Worn out from juggling all the things, moms have been on the fast track to exhaustion for far too long. From childcare and months of virtual school to home and remote work responsibilities, we’ve been extended far beyond our limits. On the best of days, this reality of ours is overwhelming; the toughest moments can knock us to our knees in full-on crisis mode.
To avoid major burnout, self-care is more essential than ever, but with our jam-packed schedules, it’s become all the more elusive. If you’re at the end of your rope with little time to focus on your own needs, don’t worry; experts say small doses of self-care are just as effective as longer stretches—fit it in wherever you can swing it.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS AND SHARE THE LOAD
Being aware of what you can handle and respecting your limits is vital in preventing burnout. “Don’t compare yourself to others,” says Nicole Martin, a NJ-based co-founder and head career coach at Transition Talent Group. “Everyone has different thresholds of stress that they can tolerate, and some people burn out sooner than others. Someone might look like they’re balancing the world on their shoulders with grace and ease, and that may work for them, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay.”
Martin suggests reflecting on how you feel when you’re nearing your limit—maybe you’re grumpy, snapping at your kids or your motivation has tanked. Next, identify exactly what is making you feel this way. “Is it someone’s specific actions?” she asks. “Are you taking on too much? Be mindful of what the causes are versus pushing through and trying to survive each hour of the day.”
If you’re starting to feel frazzled, do something that makes you feel good—even briefly. “If you’re a working mom, just step away from the computer for 5 to 10 minutes,” she says. “Small breaks are cumulative— they add up, so if you’re taking time throughout the day to give yourself a little bit of that self-care, it’s going to continuously fill your cup versus totally depleting it.” If we wait until we’re at our maximum stress level to decompress, it may be too late to do damage control.
IF YOU CAN’T AVOID BURNOUT, MANAGE IT
We asked more than 100 NJ moms on social media how they’re preventing pandemic-era burnout, and most said it’s not entirely possible. Instead, they’ve switched to management mode, combatting stress by setting boundaries, asking their partners for help and letting go of things they can’t control (in other words, not sweating the small stuff).
With endless to-do lists, maxed-out moms are left with very little breathing room, says South Orange mom of two Nina Essel, parenting coach and founder of Balanced Kids. So stop being so hard on yourself. “As moms, we are constantly evaluating what we are doing and whether we are doing enough,” says Essel. “Being realistic—and then truly letting go of expectations that don’t make the cut can be an incredible stress reducer. What’s helped me is setting realistic expectations for myself about what I can and want to accomplish daily/weekly, setting boundaries and blocking out time to do nothing.”
To even out the workload at home, communicate clearly with your parenting partner. “Do a brain dump of all your to-dos and tasks, and then sit down and divide them up,” says Essel. “Weekly check-ins with your partner to coordinate schedules, meal plan and review weekly tasks can also be helpful to ensure everyone is on the same page.” Divvy up those responsibilities—after all, that’s what partners do.
FIND SIMPLE WAYS TO KEEP YOUR CUP FULL
Waking up at the crack of dawn to bask in self-care may sound great in theory, but If you aren’t a morning person (or you’re sleep deprived), it probably won’t work for you. Martin recommends squeezing in small increments of self-care throughout the day. “Make sure your batteries are consistently near full, if not full,” she says.
“Self-care doesn’t have to be something long and drawn-out. It could be as simple as making sure you’re hydrated and eating well-balanced meals so that you don’t get foggy and fuzzy by the end of the day because your body is hungry and craving nutrients.”
“Self-care is not selfish, and self-care isn’t all spas and pedicures,” says Essel. “Booking out time in your schedule to do nothing is important. Not every moment of our day needs to be filled with productivity and meaning, sometimes we just need space to be.”
TRY THESE SELF-CARE IDEAS FROM NJ MOMS
New Jersey moms recommended gardening, cooking/baking, petting the family dog, taking long baths, listening to podcasts and audio books, learning a new instrument or language, singing, crafting, practicing breath work or meditation, getting together with friends, family car rides and indulging in simple pleasures such as fresh flowers, sushi or pizza.
A major sanity saver across the board? Exercise. Whether their movement of choice is Pilates, online yoga, Zumba, long walks outside, running or family-friendly workouts, getting moving keeps moms going.
Activity is a priority for Manville mother of three Jennifer Esposito. “I look at my schedule every week and plan time to do things that help me feel balanced, like walking the dog, bike riding or running—spending time outside refreshes me,” says Esposito. “Knowing I have that time to unwind helps me get through stressful and challenging moments.”
South Orange mom of three Meg Berry says an overall approach to wellness has helped her stave off burnout. “I’ve adopted a specific workout and diet protocol geared toward fending off burnout which involves short HIIT workouts, long walks in nature, talking with friends on the phone or in-person, taking a 10 to 30-minute nap every afternoon and lots of hot baths and long, hot showers,” Berry says. “I have to say I feel like I’m staying one step ahead of burnout. It’s a marathon.” Whatever it is that rejuvenates you (even if it’s doing absolutely nothing), let go of the guilt and make time for it to happen. No one can run on fumes, and you deserve some down time.
—Heidi L. Borst is a mother, writer and nutrition coach based in Wilmington, NC.