Underneath the woman doing it all is most likely a woman also teetering on the edge of burnout, the dark side of multitasking.
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And women are the ultimate multitaskers. But this great strength also means women have the highest risk of exhaustion. Amy Sullivan, PsyD, clinical health psychologist, explains why female burnout is so prevalent – and how to prevent it.
Managing the emotional toll
“Women experience higher levels of stress and anxiety than men in their day-to-day decision-making,” Dr. Sullivan explains. Men are more likely to base decisions on the facts and leave emotion out. Women, she says, typically make decisions based on both facts and emotion.
The emotional toll is compounded by trying to balance success at work, often being the primary caretaker for any children in the household and staying on top of housework, too. Mom burnout is real.
“All that juggling – and guilt from not doing it perfectly – results in women experiencing burnout more often than men,” says Dr. Sullivan.
How to deal with burnout
The first step to combating burnout, says Dr. Sullivan, is awareness. “If you realize you have burnout, you need to find ways to manage it,” she says.
And no, getting more engrossed in social media is NOT the answer. Prioritize taking care of yourself rather than keeping tabs on your “friends.”
Take off the cape
“Let go of the Superwoman label,” says Dr. Sullivan. “You’re spectacular in some areas of life, but accept that you can’t be super amazing at everything.”
In other words, just because your neighbor has a three-course meal on the table by 5:30 doesn’t mean you’re a failure if you serve cereal for dinner.
Guilt is what happens when we judge our lives based on what others do (or at least pretend to do on social media), Dr. Sullivan says. “In reality, we only need to do what’s right for us and our family,” she continues.
Which may include cereal for dinner on occasion.
Breathe and move
The constant pressure from doing it all results in excess stress hormones (cortisol) wreaking havoc on your body, causing memory deficiencies, mood swings and weight gain.
Revitalize yourself and counteract the effects of cortisol by taking slow, deep breaths throughout the day and setting aside time to go to the gym or another form of exercise.
Learn to live with the mess
“Social media gives us the idea that our house should set Instagram on fire,” says Dr. Sullivan. “But, sometimes, you have to accept that the dishes or vacuuming can be put off for a day.”
It might also feel “messy” to host your child’s birthday party at the bowling alley rather than creating a Pinterest-worthy superhero-themed bash with custom T-shirts. But the bowling alley birthday party will suffice, your kid won’t care and you’ll save yourself hours of unneeded stress.
Getting help, even if you don’t want to ask for it
There are many reasons why some women find it hard to ask for help.
Sometimes, it’s the result of a generational pattern and unfairly imbalanced social norms. Other women may think no one can do things as well as they can so refusing help is a way to maintain control. Either way, help for women under stress is essential.
“Trying to do everything all the time leads to that imbalance, throwing everything – including emotions – out of whack,” says Dr. Sullivan. “And if this goes on for long enough, it leads to burnout.”
Here are some ways you can get the help you need to restore balance and keep away the fatigue that leads to burnout.
Just say no
If you say “yes” more to others than you’re saying “no” to yourself. Learn to re-evaluate your responsibilities and become OK with letting things go.
If you’re maxed out at work, then consciously let something else go. At home, reevaluate your to-do list and consider outsourcing some of the house tasks to your partner or hiring a service.
Remember, “No” is a complete sentence in and of itself. You don’t need to qualify your answer or give any rationale.
Make time for yourself
Chances are, you’re responsible for a lot of scheduling and activities for others, especially if you have children. If that’s the case, it’s far too easy for you to make yourself the last priority and stress for relief for women is too often overlooked in our culture.
If we don’t carve out time to take care of ourselves, the problem just gets worse. “I remind patients that the flight attendant tells you to secure your mask before helping someone else,” Dr. Sullivan says. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll implode. You can’t do anything or take care of anyone if you’re passed out from exhaustion.”
Reach out to others for help
This could be something as easy as getting the family involved, especially since they may not recognize the signs of burnout. Get your kids to help out with chores and assign your significant other the grocery shopping. Take the burden off your shoulders and spread the work.
If you can’t figure out where to start, consider meeting with a professional. A psychologist or social worker can help you put one foot in front of the other, Dr. Sullivan suggests. They can also more easily recognize signs of stress in women and guide you on how to recover from burnout.
It’s also important to develop and maintain meaningful relationships with family or friends. But not just on social media – dedicate time to quality, face-to-face interactions.
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