Maternal burnout: when mom just can’t take it anymore

Andrea Zschocher

Maternal burnout is becoming more and more of an issue. And that, with all the challenges it brings, is good news. Because burnout needs more attention. More and more mothers feel physically and mentally at the end of their rope. They feel trapped on the hamster wheel between kids, cooking and careers. We talked to an expert about it, help you know if you’re just tired or at risk of burnout. You will also get tips on how to protect yourself from chronic fatigue syndrome.

When mothers suffer from chronic fatigue

We all know this carousel of thoughts that sometimes doesn’t want to stop. In our heads we go through all the things that still need to be done. And then we remember all the things we forgot to do on top of that. And because of all the thinking, we don’t really notice the beautiful moments anymore.

Helen Heinemann knows this too. She is a burnout expert, studied social pedagogy and then completed psychotherapeutic training. In 2005, she founded the Institute for Burnout Prevention, and since the beginning of 2006 she has offered seminars for women, and since 2008 also for men. She is herself a mother of four grown-up children and has often been exhausted herself.

I have not had burnout. But I was always just flat. I then came in contact with women who were so exhausted they couldn’t recover. This is the characteristic of burnout, loss of the ability to recover. Even when you do sleep through the night, you still continue to be restless, sensitive, irritable, and you don’t really get on your feet.

Helen Heinemann, burnout expert

What is maternal burnout?

"It’s a profound psychosomatic state of exhaustion", explains Helen Heinemann. "You can no longer remember things so well, there is a cognitive exhaustion. In addition, there is also an emotional sensitivity, you are irritable, close to the water, withdrawn."

She adds that it is often the small things that make mothers notice their burnout. "Women know it would be good to go to the gym in the evening, but can’t bring themselves to do it. They then just want to have their peace. Everything is allowed, everything is normal, nobody has to be in a good mood all the time. The crucial thing is: if this occurs frequently, if it doesn’t go away again, that’s an alarm signal!"

It is a profound psychosomatic state of exhaustion. Combined with the loss of the ability to recover, this is dramatic. The ability to recover means that you feel really recovered after a few nights of sleep.

Helen Heinemann, burnout expert

Anyone can experience burnout?

Burnout comes from the English and means as much as "burn out".Helen Heinemann says therefore for example the Burnout, because it means in German the Ausbrennen. And of course this can happen to anyone. Some physicians consider burnout as a precursor of depression, others as an independent disease. This state of exhaustion can be experienced by a mom as well as by a manager, by an educator as well as by a soccer player.

Purely a job thing? Burnout is redefined by WHO

Purely a job issue? Burnout is redefined by WHO

Burnout was long considered a managerial disease, but it is now clear: mothers also have burnout. If you’re responsible for your offspring around the clock, perhaps have a cry baby, suffer from a lack of sleep and simply never feel like you have a break, at some point you’ll be exhausted, too. Far too seldom do parents admit this to themselves. But continue to bite through.

How do I know if I have mom burnout?

"One notices this in the increased irritability and in the loss of the recovery ability. The emotional condition, being close to the water, these thoughts: "Please not anything else", you can already feel it", says Helen Heinemann. And then you should act.

Now not every phase of exhaustion is the same as burnout. If you notice that you recover well in quiet times, for example on vacation, and can recharge your batteries, the state of exhaustion is not considered chronic. Nevertheless, it is necessary to take countermeasures!

Burnout develops gradually, so that you may not notice immediately how burnt out you are. But the sooner you recognize the signs, the sooner you pay attention to your moods, the better your chances of achieving a lot through burnout prevention programs and not being written off sick for weeks on end.

Mom's Mental Load: Always having to think of everything

Mom’s Mental Load: Always having to think of everything

An absolute alarm sign is when you have the feeling that you just want to lash out at someone.

Helen Heinemann, Burnout Expert

How do I recognize a burnout?

