We’re entering a whole new level of parental burnout

If you're feeling more exhausted now than ever before, here are four perfectly legitimate reasons why—and what you can do about it, right now.

pandemic fatigue

For moms, mental exhaustion and burnout are nothing new. The emotional and mental load of motherhood can take a significant toll on our mental health and physical well-being. It's an unequal burden that's been further amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. And right now, moms are reporting stress and burnout at a whole new level.

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. While a recent poll suggests that Americans as a whole are the unhappiest they've been in decades, the pandemic has been especially hard-hitting for communities of color and for working parents.

As a growing number of states shift into "reopening" mode, the stress moms feel is actually going up, not down. While stay-at-home orders have been hard on families, the reopening of the economy presents us with a whole new set of challenges, from deciding whether it's safe to see grandparents to figuring out childcare so that we can return to work.

So if you're feeling more exhausted now than you were when the pandemic first started, here are four perfectly legitimate reasons why—and what you can do about it, right now.


Multi-tasking fatigue

There's no question that caring for your kids 24/7 is exhausting. Between keeping the kids engaged, managing household logistics and working from home, moms 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 besides getting through the day, that's because your brain is quite literally on overdrive, draining energy reserves away from other parts of your body.

The solution: 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.

As the pandemic continues, it's also going to be more important than ever for moms to delegate tasks and make sure we have help—enlist your partner if you have one, and engage kids with age-appropriate chores. Sadly, there are no medals being given out for doing everything yourself—if there were, you'd have a chest full.

Compassion fatigue

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 tragedy of violence against African-Americans and protesters, as well as ongoing sociopolitical tensions and civic unrest, we are collectively experiencing an emotional heaviness—caring for the people we love and humanity as a whole.

The solution: If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or helpless, setting boundaries to create mental space for yourself is key. Finding support in your community and your friends, limiting time on your news and media feed and practicing self-compassion are all essential to your well-being right now.

Zoom fatigue

Remember when remote learning, working from home and video conferencing with family and friends all seemed like short-term, stopgap solutions—way back at the beginning of the pandemic? By now, families know screentime is going to be a major part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

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.

The solution: 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.

Decision fatigue

If the stress of deciding whether it's safe to visit a family member, head to the store or let 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 possible endangerment of the health of others, is a surefire way to feel worn out by even 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, also known as caution fatigue. After months in quarantine and the initial hypervigilance of "flattening the curve," it's understandable to wish we could all take a break from following epidemiologists' guidelines to the letter.

On the other hand, once-mundane decisions have turned into moral dilemmas because of their potential to impact the people around us. When there's no clear-cut way to define what's "right," the effort to act in a morally responsible way can actually create more distress.

The solution: 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, we're all in this together.

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