If you identify as a woman and/or a working mom, you have no doubt encountered high levels of stress, and most likely burnout at some point in your life.  The many expectations, roles and responsibilities women hold are taking a toll on our mental health.  As a result, it’s more important than ever to find healthy ways to manage the many demands women and working moms juggle on a daily basis.  In this blog, we’ll talk about some of the common stressors women and working moms face.  We’ll also dive deeper into understanding stress and burnout, and discuss how therapy can help address common issues women face.

Stress and Burn Out

As a woman and a working mom, I have often thought about ways I can decrease stress and exhaustion.  How do I contend with the sense that there’s always more to do despite how much I’ve already done?  Can you relate?

The truth is, there are heavy expectations placed upon women and working moms.  To-do lists that grow every day. A career that often demands difficult choices of us (can we really have it all?).  Frequently running from one role in our lives to another. Behaving and looking a certain way that society says is acceptable, sexy but not trashy, motherly but desirable (are you confused yet because I am).  Anticipating others’ needs.  Organizing households while being a working woman with ambitions and accomplishments.  It goes on and on.  Consequently, the stress of it all can feel crushing.

These are unrealistic expectations.  They can feel like a never achievable list.  And if and when we push ourselves to achieve them, it comes at a great cost to us and has many potential consequences.

Burnout is a term many of us have heard about, can identify with, and have received much advice about.  It occurs when stress has accumulated.  Burnout includes emotional exhaustion from caring for others endlessly, a lack of empathy and compassion, and a sense that nothing you do makes a difference.

Time recently printed an article titled, “More Women Feel Burnt Out: Women in the Workplace 2021.”  Despite this issue’s visibility, many women and working mothers have found themselves trapped in a cycle of trying to address burnout by participating in a wellness industry that’s become, well, more work for us all.  The alternative is to understand stress and burnout at its roots to find effective methods rather than to look for external things to soothe us.

The Stress Cycle

Stress occurs when we encounter a stressor which activates the stress cycle in our bodies and brains.  A stressor, according to Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA in the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, is “anything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste or imagine could do you harm.”  This includes stressors from work, school, family and friends, obligations, time, money, expectations, discrimination, and more.

Some of us become stuck when we experience a stressor because we routinely encounter it (think repeated stress at work, in parenting, etc.).  Also, we may feel compelled to do what others would find socially acceptable (can’t I just scream, “NO!” to the next person who asks something of me?).  Or we become stuck when we have to choose a safer option (I may not be able to tell my boss what I really think if I want to keep my job).

The authors of this book argue that when the stress cycle is underway in our bodies it needs to be completed in order for our body to recognize the threat has been fully dealt with.  The completion of the stress cycle helps us eliminate the accumulation of stress which helps us prevent burnout.  So how does the stress cycle become completed?

Find Relief by Addressing Your Stress Effectively

There are several ways to effectively address the stress experienced when a stressor is encountered.  Because stressors are experienced by our nervous systems as a threat, often physical activity can be a great way to complete the stress cycle.  Move your body through running, dancing, swimming, or any other physical activity that gets you going.  Simply move around your home or office.    Physical movement lets your body know that it has survived the threat and can get back to daily living.

Additional strategies include:

  • Deep breathing- breathing into your belly signals your nervous system to calm
  • Socialize with others- have a light, friendly chat with someone as it can be relaxing
  • Laughing- big belly laughs can be very releasing and can help us connect with others
  • Cry it out- stress evokes strong emotions for us and they need to be expressed

Therapy for Women and Working Moms

Completing the stress cycle is only part of managing stress and burnout.  After all, culture, norms, family, gender identity, and more shape how we move in the world as women and working moms.  There are other pieces worth investigating in your life and experience.  Perhaps it’s to understand the impact cultural expectations and norms have had on you.  Or maybe you have a pattern of reacting you want to understand more clearly.  It could be you want to learn how to be planful about particular stressors in your life.  Or to shift your expectations for your life.  Or to redefine what failure is.  Perhaps you notice a change in your mood as a result of stress and burnout.  Maybe you want to make meaning of your experience.

Whatever it may be, therapy is a productive and safe way to explore, process, and heal.  In our Colorado based practice, Vitality Therapeutic Services, we specialize in working moms and women.  We understand the many demands expected of you and the impact this can have on your mental health.  If you feel your mental health has been impacted by anxiety, a major change in your life such as parenthood or a new job, or you are experiencing the effects of trauma, reach out to us.  You may benefit from our services such as Online Therapy, Therapy for Life Transitions, Anxiety treatment, and EMDR therapy.  We are honored to do this important work.  Contact us today to get started.

Photo credit: Ketut Subiyanto: https://www.pexels.com/photo/working-ethnic-mother-using-tablet-and-laptop-at-home-with-playing-kids-on-background-4474030/

Book credit:  Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA