The Effects of Exhaustion on Mental Health
Being a parent is tough. Being a homeschooling parent is even tougher. Read on to find out how exhaustion can affect your mental health.
All of us experience exhaustion in a number of ways regardless of our lifestyles, but neglecting to notice the warning signs may lead to burnout, and this stage of exhaustion can be serious. Here are some of the signs that exhaustion is beginning to take a toll on your mental health, followed by some ways to help alleviate some of your stress and get back to feeling normal sooner.
Changes in your mood
Exhaustion is exactly what it implies: exhausting. One of the first signs that your level of exhaustion is affecting your mental health is a change in your moods. Just like our kids get irritable and moody when they're tired and need more rest, we adults exhibit some of those same traits.
Often, exhaustion will cause irritability as we become more tired and overwhelmed by whatever is going on in our lives, but it can also trigger anxiety, depression, and even apathy in some individuals.
If you notice any type of change in your mood—whether the main culprits listed here or any other differences that aren't very normal compared to what you usually experience—it may be time to start paying closer attention to the warning signs being given by your mind and body.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people joking about "mom brain" and forgetting everything. Being busy with kids, running the house, and everything else we have to do in a day is overwhelming—of course, we're going to space out or forget a few things along the way!
However, when the stress levels keep rising and we become more and more exhausted, this cognitive impairment can be a bit more serious and serve as a signal that it's time to slow down. These more problematic signs of cognitive impairment due to exhaustion include increased forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, spacing out, and decreased productivity due to these issues. These can even lead to impaired memory in some cases, so it's best to be vigilant in noticing the signs and making adjustments to your daily life as best as possible to reduce your stress levels.
Losing sleep over a newborn or a toddler and their thousand sleep regressions is something we all have to go through as parents. But, as they get older or even when they're young but their sleep patterns are more consistent, having impaired sleep as a parent may be a sign that you're getting too exhausted and dealing with too much stress.
Many people have uttered, "I'm so tired that I can't sleep," at some point or other. However, this is something to definitely be sure you keep an eye on. Whether it's trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or a combination of the two, this can lead to a long list of mental and physical health problems.
Impaired sleep will not only lead to you just being tired more, but it also contributes to brain fog and having a low mood on a regular basis. These issues can further stack and worsen cognitive impairment and a person's ability to maintain stability with their moods.
Difficulties with relationships
A less expected "symptom" of exhaustion is the effect it will have on your relationships as well. Those who are too tired, distracted, or irritable to handle most tasks will likely find themselves struggling to maintain positive and healthy relationships with their friends, family members, or even co-workers.
Depressed moods and anxiety make social events unenjoyable and hard to tolerate, short fuses cause us to lash out at our loved ones when we're overtired and overstimulated, and being unable to focus can easily cause our work performance to start falling.
If you're struggling with the effects that exhaustion is having on your mind and relationships, it's time to either try some coping methods on your own or begin seeking out help from professionals, loved ones, or other trusted individuals.
How to Cope with Exhaustion
Not every coping mechanism will help every single person, so take these recommendations with a grain of salt. When symptoms are mild, some of these activities are a great starting point for learning to manage your stress levels and maintain good, stable mental health. In more severe cases—especially when mental illness or other issues are comorbid—you may have minimal luck with these suggestions and will need to instead consult with your current physician, therapist, and/or care team to help resolve your mental health concerns and the effects that exhaustion is having on your body and mind.
Take time for yourself
This is always easier said than done, but it's always a regular piece of advice for a reason. Most of us tend to lose ourselves in parenthood and equally experience an absurd amount of guilt for taking the time to care of ourselves as well.
Taking a day or even a few hours to relax, do something you enjoy, and regain your peace of mind is not being a bad parent. (You are not "abandoning your child" or being a horrible person, I promise.) How can you expect to be able to take care of another human being if you can't even take care of yourself?
Seek out a babysitter—a trusted loved one, family member, close friend, or even the neighbor's kid who's looking to make a few bucks by watching everyone's kids—so you can take the time you need to get yourself calmed down and feeling better. For those who don't live near family, don't have any close friends to ask for help, or otherwise are unable to find someone to watch their kid for whatever reasons, there are many places out there that provide "Mom's Day Out" programs to keep your little ones busy with crafts, playtime, and other activities in a group environment to give you a few hours of peace.
Ask for help
This is also a hard one, especially for those of us who have been single parents for any stretch of time: you need to ask for help.
Put your pride aside and instead focus on the fact that you are not a superhuman and it's okay to ask for help. Society—and especially the media—would rather paint a portrait of moms (and primary caregivers in general) as "superheroes" that "can do it all" instead of allowing us to distribute the workload of childrearing. To be frank, that is absolute bullcrap, and it really DOES take a village to raise a child.
