By Carole Bradshaw and Dr Benita Perch (ND)
If you feel stressed and sad at times, be assured you’re not alone. Two years on and the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on maternal mental health. There is no end of research highlighting the disproportionate and devastating effects the pandemic has had on mums at every age and stage in Hong Kong and around the world.
As practitioners, we’ve seen myriad mums trying hard to be superwomen, long before the Covid-19 virus shook the world. Superwoman Syndrome is real: in many families (not all, we know), the never-ending mental load falls squarely on mothers’ shoulders: the thinking, planning, organizing, and emotional labour of keeping a family and home running. Many mums were already stretched thin, particularly working mums. Then the pandemic hit and – burdened with even more roles and responsibilities – the fragile support systems they had in place to help them cope started to crumble.
Whether you’re a stay-at-home mum, a working mum, or – with the boundaries between work and home now blurred – both, pandemic parenting is causing many mums to buckle and burn out.
Some of the challenges that mothers are facing include:
- The loss of control and ongoing uncertainty over school schedules, community outbreaks, and quarantine regulations
- The return or prospect of returning to remote learning
- The constant needs and schedules of family members
- The restrictions around travel, preventing families from taking a much-needed break or spending time with loved ones abroad
- Separation from partners, children, parents, and siblings in different parts of the world
- A dysfunctional home environment
- The work-life juggling act (as if it wasn’t challenging enough before!)
- Pressure to leave the workforce or downshift careers
- Job losses or income losses
- The emotional toll of caring for stressed and anxious children (stressed kids equals stressed mums)
- The sense of not being able to switch off, rest and recharge
- A sense of being alone and lonely. For a lot of people, their window of tolerance is narrower, and they don’t have the capacity to support each other or demonstrate empathy as they might have done in the past.
It’s ok to not be ok. But it’s not ok if you’re on the brink of burnout.
Whilst it’s natural and normal to feel occasional bouts of stress, tiredness, and anxiety, it’s not ok to burnout. Burnout is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged periods of stress. Left unmanaged, it can make it increasingly difficult for you to cope with everyday life. Long-term, burnout can cause serious harm to your hormonal, digestive, nervous, immune, and reproductive systems.
What are some of the common signs of burnout?
Here are some of the red flags that can indicate you are burning out:
- Chronic fatigue, exhaustion, and irritation
- Unexplained headaches, stomachaches, and other aches and pains
- Cynicism, social withdrawal, a sense of being unable to cope
- Anxiety or depression
- Heavy periods
- Gut issues including SIBO, IBS and dysbiosis
- Debilitating or early menopause
What to do when you’re starting to feel burned out
In normal times, we would encourage you to step away from the stressors that are causing or contributing to burnout for some time. This can allow you the space and time to rest, recharge, reevaluate, and recalibrate.
But we understand these are not normal times. The stressors keep coming and some, if not all of them, are out of our control.
Hope is not lost. IMI, we take an integrated healing approach to your wellbeing. Your mind, emotions, body, environment, sense of purpose, energy, and community are the seven pillars of optimal health and wellness. By taking care of each of these pillars, you can recharge and start to feel mentally well again.
Strategies to overcome burnout
As working mothers ourselves, we know real self-care goes way beyond face masks and bath bombs. Real self-care isn’t a once-in-a-while reward or indulgence; it’s an essential component of mental wellbeing. Here, we share a variety of strategies that you can use to protect against burnout. Taking even one small step at a time can soon add up to a giant leap forward.
- Homeopathic remedies and herbs can help to nourish your body and ease your mind. Adrenal herbs to help your body cope with stress include Ashwaghanda and siberian ginseng; nervine herbs to nourish your body include lavender and lemon balm. These can bolster your resilience to help you through your day.
- Nutrients such as B vitamins, Magnesium, Vitamin C, Zinc and fish oils can all help to boost the serotonin and dopamine needed by your brain to support a happier and positive outlook.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Ditch the digitals at least one hour before bedtime; ensure your room is cool and dark and aim to get at least eight hours of sleep. Of course, we recognise this may not be enough to beat insomnia. Implementing some or all the strategies outlined below can help you. If you need a personalized plan, we suggest scheduling a consultation with one of our naturopaths.
- Move for mental health. Physical exercise (we recommend a blend of both yin and yang exercises) and walks in nature are proven ways to boost mental health. If stress is causing aches and pains like back, neck or shoulder pain, our osteopaths can support you with cranial therapy.
- As the psychologist Carl Rogers shared: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Accepting your feelings, rather than ignoring or suppressing them, is the first step to restoring emotional wellbeing. If you can meet your emotions, and really feel them, you can allow them to pass through you.
- The right relationships can heal. Family or friends that can listen with empathy, meet you where you are at emotionally, and be with you in your moments of despair can help to buffer your stress response, slowing the release of cortisol (stress hormone) and allowing your nervous system to settle and become calm.
- But even the most well-intended or typically compassionate friends may not have the ability or capacity to offer a trusted and non-judgmental safe space for you to feel and heal, particularly in these more testing times. Our mental health practitioners can hold space for you and the despair you’re feeling. They can help you identify the resources that can help to sustain you and develop the practical support you need to regain balance.
- Say yes to the sustainers and no to the drainers. Prioritise what sustains you, be it reading books, walks in nature, exercise, or time with friends. And be honest about what drains you such as certain people, social media, or news bulletins. If possible, step back from the drainers to protect against the stress they cause.
