Mom Burnout and Why It Matters
What’s Mom Burnout?
Yes, it’s all over the news. Burnout. Moms. Moms burning out. But what does burnout even mean, and why does it matter? If you’re living it, you’re well aware of why burnout matters. It leaves you exhausted, unmotivated, foggy, cynical, and as though you’re a shell of your former self. If this is you, I hope this post is validating to you. If you’re wondering why you should care about it, as a partner or as an employer, I hope this gives you some motivation to consider advocacy and support.
Though this has LONG been a felt experience in women’s lives, in 2019, just before the pandemic hit, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently decided to add to their categorization of issues “burnout syndrome” as an experience that is largely related to work or to your career. It is NOT characterized as an actual medical condition, like anxiety or depression would be, two mental health conditions that, when given the right breeding grounds are just waiting to take over. Enter (for some women) underlying hormonal imbalances, undiagnosed postpartum issues, and oh yeah, A GLOBAL PANDEMIC, and we have on our hands a “syndrome” that just hopped on the fast train to major mental health issues for many women, especially moms who are dealing with chronic stress and caregiving demands.
Though the WHO’s compartmentalized approach to what burnout is is great in theory, the pandemic has made for chronic “work/life/school/household creep” that just doesn’t fit into any formal definition.
The WHO cites burnout as being:
“… a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.”
Burnout and Women’s Mental Health
As a mental health professional who works everyday with overworked, stressed out women, my work often begins at the “tipping point” between where burnout meets anxiety, chronic stress, depression, and trauma. The aforementioned breeding ground where burnout has spent time festering has become a prime location for the eruption of mental health issues that were just waiting to unearth themselves! What has been a slow burn can then become a raging fire.
What I know to do, in my work, is to focus on what the individual CAN and cannot do – exploring what is and is not within her locus of control, knowing that many of the systems that have enabled this will need to “catch up” in the coming years – better paid leave, childcare, family support, to name a few. But, in the moment, we can only work on ourselves. Though the work with the individual is exceedingly important – building coping skills, setting boundaries, recontextualizing how we live with anxiety – therapy for women’s mental health issues can never be without a keen eye on the systems (or lack thereof) that chip away at our collective emotional well-being. The individual can never be fully explored outside of the society in which she has grown, worked, lived, played, and loved for an entire lifetime.
From a personal perspective, at this exact time last year, I had a female colleague (in a leadership position) share that she found herself preparing dinner for her family at around 10:00 PM most nights. Already feeling the flames of burnout lick at my feet, my only thought at that moment was, “That is not a life that I want.” Having struggled with anxiety for a lot of my life, I could feel my internal tipping point; the edge was approaching, and I knew that if it was happening for me, it was happening for other women. Fast forward to starting this therapy practice, designed for women, and now specifically championing a way for women OUT of a life plagued by the mental health issues associated with burnout, and I know I’m in the right place. This IS a life I want, and I want you to get there too. I’m here to help.
Leah Rockwell, LPC, LCPC is a licensed professional counselor in PA and MD, providing online counseling services for women suffering from burnout. She’s a lovingly direct counselor and a co-parenting mom of two daughters, determined to make the world a better place for tomorrow’s girls. In former lives, she was a Spanish teacher, a sex education instructor, a wine vendor, and she is pretty sure she was a mermaid. Leah is also the founder of online community, Unapologetically Unmarried, a sisterhood of divorcing moms.