“(I’m done with) perfection; the expectation of “having it all” and false idea of “fitting it all in.”
“…The constant pressure to always be available. The assumption that because I’m saving on commute time that I can put in more hours. As if I’m not already dealing with a hybrid elementary.”
“(They set) back-to-back meetings for the entire day. Leaving no time to complete any actual work. …All while making statements about how “the pandemic allowed us to slow down.” Nothing has slowed down in my life, instead work and family obligations are twice as intense now.”
Over 2,500 parents, most of whom are Moms (96%) trying to manage careers (86%) with disrupted childcare (75%) have participated in our research study since March of 2020. When Covid hit, simple activities became hard. And joyful pursuits were canceled. But two years later, the to-do list is still longer. And everything on it, takes more time and mental energy to complete.
Although most have embraced some positive lifestyle changes. The majority spend more time on childcare, children’s activities, and household work, with less support. And few, if partnered, cite their partners are doing more (32%.)
No, it’s Not You
It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that Moms own the childcare and housework, in most families. So, they rarely had time for themselves pre-pandemic. And if they did, they either felt too guilty to use it, were interrupted trying or worry, about the never-done-list, poisoned it. So, burnout was already rampant. But Covid is breaking everyone. The conditions keep changing and during surges, they worsen. Is it possible to keep absorbing the extra work?
Why no, it’s not. The good news? There are practical ways to shift unsustainable patterns. And it’s possible to dial some of the complexity down and reclaim more of your time.
The ‘Do it All’ Era is Done
Dr. Charmain Jackman, Psychologist and Mental Health Advocate said, “You’re not going to do it all.” She explained, “If you’re getting 100 emails a day, you’re not going to be able to see and catch them all. So, things are going to fall through the cracks and people have to be okay with that. I have some clients that hate the term, ‘give yourself grace’ but it is about finding self-compassion.”
She explained we need to reframe not being at 100% because no one is. “Instead of carrying that guilt thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m two weeks late responding to that email!’ Notice that at least you’re responding.”
So, Follow Your Stress Signals
Burnout can feel like a sneak attack. But usually there are signs. Charmain said, “Recognize what your stress signals are. So, for me when I try to tackle the never-ending to-do list, I’ll stay up late. Then, I start snacking and my exercise kind of goes away.” Common concerns.
“So, last week I was overwhelmed. And when I looked back at my Fitbit tracker, four hours was the amount of sleep I was getting at night! So, even if I don’t know that it’s happening intellectually, I now know because I know my signs. It’s being mindful of the behaviors that indicate you’re overwhelmed,” Charmain added.
Because We Can’t Problem Solve While Triggered
How do you move forward with less capacity? Charmain said, “In my previous job we often had to deal with mental health crises. And one of the things that I emphasized with my team is that, as urgent as it seems, you need to take a minute. And consult with somebody else. Because what happens when you’re in a crisis, is that you get tunnel vision.” Yes.
She added, “Because when you get triggered, your brain goes into this fight or flight response. So, it’s focused on survival. And logical thinking kind of goes out the window.”
So, Pause for Perspective
“When we’re in that space it’s hard to see other possibilities. So, we have to be intentional about taking a moment to step back and figure out what we might be missing.” Sigh.
She added, “When you’re in the thick of chaos usually, you’re not in the right frame of mind to make strategic decisions and changes. And it’s also hard to know where to start. Or when to put a break in the action and pause things.” If you’re beyond that clear-decision-making window, how do you know?
Find Objective People
Charmain said, “Have someone else be a check and balance for you. If you’re in the middle of your crisis, it may be hard to think about who these people might be. Because whenever you seek advice, other people usually have their own lens. This is why, as therapists, we often recommend therapy. Because the therapist can be that that sounding board for you and doesn’t tend to have a hidden agenda.”
Professional mental health support is amazing. But not everyone has access and she explained that people you know can still be helpful.
To Help You Surface Answers
Charmain explained that sometimes, talking about it leads people to their own answers. She said, “So, think about someone you trust who is just there to listen. It might be a partner, a friend or it might even be your journal. Some people don’t have that person. So, they may want to write it out. Because ultimately, for you to follow through, the answers have to come from you.”
Where do you begin when the list is too long? Charmain recommends we prioritize. “One way is using the Steven Covey quadrant, where you have urgent, not urgent, important and not important,” she said. When you’re clear about your priorities, then it’s easier to outsource, spouse source or eliminate tasks altogether. She said it also helps to dial down the urgency. “Sometimes, if we sense that everything has to be done right away, that only exacerbates things.”
Carry a Lighter Mental Load
In most families, Moms still own the invisible choreography to keep homelife in sync. In our previous research, 98% of surveyed Moms felt persistent mental load stress. Charmain said, “We need to adjust to this new sense of what we can carry.”
Our brains are not designed to store this much information. She added, “Do you want the pressure of trying to carry it all in your head?” Nope. She laughed, “Because we just can’t. So, now I have a planner. But I also have a notebook for those little things that come up. It’s about finding new strategies.”
Take Time Not to Do
Charmain explained, “Take time to not do. Is there some part of the weekend where your partner, if you have a partner, or people within your family can help? So that you can get an hour or even 20 minutes away? I often will go for walks without my kids now that they’re old enough to be in the house by themselves for short timeframes.”
Most people are uncomfortable asking for help. Especially with their kids. Or setting boundaries. But Charmain said, “You need that space and time away from the little lovely munchkins. And when you’re at work, doesn’t count, because you’re at work.”
Dial Back on Commitments
Covid’s forced pause gave most a taste of life with less commitments. And many want to retain more schedule space. Charmain said, “Do the kids need to do five activities like they did pre-Covid? Can you cut back? Yes, it might be a loss. But it also may reduce their anxiety. I see a lot of younger kids, my daughter included, who feel that the littlest thing is an emergency.”
Right. Kids are not immune to feeling pressure to rush. She added, “Decide what are the things that are truly urgent. And what can be put on the back burner. It may feel like an exercise until you’re able to do that automatically.”
And Be Present
Unlike some stress-management tools, mindfulness can happen anytime and anywhere. So, consider sprinkling it into your day. Charmain said, “There are wonderful grounding techniques. like listening to sounds or tuning into smells. Those little strategies have been helpful for me and for a lot of people. If you don’t have 20 minutes to walk around your block, then take 30 seconds to tune out from what’s around you. And tune into your senses.” Beautiful!
We’re socialized to be responsive to others, yet ignore our own needs. But you don’t have to adhere to unrealistic expectations about how you spend your own time. Now is the perfect moment to regain some power over your schedule. Because returning from burnout is often long and painful. So, stake claim to your wellbeing. And why not start, with how you spend your time?
Want to be accountable to yourself, for yourself? Take a TimeCheck.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Charmain Jackman!
Follow Charmain’s great adventure on her website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Charmain F. Jackman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist of Barbadian heritage and the Founder & CEO of InnoPsych, Inc.
Growing up in a culture where the stigma of mental health was pervasive, but therapists of color were not, she decided that she was going to change that. Dr. Jackman has spent the last 20 years working with people of color (POC) in hospitals, clinics, courts and schools, and has consistently observed that POCs long for therapists who look like them—who understand them and who will do right by them! That knowledge has inspired Dr. Jackman to make it easier for POC to find therapists of color! She also wants to change the negative views of therapy and to educate POC about the necessity of taking care of their mental health and to empower communities to heal.
Tags: Manage Stress For Moms, mental health for moms, Mental Load And Emotional Labor, Moms Self care, stress management