Under normal circumstances, burnout can manifest itself in work, at home or in some other aspect of life. Sometimes they can overlap, but COVID has created a burnout trifecta for working moms, because we’re burned out from parenting, working and worrying about the continuing spread of a global pandemic, and at times it feels like there is no end in sight.
As common as burnout is, we often don’t realize we’re at that point until we’re really in deep. A lot of the signs of burnout—like exhaustion, stress, feeling uninspired at work, lacking emotional energy and being unmotivated are things working moms often feel from time to time in general (because working mom life is hard even on the best days). What sets burnout apart, though, is when we’re feeling all of these things at once for an extended period of time, and it’s just not getting better.
In June of 2020, the CDC reported a significant rise in the number of people suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders compared to the end of 2019. The situation is stressful, to put it lightly, and in trying to do it all we are literally on the road to creating a mental health crisis right alongside a global pandemic.
All of this is to say, if you’re feeling burned out, you are not alone.
The problem is, as validated as you are, the show must go on. Not everyone is in a position where they can take an extended leave of absence from work, cut back hours or leave the workforce entirely. So, we have to find ways to survive the burnout without compromising work, setting up our kids to fail at school and risking our own health.
While there is, unfortunately, no easy cure-all for this situation (especially since there is only so much that we have control over right now), it is not entirely impossible either. There are small steps you can take to give yourself a break. If you’re able to do them all, then you may have a chance to really recover, but even committing to two or three of these can help make a noticeable difference in combating burnout.
And regardless of how much you’re realistically able to do right now, remember to be kind to yourself in the process.
Make sure your basic needs are being met
If you haven’t heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s a pyramid ranking what we need as humans to thrive and feel fulfilled. The very first set of needs, before anything else can be met, are basic needs including food and water, warmth and rest. Basically, you need to make sure you are getting nutrition (set alarms for meals if you need to), taking showers and getting sleep. Treat this period like the newborn phase—it’s about survival and basic needs are non-negotiable.
Prioritize tasks and make a schedule that you can stick to
You’re probably getting pulled in way, WAY too many directions right now, but there is only so much a working mom can do in a given day. To make it a little less daunting, prioritize what needs to be done (kids’ school, inflexible work deadlines) and set a schedule that will ensure those tasks get done first. When looking at the schedule, if there is truly no way to accomplish everything that needs to get done, sit down with your boss for some real-talk about your workload and meet with your kids’ teachers to come up with solutions for helping them study or master a skill in a more efficient way. There may be online programs or apps that the teacher can recommend to help you free up some time without sacrificing your kids’ grades.
Right now, things are a bit heated in the US (to put it lightly), and you might be feeling the effects even if you’re not an overly political person. It’s draining, and that only adds to the stress you’re already experiencing. So, commit to taking a break from doom scrolling online. The world won’t stop if you don’t read news headlines for a week or so, and your family will survive if you don’t post pictures of your kids on social media because the platform has become overwhelming. These may be activities that felt like a mental break at one point, but if they’re doing more harm than good it’s better to step away.
Let go of the pursuit of perfection
The house does not need to be deep cleaned right now, ordering take out for dinner is fine and turning in work that is good instead of great will not get you fired. Standards you held yourself to pre-pandemic may no longer be achievable, and that is okay. If you’re burned out, now probably isn’t the best time to try to prove your worth to get promoted or take on the role of super-mom, but that’s okay. What you bring to the table is still valuable, whether it’s a project that meets, not exceeds, standards or setting up a cereal buffet for family dinner.
Set boundaries with work
Don’t act like you have the time to take work calls or emails after hours if you don’t actually have the bandwidth to do it. If you are working after hours, but it’s to play catchup after helping kids with virtual learning all day, then avoid taking calls and answering emails during the day as much as possible to help you create a divide between your responsibilities. Work and home lines have blurred throughout this pandemic, but just because everyone needs to be a little more flexible than usual does not mean you’re not still entitled to your personal time every day.
If there is one, take advantage of your company’s employee assistance program
Employee assistance programs (EAP) offer workers access to resources that will help them cope with and manage outside stressors that are affecting their performance at work, at no cost to the employee. This means you may have free access to a therapist or counselor who can help you get through your burnout in one piece instead of sinking further into it. EAPs are a wonderful benefit that are often underutilized, and there’s never been a better time than now to take advantage of yours.
Take steps, big or small
In an ideal world, kids would be back in school, your workload would be manageable and there wouldn’t be a life-threatening virus wreaking havoc on society. Given that at least one of these things is not true in your current situation, feeling burned out is valid. Ignoring it and trying to push through it, though, will only worsen your symptoms to a point where you are totally out of commission.
Take steps, no matter how small, to lighten your load now so that you have the energy to get to the end of this pandemic—because despite how it may feel now, it will eventually end.
Ashley Ziegler is a full-time writer with a passion for telling stories through the lens of motherhood to help fellow moms feel seen and understood (especially the ones who, like her, are totally winging it).
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