Saturday, February 5

Overcoming Homeschool Burnout

One of the biggest hurdles for teachers of all types - public, private, and homeschool - is burnout.  It happens to the best of us, and nearly everyone experiences it at least once during their journey...

What is burn out?

Your head is constantly swimming with all the things on your to-do list and you don’t want to do any of them. You aren’t sleeping but are always tired. When three of your children ask you questions at one time, your brain melts down. You don’t remember always feeling this way, but you don’t know how to find yourself again. Welcome to Burnout City.

Burnout happens when you're investing more mental, emotional, and physical energy into your homeschool than you have to give.  It can be easy to overlook early symptoms because they often mimic hormonal changes or fatigue.  The difference is that symptoms don't just come and go...most often, they come and stay.

Burnout might crop up after a major life change, such as a new baby, an illness, a relocation or new job, but it also might come on for seemingly no reason at all.  While everyone occasionally feels overwhelmed, irritable, hopeless, anger, resentful, depressed - or some combination of those - it's not normal for that to become the norm.  If you feel like no matter how hard you are trying, you just aren't doing enough...if you feel exceptionally tired, no matter how much sleep you are getting....if you feel like putting your children back in school for no apparent reason...these are all signs of burnout.

Burn-out and being a mom seem to be synonymous in our culture today. When children are little and have many needs to meet, a mother has little time to meet her own needs. The hope is always that they will require less as they age and therefore moms can recharge their lives. This is partially true. As children mature their physical needs are less demanding and they are able to do more for themselves. Although many mothers discover their pre-teen and teenage childrens’ emotional, mental and spiritual needs require more attention. In short their problems require more of mom's mental real estate.

I started speaking with my friends about this as my children moved into the teen years. We all agreed that as children mature into young adults, the mental energy we had to put into their well-being only seemed to increase. Some of this can be controlled but some of it is inevitable. This leads many moms I know (and myself included) into Mom Burn-out. Moms that are still caring for little ones or an aging parent requires attention can make the problem worse. The demands of life just keep screaming louder and louder.

What to do to Stop the Burnout

Unfortunately there is little meaningful help or guidance when it comes to healing burnout. Burn-out is a chain reaction of biological, mental, emotional and spiritual issues that exacerbate each other and make healing a long and sometimes difficult process. Humans are complicated beings and there are many facets to our health. Addressing all of them in some form is necessary for full healing.

Biological Causes

The gut microbiome and its effects on mental wellness are at the center of a lot of discussions. This is for good reason. Ninety percent of our dopamine and serotonin (which are our mood regulating hormones) are made by a healthy gut microbiome. Chemicals in the environment, pharmaceuticals, food additives and stress negatively affect that delicate balance. The impact on mental wellness becomes not only noticeable but overwhelming. Biological causes need to be addressed before the other components of mental wellness because the biology is foundational. Also building back a healthy microbiome takes time. Addressing sleep issues, pain issues and poor diet are essential to building back a healthy gut. Eating live probiotic and prebiotic foods such as kimchi and kombucha encourage the helpful bacteria to thrive. Taking a probiotic supplement can be helpful but finding a quality one that contains the exact microbiome that is required for an improvement in mental wellness is key. Many probiotic supplements either don’t make it to the intestinal tract to work effectively or they only improve digestion and do nothing for mental wellness. I recommend Amare Global’s line of products. They have fine-tuned probiotics that are not only effective but cover all aspects of mental wellness.

Mental Causes

Much overwhelm comes from too many things on our mental To-Do list. Organizational lists, dividing up chores with children and spouses can help this. I love the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky for dividing up spousal responsibilities. Dropping the things that don’t matter are also important for mental loads. Assess what really matters in this season of time. For me our garden is time consuming in the summer but as we move into the school year, it has to fall down on the priority list. Maybe there is a period of time where house cleanliness drops as a priority. Maybe some distance is required from a demanding relationship during a busy season of your life. Always be assessing what the priorities are during a particular season and then you don’t have to feel the constant mental drain of everything.

Emotional Causes

When our biological and mental strain is high, our emotions can display our issues. When you are feeling overwhelmed by your emotional responses to situations and relationships are faltering, counseling or therapy can be essential. What I’ve witnessed is once a mom is addressing her biological and mental issues, she is ready to move to the emotional component. Counseling is more efficient because she has clarity about her problems. A healthy support system is also important in healing if it is filled with people who are also working towards emotional health..

Spiritual Causes

Spiritual wellness brings healing to the rest of our being. Forgiveness of those who have wronged us, seeking forgiveness for those we have wronged and looking for a purpose greater than ourselves all encourage complete healing. A faith community that offers support for physical and emotional speeds recovery. For me, the women of my church and Bible study bring strength and counsel to my spiritual healing. When I haven’t prioritized those relationships, signs of burnout can start to creep up.

How do we overcome burnout?

First off, throw the idea of being Super-Mom out the window!  All those amazing bloggers, Instagrammers, Pinterest-moms...they're not super-mom either.  In spite of what you think you are seeing, they just don't post the unpretty.  We all struggle.

One of the first things you can do to try and rein in burnout is to take control of the situation.  Too often, we find ourselves overscheduled and aiming for perfection, when we should be focusing on being 'blessed, not stressed.'  Think back and try to remember WHY you are homeschooling.  Then let that reason be the basis for everything you do.

Call up another homeschooling mama, or simply a good friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable letting it all hang out.  A listening ear, like laughter, can be great medicine!  Another option is to join a homeschooling co-op.  For my fellow introverted moms, this can seem like a huge stress on your already-taxed system....but it will give your children other kids to play with and you a new pool of friends.  Even the simple act of changing your environment could help you out of the rut.  (For you extroverted're probably already well into a remember to keep going, even when you don't want to!)

Is it your curriculum that's getting you down?  If it's not a good fit for your family, there's no shame in switching to something else.  Do you know how many times homeschooling families switch curricula?  On average, about six times...and most of that is within the first year or two!

While attending the homeschool co-op meetings are great for getting you out of the house and around friends, now could be a good time to take stock of your other extracurriculars.  Are you overscheduled?  Shuttling children to multiple sports / activities daily?  Maybe it's time to stay home for a bit and get back to family time.  NOT going to all the activities doesn't mean you're sheltering your kids.  You're simply giving them space to breathe and room to grow and be a kid!

If it's convention season, attending a convention can be a great way to recharge your batteries and overcome burnout.  They are full of other homeschooling mamas who have been where you are, and you're sure to find encouragement and lots of hugs!

And the truth is that you can overcome it once only to succumb to it again in the future.  There is no vaccine or inoculation against getting it again.  The best you can do is...your best.  Try to implement strategies that work for you and your family, and be ready to step off the gas when you start to see warning signs that it is coming on again.

You've got this, mama!

Looking for more?  Check out Homeschool Survival!  It includes fifteen unique ideas for homeschooling parents who are:
  • Just getting started
  • Interested in road-schooling
  • Parenting special needs children
  • Parenting teens
  • Have curriculum questions

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