Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!
Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!

April 15, 2024

April 10, 2024

How Stressed Moms Can Cope: Understanding and Breaking Out of the Stress Cycle

E:
220
with
Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout

What You'll Learn

  • Why Women are Stressed (and Why Doctors Don’t Take It Seriously)
  • Human Giver Syndrome and How It Paves the Way for Stressed Moms
  • How Stressed Moms Can Start to Break Away From Social Expectations
  • Internal and External Stress Factors Moms Face
  • How Getting Stuck in the “Stress Cycle” Keeps Moms in an Activated State
  • How Moms Can Break Out of the Stress Cycle

It sometimes feels like we’re living in the stressed mom era—I often hear from clients or moms online that it seems like they are in a constant state of tension and worry. 

It isn’t hard to understand why moms are so stressed. We’re shouldering the invisible load of motherhood, parenting with pressure to do all the things all the time, and living with the idea that every decision we make is high-stakes. 

Transitions, time crunches, and endless to-dos leave us feeling like we’re always activated, even if we’re not in full-blown fight-or-flight mode. And because we often feel that taking time for ourselves is impossible (or that’s it’s selfish to even want to), our bodies don’t get a chance to recharge. 

But what we often don’t realize is that our feelings, our well-being, and our bodies are all interconnected—and if we don’t find ways to break out of the stress cycle, it takes a toll on us. 

It isn’t healthy to try to muddle through life in a constant state of activation—and accepting “stressed mom” status as part of motherhood doesn’t benefit our children. 

We don’t have to accept stress as our default state of being. When we can learn how stress shows up in our bodies, what our triggers are, and how to break away from the stress cycle we are trapped in, we can improve our well-being and show up the way we want for our children and for ourselves. 

Today, I’m joined by Amelia Nagoski, co-author of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, to discuss how our society sets moms up to be stressed, why it leads to burnout, and how moms can break out of the stress cycle. 

Why Women are Stressed (and Why Doctors Don’t Take It Seriously)

Like so many women, Amelia found herself frustrated with the medical system after being dismissed by doctors. After a high-stress situation put her in the hospital with pain and inflammation, she was told that there wasn’t anything wrong with her—it was “just stress.” 

Amelia and her sister Emily became fascinated by the way that women everywhere seemed to be experiencing massive amounts of stress and burnout, and yet weren’t being taken seriously. When Emily published a book on sexuality, she was fascinated by how many women resonated with a tiny snippet about the way stress can impact both women’s sexual and overall well-being. 

This ultimately led them down the path of writing Burnout and shining a light on the way stress is impacting women, and the role that society plays. 

This is something I have seen countless times in the Momwell community. We are often conditioned to take on invisible labor, even from a young age—and when we become moms, that load multiplies. So many of us experience physical and mental responses to stress and burnout. And yet, we often experience medical gaslighting or dismissive conversations with doctors who insist we “just need to relax.” 

Telling moms to “just relax” doesn’t solve the problems they are facing.

Hearing this as a mom can feel extremely frustrating—we’re juggling too many responsibilities, often carrying full-time jobs along with the bulk of the load at home, and the only answer we are given is to take time for “self-care,” which often involves more invisible labor.

Amelia pointed out that not only is that advice unhelpful, but it’s also untrue. Her research has shown that attempting rest or relaxation is not the answer to managing stress—and telling moms to “just relax” doesn’t solve the problems they are facing. 

Instead, the answer centers more around understanding why we are experiencing stress in the first place and creating a protective plan to break ourselves out of the stress cycle. 

Human Giver Syndrome and How It Paves the Way for Stressed Moms

One of the concepts Amelia and Emily cover in the book is the idea of “human giver syndrome.” This idea was originally addressed by Kate Manne in the book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. She theorized that the world is full of two kinds of humans: “beings” and “givers.”

The beings feel a moral obligation to be or express their humanity, while the givers feel a moral obligation to give their humanity, time, lives, and even bodies to the givers. Women are often conditioned to be the givers while men are often conditioned to be the beings. (Amelia pointed out that this exists within any power differential, where those with less power are shaped into the giving role). 

If we were all givers everyone would be cared for and protected.

Amelia said that being a giver isn’t inherently a bad thing—in fact, if we were all givers everyone would be cared for and protected because somebody would be checking up on the givers and supporting them. 

She said that being a human giver only becomes a syndrome when it’s in the context of a power dynamic where the givers place the needs of others above their own and experience guilt or feel selfish if they accept any resources for their own personal care. 

This concept of human giver syndrome aligns closely with the construct of motherhood we are currently living with—the intensive mothering ideology that tells us that moms should give all of their time, energy, and resources to their children, sacrifice their own needs in the process, and find fulfillment only in motherhood. 

When women have been conditioned from birth to fall into specific gender norms of giving, nurturing, and placing others’ needs above their own, and then start mothering in a society that reinforces the idea that “good moms” sacrifice their own needs, it sets them up for stress and burnout. 

Our real responsibility should be to make sure we don’t drain ourselves dry. 

Amelia pointed out that we all deserve care—we often feel an obligation to squeeze ourselves empty like a tube of toothpaste to be discarded. But our real responsibility should be to make sure we don’t drain ourselves dry. 

How Stressed Moms Can Start to Break Away From Social Expectations

Amelia pointed out that we don’t have to just accept human giver syndrome as our default role—there are ways we can break out of it and find the cure. 

