Mental exhaustion and fatigue are nothing new to moms.
We often find ourselves burnt out and succumbing to the pressures of motherhood as we put our own needs on the backburner and struggle to reclaim a sense of identity. The emotional load that we shoulder for our families can take a significant toll on our mental and physical well-being.
And it’s an unequal burden that’s been further amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the 2020 State of the Motherhood survey, 74% of moms are feeling mentally worse since the COVID crisis began, with 63% reporting they are handling childcare and household responsibilities mostly on their own.
Black mothers, in particular, have been disproportionately affected, with more than 75% spending over three hours each day on housework, compared to over half of white women.
The distress can show up differently for everyone through a broad range of emotional experiences – for some, you might be anxious and overwhelmed while others are feeling numb or disconnected.
Let’s take a closer look at the pandemic’s compounding effects of mental fatigue that might be affecting your day-to-day.
There’s no question that caring for your kids 24/7 is exhausting. Between more housework, keeping the kids engaged, and working from home, moms (and parents in general) are being asked to multitask and context-switch more than ever.
The reason you’re feeling especially tired? Each time you switch between different tasks and roles, more energy is expended by your brain, which happens to be your body’s highest energy-consuming organ.
So if you don’t feel up for much else, that’s because your brain is quite literally on overdrive and draining your energy reserves away from other parts of your body. Experts suggest taking 15-minute breaks throughout the day can help you stay less stressed and more productive overall if you’re constantly switching between tasks.
Though it’s a term more commonly associated with health care professionals, therapists, and those in a caregiving or helping profession, compassion fatigue can have a similar impact on moms as well. That’s especially true during a pandemic when time with our kids has significantly increased – we are constantly caring for their physical needs while also holding space for their emotions.
Coupled with the media’s neverending broadcast of sociopolitical tensions, tragedy, and civic unrest, we are collectively experiencing an emotional heaviness – caring for the people we love and humanity as a whole.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or helpless, setting boundaries to create mental space for yourself is the key. Limiting time on your news and media feed, and finding ways to practice self-compassion will be essential to your well-being.
If you’re attending more video calls than normal for work or to stay in touch with loved ones, that’s another reason you’re feeling drained. Experts say that our brains are working harder than ever to process interactions with the person on the other end.
All the subtleties that we typically rely on as emotional cues during face-to-face interactions – body language, facial expressions, voice tonality, and other cues of responsiveness – become less pronounced on a video call. Your brain is working harder to reconcile the dissonance, and requires more effort to hold a “constant gaze” as you stare at the screen.
Give yourself a break by setting a limit to how many video calls you have each week, or simply switch to phone calls or email. If you’re feeling tired, it’s likely the other person is as well, and will welcome the suggestion.
If the stress of deciding if it’s safe to visit a family member, heading to the grocery store, or letting your kids have playdates is wearing you down, you’re not alone. Constantly weighing the benefits and risks of your family’s health, as well as the endangerment of public health, is a surefire way to feel worn out even for the most routine decisions.
That’s why as more states reopen in the coming months, experts are warning about feeling worn down in our decision-making and letting our guards down, also known as caution fatigue. After months in quarantine and the initial hypervigilance of ‘flattening the curve’, you may be experiencing lower motivation to follow safety guidelines and risk increasing chances of a virus resurgence.
On the other hand, once seemingly mundane decisions have turned into moral dilemmas because of their potential to impact the people around us. That’s when moral fatigue can set in because there’s no clear cut way to define what’s “right”, and your need to maintain moral integrity creates more distress.
If heavily-weighted decisions are taking a toll on you, seek a mental health professional to help you process and understand your emotional experience.
And while physical distancing limits where we can go or who we see, remember that it doesn’t take away our ability to socially connect with others who are sharing this same experience.
Because during this unprecedented time —