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  • Sarah Pospos, MD, MS

How to Recover from Working Mom Burnout

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

As a perinatal psychiatrist and mom of 2 under 2, I’ll help you recognize working mom burnout symptoms and, more importantly, discover how to recover from working mom burnout, so you can feel your best again.

Working Mom Burnout Symptoms

In 2020, 28% (9.8 million) of US working moms experienced burnout.

The constant juggle to balance work, childcare, household chores, AND the guilt from not doing it all perfectly, can certainly cause anyone to burn out. Social media can lead to unconsciously judging our lives based on what others appear to do; working from home with the kids during the pandemic doesn’t help either.

Burnout can make you feel emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted. It’s caused by excessive and prolonged stress, often in the forms of excessive workload, low sense of control and autonomy, seemingly meaningless and endless tasks, and work-life imbalance.

Burnout can lead to depression, which may look like:

  • Intense and sustained feelings of sadness, emptiness, irritability

  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy

  • Low energy

  • Poor focus, concentration, and decision-making

  • Helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or extreme shame/guilt

  • Sleep problems

  • Appetite changes

How to Recover from Working Mom Burnout

#1 Motherhood is a transition

Not unlike adolescence, “matrescence” comes with its own push and pull. Learn more from Dr. Sacks' (a reproductive psychiatrist) 6-minute TED talk.

#2 Exercise

Exercise boosts your brain chemicals and stimulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – a Miracle-Gro to our brain – which improves brain functions, structures, and connections, both short- and long-term. It enhances your sense of self-mastery that translates to other areas in your life. It offers social stimulation, which prevents feelings of isolation.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150+ minutes weekly of moderate aerobic exercise, which is any movement that brings your heart rate to 50-70% of its maximum heart rate (220 minus your age).

Squeezing a workout session in can be daunting, but incorporating it into your daily schedule helps. I do a 40-minute "family walk” after dinner (while monitoring my heart rate with an Apple watch) to unwind, get some fresh air, catch up with my husband, stimulate and entertain the kids, walk the dog, and soak up some afternoon sunlight to improve melatonin and sleep.

Low-intensity exercise, like yoga, also has beneficial components:

  • Certain physical postures are found to improve mood

  • Meditation increases BDNF

  • Intentional breathing improves brain function and reduces anxiety by activating your parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of your fight-or-flight response)

#3 Deep Breathing

Slowly and intentionally breathe with your belly/diaphragm. Count to 6 as you inhale, 6 as you pause, and 6 as you exhale. Repeat several times.

This resets your autonomic nervous system: steering away from the sympathetic system (your fight or flight response) and stimulates the opposite, your parasympathetic system, which makes you feel calmer.

#4 Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Start with the muscle group on the top of your head and gradually make your way down to the bottom of your feet. Tense one muscle group for 10 seconds, then relax it for 20 seconds (I use the IntervalTimer phone app). Focus on the different feelings between tension and relaxation.

Muscle tension often accompanies stress and anxiety. Thus, muscle relaxation will not only activate your parasympathetic nervous system, but also will reduce tension and anticipatory anxiety; increase concentration and feelings of control, create a pleasant mental state, and improve your energy and sleep.


When to See a Perinatal Psychiatrist

If feeling burnout and overwhelmed keeps you from completing daily responsibilities and gets in the way of your family, relationships, work, or personal life, help is needed.

Psychiatrists are specialized medical doctors who require at least 12 years in higher education and 15,000 hours of clinical training before being allowed to independently diagnose, treat, or prescribe medications. In comparison, nurse practitioners (NP) require 500 clinical hours (typically supervised by a medical doctor), and physician assistants (PA) require 2,000 clinical hours. Perinatal psychiatrists are psychiatrists with specialized training who have in-depth understanding of the nuances when diagnosing, treating, or prescribing medications for moms and moms-to-be.

One major hesitation of taking medication during pregnancy or breastfeeding is that the medication may negatively affect the baby. For example, during breastfeeding, some medications are transferred to the breast milk more than others. Sertraline is considered one of the safest antidepressants, since only 0.4-2% of mom’s sertraline dose can be detected in breast milk.

Every patient is different, and my recommendations are always made on a case-by-case analysis. If together we determine that medication is beneficial, I’ll walk you through different options, thoroughly explaining the risks, benefits, alternatives, and potential side effects, so you can be fully informed and content with the next steps. My Masters Degrees in Psychopharmacology and Applied Psychology add even more insight on all things medication and human behavior.

Book a free 15-minute initial phone call to be the best version of yourself again.

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