Are you just exhausted by everything as a mom? You may be dealing with depleted mother syndrome (otherwise known as mom burnout).
You might initially feel like you’re just mad all the time, and then you have guilt on top of that for being so irritable. But believe it or not, that’s actually just a symptom of mom burnout (not of you being a bad mother).
And I write this post with the deepest empathy. This is not coming from the perfect mother looking down from on high to tell you how screwed up you are and how you’re messing your kids up. Instead, I’m writing as someone in the trenches with you, who has struggled with the exact same issue.
After years of looking for answers, I finally discovered that anxiety and depletion was causing my mom burnout mom. Read on to learn how the two are connected.
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How my postpartum anxiety led to depleted mother syndrome
When my husband and I had our first child, life got harder (go figure!). Everything stressed me out. Nothing went like it was supposed to, and everything was more complicated, from getting out the door to go to work to cooking dinner with a small person crying for me.
Over time, I got really snappy with my husband. Sometimes it would be because something minor went wrong earlier in the day and I just couldn’t let it go. Other times it was me feeling like I needed to control everything.
And my husband noticed my agitation. When I was at my worst, he would tell me, “I just feel like you’re angry all the time.”
And ya’ll, that shook me to my core. Was I an “angry” person? Was I a bad wife? A bad mom? I could keep it together when I was at work and I could be pleasant there, so why couldn’t I do the same thing at home? I was terrified that this observation from my husband was a label for a new me.
And part of the problem could have been postpartum anger and rage (which can affect you for way longer than most medical advice leads you to expect) or low sleep, but that wasn’t all of it.
RELATED: How to take care of yourself postpartum – six tips
So, for years, I tried harder to deal with this mom rage towards my husband. I’d tell myself things like
Don’t get mad.
Why can’t you just stop snapping at him?
My husband is an incredible, supportive man, loving man. We have an egalitarian household where we both take care of the house and the kids, so it’s not like he was shoving all the work on me. What was my deal?
But buckling down didn’t work. If anything, the self-imposed pressure made it even harder for me to “get it together.” I was so stressed out, and I didn’t want to be this way for my kids. I needed an explanation, and I needed a new way to handle life.
Other symptoms of mom burnout
Besides having a hair-trigger temper, there are other symptoms of burnout for moms. It’s basically a chronic state of exhaustion (physical, mental, and emotional), and it has consequences both for how you treat yourself as well as how you treat your kids.
Not feeling good enough
One potential symptom of mom burnout is just feeling like you’re not the same or “as good” as you used to be. You think don’t feed your kids the right foods (frozen pizza again?), or you don’t enjoy them like you used to, or you don’t take them outside enough… basically whatever you do, it’s never enough.
But it’s not that someone else is saying those things to you! It’s your own self talk beating you down.
Feeling like you want to run away
I get it: We all have those moments where we’re just super done with everything. But if you spend days or weeks wishing you could just throw in the towel and be done with parenting, you need to get help.
Feeling like a robot
Sometimes, mom burnout doesn’t look like irritability. Instead, it looks more like there’s no emotion there. You may change your baby’s diaper without really interacting with them. You might be so tired of dealing with older siblings bickering that you just let them keep on and barely notice it.
Avoiding your kids
Especially if your kids are older, mom burnout might just look like hiding away and not wanting to deal with them. Sure, you fix dinner and do the stuff you have to do, but you also spend a lot of time in your room, letting them play without much interaction from you.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with needing a break. But if you feel overwhelmed anytime your kids are around, you need to get some help.
Depleted mother syndrome
As a mom, you are doing for others all the time. Feeding, shuttling to and from activities, filling out paperwork… it’s endless! And eventually, it becomes too much. You have nothing else to give, and you’re wore out.
Going back to the anxiety we discussed before, fatigue (like you get with Depleted Mother Syndrome) is both a symptom and a cause of anxiety. Basically, when you deal with chronic anxiety, you’re in fight, flight, or freeze mode all the time. That means your heart rate is up, your muscles are tense, and you’re mentally ready to go at a moment’s notice. No wonder you’re exhausted! Pair this symptom with the sleep problems that also come with anxiety, and it’s easy to see how these tiredness and sleep deprivation can make your anxiety even worse.
Why am I an angry mom?
When you’re stressed out, nervous, or drained, your brain chemistry is telling you that you are in the middle of an emergency! So even though whatever is going on isn’t that big a deal, you’re ready to fight. And if there isn’t someone or something there that you need to attack, your kid or your partner is likely to become the target instead.
For example, when my two girls were a toddler and newborn, we lived in a little house where the bedrooms were upstairs. I would get very worried, like unreasonably worried, about going up or down those stairs with both kids.
Of course, I’d be holding the baby while guiding my toddler, but I would get really tense about it. If my older daughter stopped for any reason part of the way down the stairs, I would yell at her to not stop because I was terrified that she would fall or that I would accidentally drop the baby.
Looking back, I know we were fine on the stairs. Now, my youngest is smaller than my oldest was at that time, and he goes down the stairs by himself (under my supervision) with no problem. But the point here is that I wasn’t yelling because I was a rage-filled monster. My anger was rooted in fear.
How to help angry mom syndrome / depleted mother syndrome
Here’s the secret: You can’t “control” irritability or anger. Because let’s be real: If you could, you would have already done it by now.
So instead of “Eight hacks to get your irritability under control today,” I offer ideas about how to reclaim yourself from Depleted Mother Syndrome.
And I’ll be straight-up. Most of these are NOT instant results-types of ideas. Some of them take years, even a lifetime, of work. But they’re totally worth it.
But still, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit and build our way up.
