There are those mornings when you can’t think straight, when packing your kids’ lunches redlines your brain’s tachometer, and it’s hard to imagine how you’ll complete all the steps it takes to get them out the door for school. And sometimes those mornings turn into days, days full of instances where you can’t recall that detail from that work project, and jumping from one task to another goes as well as a failed obstacle run on “American Ninja Warrior,” and when ‘what was I doing again?’ becomes your constant internal refrain.
It can feel, at times, like your brain is stuck in a fog. These days, unfortunately, there is the possibility you suffer from actual ‘brain fog,’ a quasi-clinical term for various slow-processing symptoms tied to serious conditions, not the least of which is long COVID. But, just as likely, what you’re experiencing is the physical and emotional fatigue that often comes with parenting.
Call it ‘parenting fog,’ or by its more widely used name — burnout. And you probably know it by its signs: forgetfulness, trouble focusing, listlessness, irritability. It’s important to note here that these can once again be symptoms of, or precursors to, something more severe: clinical depression. But if what you’re experiencing is more of a mental rut, there are some physical, psychological, and social tweaks you can make to your routine to help get your head out of the fog and get yourself back up to speed. Here are a few to remember.
1. Identify Your Stressors
What are the things that stress you out about your day-to-day process? Identify them. Write them down. Then choose between finding ways to improve those situations, or letting go of trying so hard to make them perfect. Either way, hone in on them and decide how to approach them in a healthier way. “Because trying to tackle everything at once is even more overwhelming and it really would be to your detriment to try to figure out and solve all those things,” says Naiylah Warren, a therapist for the mental health app Real. This approach is specifically helpful, Warren says, if your fatigue is combined with irritability or a short temper.
2. Ask For Help
It’s important to identify your support system, says Warren. Ask your spouse for their input, or ask them to swap certain duties with you for a day or two to mix things up and break up the routine. If you have family or willing friends or neighbors near you, tap them in to help out periodically.
3. Stop Pursuing Perfection
“Parent burnout is very real and every parent has been there,” says Jen McConaghie, a mom of four and the founder of the parenting guide “This Time of Mine.” For parents feeling both overwhelmed and disconnected, she says it’s important to remember that parenting feels hard because it is, in fact, hard, not because you’re doing something wrong. It’s important for parents to let go of preconceived notions of perfection, both for their children’s behavior and their own. “Move away from guilt and make intentional choices you can control,” she says. “For example, ‘I should stop yelling’ can become ‘I could keep yelling, or I could practice a new coping strategy.’”
4. Force Yourself to Get More Sleep
It’s easy to say you’re going to get more sleep at night, but to actually do so you just have to make small changes to your evening routine that actually get you to bed earlier — without your phone in hand. Warren says that, as much as possible, even experienced parents should try to follow the old adage for new parents: sleep when your kid is sleeping.
Mental exhaustion and so-called brain fog have physical symptoms, including inflammation that slows down neural pathways in the brain. “Exercise has been shown to have atrophic effect[s] on the brain and improve both brain circulation and regeneration of neurons,” says Dr. Maura Boldrini, director of the Quantitative Brain Biology Institute at Columbia University. Exercise has been proven to boost endorphins, too, and when those endorphins and neurons are flowing, your brain works faster and your mood gets better. It’s science.