Whether we are only a few days postpartum or a decade, sooner or later our busy schedules and full-speed lifestyles inevitably set us up for burnout. Some people prefer to be busy and ensure there is always something on the go, while others thrive on quiet time in order to recharge and have time to prepare for upcoming events. Regardless of whether we identify as introverted or extroverted, however, there are usually warning signs that signify our gas tanks are running low and perhaps it’s time to plan for some downtime.
Indicators of stress and burnout can come out in so many ways, but staying in tune with our bodies and paying attention to the people around us can help arm us with the ability to anticipate and hopefully avoid ending up with an empty tank. Personal experience has taught me time and time again that being proactive about protecting my time makes the difference between being able to tend to what I’m needing and stretching myself so thin that I end up in a hardcore state of burnout. The trouble with getting to the point where we are burnt out is that it is so much harder to be able to find a way out and recalibrate, than if we watch for the warning signs and do something in advance.
Below is a list with some of the common indicators that might be telling us our plates might be getting too full. Like I said above, though, every body is different and reacts to stress in so many ways. The best way forward is to keep checking in with ourselves so we can name our own indicators and go from there.
1. If your head wasn’t attached, would you forget it?
I am not sure if it’s my first indicator, but it’s absolutely the one that is the equivalent of sirens and neon lights for me telling me to turn around and go the other way. Say “NO” and do some self check in. Missing appointments, forgetting meetings, drawing blanks when you know there was something important that was just on your mind: these are just a few ways your brain might be telling you it’s reached capacity and needs a break. Not only do things like these end up with consequences like missed appointment fees, or peeved friends and coworkers, but they also add stress because you feel bad that you forgot. If you notice you suddenly feel like things are falling by the wayside no matter how many sticky notes and reminders you leave yourself, it’s time to ease up on how much you’re committing yourself to.
2. Do you turn into Sadness from Inside/Out or the Hulk at the drop of a dime?
Hypersensitivity, irritability and crankiness that come out of the blue can be another way of our body slamming on the breaks. When we are running on fumes and have no time to breathe, we have no mental space left over for those little things that usually wouldn’t make us think twice. I’ve always used the metaphor of my emotional regulation reservoir having the capacity of a teaspoon when I’m burnt out. Sometimes it’s tears, sometimes it’s a full blown toddler tantrum, but with two pre-pubescent boys in the house and a hectic work schedule to juggle between my partner and I, that teaspoon fills up pretty quick before I end up having to lock myself away in a closet for some deep breaths for the sake of my family. If you are noticing you are not coping well with even the smallest things, think about whether or not you’re in need of a big cup of tea and a sit down with your day timer to figure out what is coming up and where you can block of some time to just be.
3. Do social events and family time feel more like punishment than quality and fun time?
It doesn’t matter if the Village People are making a special appearance, when my cup floodeth over with work/volunteering/meetings/extracurriculars, I end up dreading social events. Maybe sangria could persuade me… but mostly I just want my couch and no one needing me. Now, for some people social events feel like punishment no matter their schedule, but if you normally look forward to time with friends and suddenly wish you would get struck by the plague so you can duck out of that stag or stagette, you might be feeling overwhelmed by an overloaded schedule.
4. Instead of counting sheep when your head hits the pillow, are your thoughts more like a Red Bull-fuelled hamster running a marathon on a wheel?
If insomnia is a new and uninvited guest in your sleep space and your nights are being disrupted by racing thoughts and anxiety, again, your body might be waving the white flag and asking for a mental getaway. Lists are useful to keep, especially if bed time is when your brain tends to start remembering the billion tasks you have to deal with, but they are only a short term solution to dealing with the stress of being overwhelmed.
I often laugh when I get recommended to take some me time–what’s that?! Ain’t nobody got time for that. But truth be told, these bodies are the only ones we get, and our physical health is intrinsically tied to our mental health. Schedule a day, an afternoon or even an hour if you need some time away from phones, devices and commitments, and honour it like you would any of the other things you put on your schedule. Find what feels good to you, whether it is exercise, a bath, reading a book or a walk in the park, and prioritize that. Your body and brain will thank you! Hopefully after learning your stress and burnout cues the things that recharge you can become a part of your normal routine and help reduce the amount of time living in burnout limbo.
A lot of these issues can be related to other situations or conditions, and sometimes periods of hectic schedules are unavoidable, but these feelings and issues can absolutely help to narrow down if you are in need of delegating, deferring or delaying some tasks for the sake of your mental and physical health. Take some time to reflect on where you are at if you suspect you’re burning out. If you are really struggling with coping, it is so important to reach out to a friend, family member or doctor (or your postpartum doula!). Don’t ever feel like you need to just deal with it and push through when things start falling apart.
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