There are many signs of burnout, most of them are diffuse and can also indicate other diseases and ailments. The most important characteristics are

  • Loss of physical and emotional resilience
  • Long-lasting emotional exhaustion
  • Resignation, d.h. the feeling that one’s own actions are ineffective and pointless

Further signs for a burnout syndrome can be

  • Feeling of inner emptiness
  • Listlessness
  • Fatigue
  • The feeling of over-extending oneself
  • Susceptibility to infections / weak immune system
  • Sleep problems
  • Headache
  • Unclear physical complaints such as dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, sweating for no reason, heart problems or even muscle pain
  • Cynicism / moodiness

What do I do against mother burnout?

A break! It sounds so trite, but the first step is to take a break first. Helen Heinemann gives you her favorite saying about it. She says: "You can’t do everything at once, but you can leave everything at once."

Leaving everything at once means taking a break. It doesn’t mean you don’t continue to keep in mind all the other tasks that await you. But gathering yourself for a moment, taking care of yourself for a moment, that can give you new strength.

"Smokers have an advantage", says Helen Heinemann. "They have addictive pressure. And when you put them in front of the door, they drive down. That’s what everyone needs, such quiet zones, only without nicotine. Not everyone has their own room, but a place where the children know it’s taboo, where we can’t disturb the mother, that’s important."

And yes, it is difficult to fight for a little freedom, but it is also necessary, so that you do not fall by the wayside.

When everything goes over your head:

When you’re in over your head: "Talk time for families" can help

If this irritability, this weepiness does not go away even through recovery, then it is dramatic. Sometimes this is allowed, of course. But if the bad days permanently predominate, then one should act.

Helen Heinemann, Burnout Expert

Women are more stressed than men?

Studies by health insurance companies, which evaluate sick leave due to stress, suggest that this is the case. The 2016 TK stress study showed that six out of ten people in Germany feel stressed regardless of whether it’s professional or private. Women are even more often under pressure than men.

Peak values are achieved by 30 to 39 year olds. "The real stress is caused by the lack of compatibility between family and career", This is the result of the TK stress study. But it’s not the children who are "stressful", but the balancing act between work and family. People who throw themselves into work with a great deal of idealism and take little care of themselves are particularly at risk.

Women lose themselves in the abundance of tasks. We are lucky that we can decide whether we want to have a child or not. That’s why the child should want for nothing. But in the abundance of these tasks, we women lose ourselves. You lose yourself, you no longer see yourself. You see what you have to do, but you don’t see yourself anymore.

Helen Heinemann, burnout expert

Why do more and more mothers and fathers suffer from burnout??

Family structures have changed over the past decades and even more so in recent years: The extended family, in which everyone sticks together and helps each other, is a thing of the past- More and more parents have to make ends meet as single parents without support. In addition, there is the modern working world with permanent availability and insecure contracts. Time and performance pressure are a problem in all areas of life. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll suffer from burnout more quickly.

There is also good stress, the one when we feel completely in the flow of what we are doing. But this is the exception and not the rule. If you have only bad feelings and everything stresses you out, then it’s time to think about mother burnout and, above all, to take countermeasures.

Maternal burnout: quick action is important!

Burnout should not simply be dismissed as exhaustion! The disease should be carefully diagnosed and treated by a doctor. If you have the feeling that you might be suffering from burnout, the first step is to talk to your family doctor and ask your health insurance company about prevention courses. At an early stage, those affected can help themselves.

However, once a state of total exhaustion has been reached, only therapy can help. From psychotherapy with a therapist in private practice to day clinics and outpatient programs to a stay at a health resort or treatment in a clinic, there is a suitable treatment for everyone.

Mother-child treatment: When everything becomes too much for mom (or dad)

Mother-child-cure: When everything becomes too much for mom (or dad) .

No matter what stage a burnout patient is in, the approach is always: It’s no longer possible to carry on as before, Something has to change. The solution is not a wellness vacation where you simply put your feet up, turn off the washing machine and let your mind wander. Burnout victims must learn to control their stress and prevent overwhelm. One of the essential questions to clarify is: What stresses me? And how can I counteract it?

Burnout prevention is important

Helen Heinemann offers burnout prevention courses in cooperation with health insurers. She has also written a book on this topic. "Something has to change (u.a. at for 12€) shows ways out of exhaustion. With many small and large tasks you can get on the track of the energy thieves, but also the sources of strength. So that the balance is right again. This can be done alone, but it works better with like-minded people. "Engaging in dialogue helps", says the author.

In the second step, however, it is already worth considering whether you would like to take a course. And in doing so, you should actuallyconsider: Does it have to happen in my city? This is often practical, of course, but if you take the time to take care of yourself, a change of scenery can also work wonders.

MBSR, mindfulness, it’s all good. But it often does not solve the problem that triggers the stress. Relaxing is nice, but it’s not the only thing that helps. If you like it, this is great, it has many advantages. But it is not the only means.

Helen Heinemann, burnout expert

Do I have maternal burnout?

This can be determined with a self-test at least already closer. There is still no standardized method for diagnosing burnout syndrome. The most commonly used measurement tool is the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). A questionnaire is used to determine whether and to what extent the patient is suffering from burnout symptoms. In 22 questions, we look at emotional exhaustion, reduced performance and changes in personality. Click here for the Maslach Burnout Self-Test.

When we women decide to have children, it is often also: Who says A, must also say B and take the responsibility. But there is a saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child. This claim to be able to do everything on one’s own is already transverse. Getting as many people involved as possible and giving the children new experiences, that helps everyone. The children learn how to behave with others and how to adjust to others, these social skills are super.

Helen Heinemann, Burnout Expert

Work-life balance with children: how to

Work-life-balance with children: This is how it can work out

15 steps to more relaxation

  1. Recognize the first signs of permanent stress- And be prepared to change your own habits.
  2. Be clear: What exactly is stressing me out?? How do you behave when you are stressed? What kind of behavior do you like? And which not? A stress diary can help.
  3. ÜDon’t deny the strain. Talking about it with your partner and friends helps. Especially since everyday life can only be turned around with the support of your partner.
  4. Action patterns change! D.h. Don’t always react to problems and stress factors in the same way. Just try a different strategy.
  5. Recognizing and allowing one’s own needs.
  6. Stop multitasking! Multitasking does not save time, it only costs an immense amount of energy. Tackling one thing at a time. Focused and aware.
  7. Accept your own limits and lower your expectations. Life is not meant to be 100 percent all the time.
  8. Every phase has its time. The plan to continue with the child as before cannot work out. Somewhere you have to cut back and postpone some of your interests, goals, hobbies (or even a professional career at this point) for a bit.
  9. Provide a balance: friends / sports / relaxation
  10. Öfter "no" times say. Because: We can’t please everyone anyway. Works and does good! Important: Stay strong at the decisive moment. No means no!
  11. Organize help. What tasks can you- maybe even just in the medium term submit? A few ideas: Cleaning help, grandparents, lend-oma, swap services, babysitters
  12. When your kids are not so little anymore: Have a family conference to discuss how each family member can help a little more. When you’re not alone with all the tasks, that alone is a help. The next step is to hand over responsibility and not to permanently check the fulfillment of tasks and then do it yourself.
  13. What is important to me in life? A highly philosophical and difficult question, but one that you should ask yourself.
  14. Note not only useful but also nice things on the many to-do lists.
  15. Make sure that your battery is not completely drained, but that you still have some reserves left. Once your personal battery is empty, preventive measures no longer work, then professional help is needed.

We, the forgotten parents! Why do families play such no role at Corona?

We, the forgotten parents! Why do families play no role at all in Corona??

Mommy burnout and Corona

There are no statistics yet, but it is expected that cases of maternal burnout due to Corona will continue to increase. Because now there is a lot of pressure on mothers, they are particularly challenged in many areas. And think of yourself last. Therefore, I would like to remind you of the very catchy saying of Helen Heinemann: You can’t do everything at the same time. But you can let it all go at the same time.

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