Burnout out is an accurate way to describe the feeling that most single mums experience at some point. No doubt as you read this, you are nodding knowingly. You feel it now or have felt it in the past. But what exactly is it?
Burnout was originally used to describe workplace pressure. According to InformedHealth.org:
“The term burnout was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in helping professions. Doctors and nurses, for example, who sacrifice themselves for others, would often end up being “burned out” – exhausted, listless, and unable to cope.”
Now though, we talk about burnout outside the workplace and most especially around parenting which, as we know, is one of the most challenging jobs in the world.
So, let’s talk about burnout in relation to single motherhood.
SIGNS THAT YOU HAVE REACHED BURNOUT
NEXT LEVEL EXHAUSTION
Exhaustion is part and parcel of being a single mum. How can we not get exhausted with so many plates to spin?
You might feel worn out, both physically and emotionally. The danger comes when exhaustion becomes your new normal and you are unable to find time to recharge.
If you feel constantly fatigued to the point where you are unable to perform necessary tasks to get yourself and your family through the day, you might be experiencing burnout.
It figures that if you are mentally and physically tired, you are unable to be the mum you want to be.
Think of that feeling when you’ve done a full day of work, picked the kids up from school, helped with homework. You are energy deficient, and you still have dinner to cook, washing to sort … and so on. You end up serving cereal for dinner and feel bad, but it was all you could manage.
When you reach burnout, you simply don’t have the energy to cook a lasagna from scratch. You might feel you are failing or under-achieving as a mother.
PHYSICAL ILLNESS FROM BURNOUT
If you push yourself too hard, your body will let you know.
This may be the obvious signs of tiredness such as your legs and back aching from physical demands, or your eyes itching from computer use. But be aware that chronic and ongoing stress can also be the cause of headaches, stomach intestinal issues and changes in appetite or sleep.
Don’t ignore physical issues as they might be warning signals that you dangerously close to burnout.
LACK OF MOTIVATION
It is hard to feel excited about achieving or doing anything at all if you are burnt out.
Understandably, cooking dinner every-single-bloody-day will wain your enthusiasm. This lack of motivation is normal. Instead, think about the things you normally enjoy doing.
If you feel indifference about activities you usually look forward to, it might be a sign of burnout creeping in and negatively impacting your world.
Alienation is a symptom of burnout in relation to the workplace but it can easily be applied to parenting. VeryWellMind says:
“Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.”
Do you find single motherhood to be “increasingly stressful and frustrating”? Do you feel “cynical” about how incredibly hard it all is?
You are not alone if you long for a few days off from mothering, or you try to numb yourself out from your responsibilities, possibly with alcohol or other substances.
Like exhaustion, overwhelm is a common visitor to the mind of a single mother. How can we not feel overwhelmed when we have so much to do?
Overwhelm from burnout can be identified by feeling inundated by smaller things which you are usually able to cope with.
A personal example is lying in bed and feeling unable to get up and begin the day. It’s a task we manage daily but if you are burnt out, some days it can all feel too much.
If burnt out continues you might develop a pattern of negative thinking which in-turn can lead to depression.
Feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem are red flags that you may have reached a state of burnout which is having a detrimental impact on your mental health.
Further reading: How I manage my depression as a single mother.
WAYS TO PREVENT BURNOUT AS A SINGLE MOTHER
KNOW THE SIGNS
Read the above signs again and look out for them.
This way you can make necessary changes before you hit complete burnout, which is much harder to come back from.
PRIORITISE WHAT’S IMPORTANT
We’ve talked about exhaustion and overwhelm being part of the burnout bundle.
One of the most effective ways to deal with both of these feelings is to prioritise.
There are some things that you must do, such as getting the kids to school and going to work. Other tasks can wait, such as cleaning the house and ironing.
Ditch everything but the absolutely necessary if it will keep burnout at bay.
STICK TO THE ROUTINE
When times are particularly hard, there is nothing like a good routine to give you the clarity and direction to get you through each day.
Knowing what you need to do and when will help keep you calm. It will also keep your productivity up, allowing you more down-time in which to rest and recuperate.
Further reading: 8 Reasons why a good routine can change your life.
BE KIND TO YOU TO AVOID BURNOUT AS A SINGLE MUM
On the topic of rest and recuperation, the sure-fire way to avoid burnout is to ensure you fill your own cup so you are happy and healthy enough to be the best single mum you can be.
Even if you feel you simply don’t have time, please think again because it is so important.
Self-care can be as simple as getting up 15 minutes before your kids to enjoy a morning coffee in peace.
Just one or two simple mummy-mental-health-moments a day might be your most effective protection from burnout.
Further reading: How to pamper yourself at home for almost nothing.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR MENTAL STATE
It can be hard to recognise the signs of mental illness if you are single and always busy.
One way to keep track of your feelings is to keep a small notebook or journal by your bed. Before going to sleep each night, write down three words that describe your feelings throughout the course of the day.
Look out for too many negative words, like:
It’s normal to feel this way every now and then but your journal should also read with positive feelings such as:
Too many negative words? Please read on and get help.
Having someone to help is one of the biggest challenges of single mum life. It is exactly why we are at such high risk of burnout.
You might feel that you are alone in this world, but you are not.
If friends or family members are in short supply, look for support groups online or ask at your children’s school or playgroup. You can even book an appointment with your local GP who will be far happier to see you before you reach burnout, rather than when you are slap bang in the middle of it.
Connect with other single mums online here: Single Mum Vine.