- Mindfulness and meditation are a proven antidote to stress. They release the happy chemicals serotonin and dopamine in your brain to restore a sense of calm. If you’d like to join a mindfulness community, we host free Monday Mindfulness sessions led by experienced practitioners both online and at our clinic.
- Let go of perfectionism. At the best of times, perfectionism can cause overwhelm and a sense of feeling like you’re ‘not good enough’. Be kind to your mind by pacing yourself and identifying and addressing what needs to be done on any given day.
- There are multiple benefits of spending time in nature. It’s proven to increase happiness, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve energy and productivity. Plus, it’s known to boost immunity, which can take a massive hit when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
- It’s also important to spend some time in the sun. Known to increase the brain’s release of serotonin (the happy hormone), natural daylight reduces stress, curbs anxiety, and improve sleep. It’s also a great source of Vitamin D, which many Hong Kongers are short of. To improve your mood, go out in the sun or at least allow natural light into your home or workspace.
- As much as possible, steer clear of toxins. Food, lifestyle choices, digital devices, friendships and more. Depending on what you are exposed to, these can either help or harm your mental health.
- Spirit often means different things to different people. For each of us, there is that special something that soothes the soul, brings calm to the chaos, and nurtures compassion for self and others. It might be prayer or voluntary work, the arts or sports. Whatever is it, it’s essential for your wellbeing to stay connected with it.
- As mums shoulder the weight of their family’s needs, many share they’ve lost their sense of purpose – be at home, at work, or in life. A sense of purpose can be the light to guide you through the darkness. Our executive and wellness coaches can help you to find or reconnect to your sense of purpose.
- When you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or emotionally drained, the right remedy and dosage of homeopathy can help to rebalance emotions and restore confidence. Our homeopaths can prescribe the best remedy to support your mental health needs, taking into consideration your medical history, lifestyle habits, and personality,
- Osteopathy, craniosacral therapy and acupuncture are all gentle therapies that can help increase your energy, soothe your nervous system, and restore mental and emotional balance.
- Practicing yoga, Kirtan or Tai Chi can also help to unblock and encourage the flow of energy throughout your body.
- When you’re exhausted or overwhelmed, your first instinct may be to retreat. For some mums, this can help them to conserve energy. But if you hibernate for too long, you can start to feel unhappy and alone. Mothers with strong support from their communities are proven to have lower levels of stress and greater optimism about parenting. Our brains are wired to connect: strong social ties can help to protect against the detrimental effects of stress on your mental health. This is known as stress buffering.
- Your community can remind you that you are not alone, that we are all in this together, and that we can all get through this together. Whilst in-person interactions are ideal, online communities (the uplifting, positive kind!) can promote a sense of belonging too.
If the pressures of parenting during the pandemic are weighing you down and you would like expert support, please reach out. Taking every aspect of your wellbeing into consideration, we can partner with you to create a personalised plan that protects and strengthens your mental wellbeing now and in the months ahead. Contact our integral health advisor for a free, no-obligation conversation to determine the most appropriate service or practitioner to help you forward on your journey to recovery and renewed resilience.
Chinese version 中文版
在大部份家庭中，母親需要處理家中很多鎖碎事務，在職媽媽需要處理的事情甚至更多。加上疫情侵襲, 她們承擔了更多的角色和責任, 令她們身心疲勞。媽媽們在工作和家庭之間的界線已經很模糊。疫情下的育兒方式使許多媽媽感到崩潰和倦怠。
- 疫情反覆，學校日程、 檢疫及社區措施等安排經常改變
- 腸道問題，包括小腸細菌過度生長 (SIBO)、腸易激綜合症(IBS)和菌群失調
- 養成良好的睡眠習慣。在睡前至少一小時遠離電子產品；保持房間清涼和黑暗，並爭取至少八小時的睡眠。如果您有意尋求個人化的健康諮詢, 請與我們的自然療法師預約。
- 正如心理學家Carl Rogers提出：“當我接受自己本來的樣子時，我就可以改變” 恢復情緒健康的第一步是要接受自己的感受，而不是忽視或抑制。我們需要正視情緒，並真正感受到它。
- 正面的關係具有治療作用。如果家人或朋友能夠用心傾聽，陪伴左右, 給予情感上的支持, 幫助緩沖壓力，減緩皮質醇（壓力荷爾蒙）的釋放，穩定神經系統。
- 我們的心理治療師可以給予您一個安全並可信賴的空間，細心聆聲, 幫助你確立問題所在， 提供實際支持，讓你重拾健康身心。
- 優先考慮自己喜歡做的事情，例如閱讀、散步、運動，或是與朋友相處。誠實地告訴自己什麼讓你感到疲憊，盡可能遠離它們, 減低受影響而造成的壓力。
- 正念和冥想是緩解壓力的解藥。透過正念和冥想, 我們大腦會釋放快樂的化學物質5-羥色胺和多巴胺，以恢復平靜感。如果你想參加正念訓練，我們在網上和診所會提供由經驗豐富的專業治療師主持的免費正念課程。
- 陽光或自然光可以增加大腦釋放的血清素（快樂激素），減少壓力，抑制焦慮，並改善睡眠。陽光也是維他命D的一個重要來源，許多香港人都缺乏這種維生素。外出曬太陽或讓自然光進入家中或工作空間, 都能改善我們的情緒。
身為父母的你, 如果在疫情期間感到壓力沉重，想得到專家的支持，請聯繫我們。經驗豐富的健康顧問會根據您的個人需求, 提供免費的健康指導, 為您介紹最合適的醫生和服務，幫助你在重新出發。