We can't do everything, we shouldn't be expected to do everything, and we certainly don't have to force ourselves either. Whether it's needing someone to watch the kids for you to get some things done, seeking out support for managing your child's education (both homeschooling as well as traditional schooling), or even asking for help in a professional setting because you're so exhausted that you're struggling to meet all of the responsibilities your job is asking of you—ASK FOR HELP!
There are plenty of people who don't know your situation nor care to understand the effect it is having on you, but there are also plenty of good souls right there and willing to help ease your burdens because they've been there themselves or have had a loved one experience the same issues.
Ask for help. Take that mental health day off from work. Ask for that extension on a project deadline. Find some fellow parents that know what you're dealing with and can lend some good advice to help you through the rough spots. You'll never know if someone can offer a solution to your problem if you don't just ask.
Consider changing your schedule [if needed]
This one is a bit of a doozy, but sometimes it needs to be done. If your current schedule just isn't working out well—whether that's a sleep schedule, work schedule, or your homeschooling schedule—consider making some changes.
With homeschooling, you still need to meet certain attendance requirements and sometimes even hourly requirements (depending upon the program you're enrolled in), but you do have the flexibility to make some changes to best suit both you and your child.
When making changes to your sleep schedule, this can often be a bit difficult and seem rather daunting, but it's just like dealing with Daylight Savings Time: you'll adjust. You may find yourself feeling even more tired and disoriented for a few days and maybe even a week, but your body will eventually adjust, and it will thank you once you've found the sleep schedule that works best for you.
As for changing your work schedule, this may be more difficult to pull off, but some employers can be lenient about this (depending upon the nature of the job) and be able to accommodate your wishes. For those that work from home, you may have even better luck.
Make healthier choices
This is one of those things that you always hear people chirping about, but that's because it's so important. Try to make healthier choices in your everyday life, and you will reap the benefits of those choices in both mind and body.
Try to engage in some regular type of exercise, whether this is walking a few times a week, doing some stretches or yoga, or even lifting some weights at home or in a gym. It doesn't have to be anything strenuous, nor do you have to break a sweat. Just a small amount of activity will go a long way and still contribute to improving your health and your mental wellness.
There's nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of comfort food (aka junk food) every now and then, but it's best to try to make the healthiest possible food choices you can. Finding which foods work best for your body is ideal, and eating the least amount of processed food possible should be a top goal. I'm not going to lie—there are days when I'm just too tired and stressed out and all I need to help me feel better is a Cheesy Gordita Crunch, and I will absolutely go get one and then wallow in my exhaustion and bad mood. That one delicious indulgence is not going to wreck me nor significantly damage my health in the long run, but there's a huge difference between having my guilty pleasure on the days when I really have just run out of craps to give and don't have time for healthy choices and eating one of them every single day. You can still have your "bad" foods, but try to make as many healthy food choices as possible.
Also, as usual with this topic, try to spend some time outdoors. Sunshine is great for your mood and can also help calm your nerves and improve your ability to focus. Make the most of your time by taking a walk outdoors, doing a bit of yard work to help your home look nicer, or simply lying outside and sunbathing.
Make time for more social time or more alone time
Last but not least, you need to be sure that you make time to address your social needs. For the extroverts out there, this means that you need to make time to go spend with your friends and loved ones. Schedule a lunch date or a drink one day a week, make plans to go see a movie with your bestie, or maybe make sure that you definitely got tickets to a concert by one of your favorite musical artists coming to a town nearby.
For my fellow introverts, our social needs are quite the opposite. You instead need to make sure to SCHEDULE THE TIME for you to recharge. Often, we prefer our time alone, whether this includes some calming (or just plain good) music or that oh-so-elusive silence we never seem to experience after having kids. Find a Netflix documentary to curl up on the couch and watch, go check out that book that you've been waiting to come in at your local library, or maybe just get your favorite meal as takeout and enjoy it in peace while at home and in your pajamas. Ask your spouse, partner, or another trusted individual to take the kids out for a fun activity for a few hours so you're left to your own devices and can regain some semblance of your sanity.
When Coping Skills Just Aren't Enough
For some of us, we may simply not be able to find relief from the suggestions above and may also struggle with additional mental health concerns, likely even ones that were pre-existing before raising a child got added onto our already-heavy loads.
Here are a few resources for those who may need professional mental health assistance or find themselves currently too overloaded to worry with trying any recommendations listed above:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
*As of July 16, 2022, those in need will be able to simply dial "988" on their phones to immediately be connected to this hotline.
Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741
*Also provides chat options using Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger.
Betterhelp: a website providing real, online therapy + resources and information
Additionally, unaddressed exhaustion (especially when coupled with its mental effects) can lead to a number of physical symptoms as well. Read here for more information on the physical indications of exhaustion, and always be sure to seek out help when any of these symptoms become notably problematic and/or begin to significantly impact the quality of your daily life.