Why is Mum Life so Exhausting? Understanding Cortisol and Overwhelm

Being a mum can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life, but let’s get real – it can also be extremely tiring. From the early days of endless nappy changes, sleepless nights and working out feeding routines to managing “terrible twos” and school challenges. The daily grind of motherhood can leave even the strongest of mums feeling utterly exhausted and overwhelmed. While a number of factors contribute to this exhaustion, one often overlooked aspect is how cortisol, the stress hormone, shapes the motherhood experience.

Understanding Cortisol:

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It’s often referred to as the body’s “fight or flight” hormone because it’s released in situations where we perceive danger or threat. While cortisol serves an important function in helping us respond to stressful situations, prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol can have detrimental effects on both our physical and mental health.

building blocks spelling cortisol

Motherhood Memes: A Light-hearted Reflection

Throughout social media, #mumlife memes have become a popular way for mums to connect and commiserate over the challenges of raising children. These memes often humorously depict the trials and tribulations of motherhood, from the chaos of mealtime to the struggle of getting kids to bed. While they may make us laugh or give a knowing nod, behind the humour lies a deeper truth about the realities of mum life stress.

Many of these memes resonate with mums everywhere – the never-ending laundry pile, the constant battle against sticky fingerprints, the struggle to find a moment of peace and quiet. While they may seem trivial on the surface, these everyday stressors can add up, triggering the release of cortisol and contributing to feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion.

Mums are basically part of an experiment  to prove that sleep  is not a crucial part of human life

The Impact of Stress Hormones on Motherhood:

When mums are constantly bombarded with stress nuggets, whether it’s a crying baby or a mountain of dirty dishes, our bodies go into overdrive, releasing cortisol in response to the “perceived threat”.

This chronic stress can manifest in a variety of ways – from fatigue and irritability to anxiety and depression. It can also disrupt sleep, making it even harder for us mums to recharge and recover from the demands of motherhood. In this way, the seemingly harmless humour of motherhood memes can serve as a reminder of the very real challenges that mums face daily.

The Mum’s Stress Cycle:

Now, let’s consider the typical day of a mum. From the moment we wake to the moment we finally collapses into bed at night, we are constantly juggling a million tasks – feeding the kids, getting them ready for school, managing household chores, and perhaps even balancing a job or business or both. Each of these tasks, no matter how mundane, can trigger a stress response in the body, leading to the release of cortisol.

As the day goes on and the stressors pile up, cortisol levels remain elevated, putting the body in a state of chronic stress. This not only leaves mums feeling frazzled and overwhelmed but also has long-term implications for their health. High levels of cortisol have been linked to a host of health problems, including weight gain, immune suppression, and even cardiovascular disease.

The Sleep Struggle:

One of the most significant impacts of elevated cortisol levels on mums is its effect on sleep. Cortisol follows a natural rhythm throughout the day, peaking in the morning to help us wake up and declining as the day goes on to prepare us for sleep. However, in chronically stressed individuals – like many mums – this rhythm can be disrupted, leading to difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep.

So, even when mums do manage to carve out some precious time for rest, they may find themselves lying awake at night, their minds racing with worries and to-do lists. This vicious cycle of stress and sleep deprivation only serves to perpetuate feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm, leaving us mums feeling like we are constantly running on empty.

Breaking the Cycle:

Breaking free from the cycle of stress and exhaustion isn’t easy, but it’s essential for the health and well-being of ourselves and our families. Fortunately, there are steps that we can take to help manage our cortisol levels and reclaim some much-needed balance in our lives.

Here are a few ways you can regain the balance in your life manage those cortisol levels.

  1. Prioritise Self-Care: Self-care isn’t selfish – it’s essential for your well-being. Make time for activities that nourish your body and soul, whether it’s indulging in a bubble bath, reading a book, or practising mindfulness meditation. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so prioritise yourself.
  2. Establish Boundaries: Learn to set boundaries and say no to commitments that drain your energy. It’s okay to delegate tasks and ask for help when needed. By protecting your time and energy, you’ll prevent burnout and preserve your sanity.
  3. Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or support groups for help and emotional support. Surround yourself with a network of people who understand and validate your experiences as a mum. You’re not alone on this journey.
  4. Practice Stress-Relief Techniques: Incorporate stress-relief techniques into your daily routine to manage the inevitable stress of motherhood. Whether it’s deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery, find what works for you and make it a priority.
  5. Get Quality Sleep: Prioritise sleep by creating a soothing bedtime routine and maintaining a comfortable sleep environment. Turn off screens before bed and try relaxation techniques to help you unwind. Quality sleep is essential for your physical and mental well-being.
  6. Stay Active: Exercise is a natural mood booster and energy enhancer. Find ways to stay active, whether it’s going for a walk, doing yoga, or dancing around the living room with your kids. Movement is medicine for both body and soul.
  7. Maintain a Healthy Diet: Fuel your body with nutritious foods that provide sustained energy throughout the day. Opt for whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Your body will thank you for it.
  8. Manage Your Time Wisely: Use tools like calendars and to-do lists to prioritise tasks and manage your time effectively. Break tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps and tackle them one at a time. By staying organized, you’ll reduce stress and increase productivity.
  9. Connect with Your Partner: Parenting is a team effort, so communicate openly with your partner and share responsibilities. Support each other through the ups and downs of parenthood, and remember to make time for nurturing your relationship outside of parenting duties.
  10. Be Kind to Yourself: Above all, be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and it’s okay to have bad days and make mistakes. Practice self-compassion and give yourself permission to rest and recharge when needed. You deserve it.

Motherhood is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs in the world, but its a marathon not a sprint so it’s no wonder that mums often find themselves feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. By understanding the role of cortisol in shaping the experience of motherhood, mums can begin to take proactive steps to manage their stress levels and prioritise their own well-being. Remember, a happy and healthy mum is better equipped to take care of her family.

So don’t be afraid to make self-care no1 priority! – We deserve it!

Nina x


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