1. Get enough sleep
I know, you’re laughing in maniacal, sleep-deprived way now (or was it just me whose child didn’t let me sleep from like midnight until 2:30 AM?). Trust me, I’m there too.
Being tired all the time is a recipe for anxiety. So even if you have a baby (toddler, whatever…) who doesn’t let you get that solid seven or eight hours of sleep that you want so badly, at least listen to your body well enough to respect when it tells you that it’s tired. If you have to go to bed at eight o’clock, do it. One day, things will be different, and you’ll get to stay up and do whatever it is you like to do at night again.
2. Stay hydrated
You wouldn’t think that your water intake affected your mood, but it does! A study showed that even mild dehydration (not even enough for your body to tell you that you feel thirsty) can cause changes how hard you perceive a task to be, ability to concentrate, and mood. And what’s worse: the effect is more pronounced for women than for men.
So bottom line: not only will your mood be altered when you’re dehydrated, you’ll feel like it’s harder to deal with your kids and you’ll have a harder time focusing on how to guide them. So drink those two quarts (or pretty much two liters) daily!
3. Go outside
Our bodies and minds need us to go outside. Even spending twenty minutes in nature can boost your mood!
As a bonus, I’ve found that going outside can help me hit the reset button with my kids. So if you’re at the end of your rope, take them outside (even if you have to bundle them up for winter), let them run around, and take some time for a little stretching or a few deep breaths yourself. You’ll be less stressed, and they’ll run off some of that energy they’ve been using to drive you bonkers.
4. Practice mindfulness.
I have a whole post on mindfulness (with an interview with a clinical psychologist!), so I won’t go very far in depth here, but the idea is that if we can stay grounded in the present, we will be protected from our imagined future that we are afraid of.
RELATED: How mindfulness can make you a better parent
One quick idea? When you feel yourself getting really keyed up, stop (yes, really). Take a deep breath. Feel your feet on the ground beneath you.
Really noticing the sensation of support from the earth will ground you (no pun intended) and bring you back into the present.
Another helpful idea to combat anxiety and irritability as a mom? Have a set of empowering reminders in your back pocket that you can tell yourself when you’re getting triggered. I’ve developed a FREE printable of mantra cards designed to help you stay calm during stressful situations (included in the Mindful Mamas and Connected Kids Action Pack). All of the cards are designed to be attractive yet simple, so you can use them as little reminders throughout your home. And these are actually phrases that I tell myself, probably multiple times a day. They really work! Download your copy today!
Another part of mindfulness that none of us really want to hear? That’s right, less screen time! And not just for the kids, but for you too. At least some of the time, if your kids are playing, get down in the floor and play with them. You’ll find that you feel much better and more connected to them when you make this a habit.
And there’s a reason mindfulness is a “practice.” Just like a sport, or a musical instrument, the more you use it, the better you’re going to be at it. And just like any other practice, even if you don’t do it right one time, you always have another opportunity to try again.
5. Seek professional help
You really can’t beat anxiety on your own. Much of the problem with anxiety is that it comes from things that you have in your own head. And let’s just say that some of our thoughts are less rational than others (like my worry over my kids going down stairs).
An outside source can help you figure out which thoughts are rational, and which should be replaced with more healthy ideas.
And thought replacement isn’t one of those things that happens overnight. After all, it took years to formulate and repeat those thoughts that don’t serve us, so it makes since that it takes more than one confrontation with them to overcome them.
You might need to see a professional counselor or therapist to get through your problems. If so, there’s no shame in that. In fact, you should be proud of being courageous enough to seek help!
To prove this point, let’s go back to how we compared mindfulness practice to sports or a musical instrument. A player who decides he or she is too “advanced” for help probably won’t get that far. By contrast, even the best baseball player is going to have a coach to help him analyze his swing and to see how he should improve from game-to-game.
One thing to be aware of about going to therapy: You won’t magically feel better after two sessions. In fact, there may be a period where you feel a little worse before things get better, because all the emotional baggage you’ve been carrying around has to come out. So don’t feel discouraged about not instantly getting the results you hope for.
6. Learn how to communicate with your kids better
Professional help can be a game-changer, but it is even more effective when combined with help specific to your needs as a parent.
That’s why I’ve created the Mindful Mamas and Connected Kids Action Pack! This eight page resource includes Playful Prompts for Cooperative Kids (to tell you EXACTLY what to say to encourage cooperation from your kids!), the six-step Tantrum Tamer process for your little ones, and Mama Mantras for you to place all over your home as little reminders. These prompts are great ways to get your kids to help you without you having to result to yelling and nagging (which I know ramps up my irritability!) Click here to grab your prompts and start having more fun and grace with your kids today!
7. Try journaling
Journaling definitely has a proven track record to lower stress and anxiety. Don’t want to make a huge commitment that’s just one more task to take on? Try a simple gratitude journal. Every night before bed, simply jot down two or three specific things that you are grateful for. The focus on thankfulness will improve your mood.
RELATED: Why moms benefit from journaling and how to get started
8. Get support from others
Isolation feeds into anxiety and depletion for sure. And sometimes, you don’t know anyone “in real life” who is doing this parenting journey in a way compatible to your own beliefs.
That’s why we’ve formed Evidence-Based Parents, a Facebook group for parents interested in connecting to their children while guiding them. We have lots of experienced moms and dads who are there to support you, so let us walk alongside you!
Overcoming mom burnout
I know it’s hard to get past mommy burnout when you’re just so overwhelmed all the time. Just pick one of the 8 tips listed above and get started with small changes.
Once you have that one change down, add another. Over time, you should be able to recharge and feel better.
One last reminder: Make sure to grab your copy of the Mindful Mamas, Connected Kids Action Pack. And comment below if you have any more questions!