work through our hardest conflicts. If you are having trouble sleeping it might be because on a deeper level you know that you will have to face something difficult, and you are not prepared to let your guard down long enough for that to happen.
You seem to have lost yourself
Are you buried in a thousand things that are all about others and hardly about you? Like maybe you signed up for so many commitments at work or with that school committee that no one else wanted to join. Now you are trapped in a cycle of doing everything for others and have lost all traces of yourself. Perhaps it’s time to begin wondering what was so hard about being with yourself in the first place? Maybe there is a little worry you’d rather not think about? Often we bury these thoughts under a mountain of tasks, and manage to completely lose ourselves in the process.
The bottom line
As a mom with many hats to wear, we can often use our roles to hide from ourselves. But each of these things are important signs of burn-out, pointing to something very difficult to think about or feel on a deeper level. If you notice yourself in any of these examples, it’s time to start digging a little deeper. Seek out a therapist to understand why you are taking on so much. And rest assured that often the true worries you are avoiding, are not nearly as bad as they seem. If you can face this deeper mental load, you will be amazed at how that external schedule either naturally eases, or doesn’t feel quite as heavy.