One of those ways is to surround ourselves with a support system of people who care about our well-being as much as we care about theirs. These people can help guard us from those outside messages that tell us who we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to act. They can encourage us to sleep, eat, and take time for ourselves because we deserve to have our needs met

Another way is to start listening to our own values rather than subscribing to the outside messages about how we “should” mother. 

We often find ourselves adopting other people’s parenting advice or philosophies, believing that this must be the “right way” to parent. But it’s important to take a step back and consider what our values are—not what works for someone else. 

When we stand strong in our values, we can choose to release labor that doesn’t align with us. 

When we stand strong in our values, we can choose to release labor that doesn’t align with what is most important to us, and start breaking away from the pressure and expectations coming from outside of ourselves. 

Amelia pointed out that the support system we create can also help with this—if we surround ourselves with others who have turned away from the tide and letting go of external messages, it becomes easier to empower ourselves to do so. We can then support each other in mothering with our values and choosing our own path, letting go of the factors that are causing stress and leading us to burnout. 

Internal and External Stress Factors Moms Face

One of the first ways we can start to reduce stress in our lives is by identifying our internal and external stressors. 

External stressors are the things we have to do (and the things we are told we have to do). This can include goals that we are pressured to reach, the judgments we might receive from others, and our actual obligations. 

Internal stressors can include pain, illness, and other actual physical stress factors. Wounds or pain activate our body’s stress response and tell us that there is a threat. But we can receive that same stress response even when there isn’t a real and present threat. This includes internal stress such as worry and anxiety—our brain might be convinced there is danger even when there isn’t. 

We are mothering in a time with an unprecedented volume of external stressors. Social media and the news present horror stories, from global tragedies to school shootings to racism and sexism even within the law. 

It can be hard to cope with all of the external stressors, especially when we are in the throes of early motherhood and dealing with a world of stressors right within our own home. 

Amelia pointed out that this is the first time in history that we have had constant exposure to what’s going on around the world, and it can be overwhelming. 

While there is value in being informed, it’s also okay to put boundaries in place.

While there is value in being informed and supporting causes we believe in, it’s also okay to put boundaries in place—we don’t need to push ourselves to be fully informed and engaged on every topic all the time. It’s also important to remember that the media benefits from instilling fear—and we don’t have to engage in that all the time. 

We can choose to stick to a small list of trusted news sources and check in on a regular basis, such as once a week, instead of being tapped into news at every moment of the day. Reducing our external stressors can free up capacity and mental space that we need. 

How Getting Stuck in the “Stress Cycle” Keeps Moms in an Activated State

Amelia pointed out that when we are overwhelmed with external and internal stressors, we often find ourselves stuck in the stress cycle. We might not feel like we’re panicking or in extreme fight-or-flight, but living in a constant state of stress exhausts our bodies. 

According to polyvagal theory, there are two parts of the nervous system—the parasympathetic (the resting state) and the sympathetic (the activated state, including the fight-or-flight response). Both of these states can be protective—and we aren’t supposed to be in either all the time. 

In the stress cycle, we’re supposed to interact with a stressor, enter the sympathetic response, and return to a state of rest (for example, exercising puts healthy stress on our body, and then we rest afterward). But Amelia said that we often get stuck without a resolution, staying in the sympathetic response. 

For example, we might get angry when we’re cut off in traffic—but we can’t fight or flee, so the cycle doesn’t get completed. We might experience Mom Rage triggers in our homes or become overstimulated with noises that our bodies perceive as threats, but without that resolution, we just stay activated. 

Amelia said that biologically, this response is supposed to protect us from threats. If we came across a tiger, and we ran away and escaped, we would be able to celebrate and rest once the danger was gone and we were in a safe state. 

But in modern society, we’re not escaping and we’re not celebrating. Stressors just keep piling up and keeping us activated, leaving us feeling like we never enter the safe state. The cortisol and adrenaline that flood our bodies during the activated state don’t have anywhere to go—we never complete the stress response. 

Amelia said that our bodies will hold onto the stress until they get an opportunity to feel as if we have moved from danger to safety. That means that if we want to break out of the stress cycle, we have to find a way to complete that cycle for our bodies. 

How Moms Can Break Out of the Stress Cycle

One of the best ways to complete the cycle is physical activity—which is an effective stress reliever for many people. It takes us out of the activated state and finishes the response, putting us into the ventral or safety state. 

But Amelia pointed out that not everyone reacts to physical activity the same way. There are other ways stressed moms can break out of the cycle. 

Some other options can include cuddling your baby or hugging a trusted love one for a full 20 seconds. This gives our bodies a sense of safety and security. Creative self-expression, big belly laughs, or a good cry are other options. 

Amelia pointed out that there are also things that might not be studied by science but that work for us as individuals. She encourages everyone to take time to notice what our bodies respond to, what makes us feel safe, and what brings us out of the activated state. 

One of the simplest go-to methods for reducing stress in the moment is mindful breathing. But Amelia pointed out that this is a temporary coping mechanisms—for stressed moms, this won’t be enough by itself to combat the stress or move you through the cycle. That’s why it’s important to find other outlets that create that sense of safety.

If we want to show up for our children, we need to take care of ourselves.

We often feel that we have to be the safe place for our children, but we don’t provide that same sense of safety and security for ourselves. But if we want to show up for our children as the moms we want to be, we need to take care of ourselves, our bodies, and our overall well-being. 

The more we practice this form of real self-care for ourselves, the more we can break the stress cycle, and allow our bodies to move between states as they were intended to.

We can even take this concept directly into parenting—repairing after tough moments where we lost our cool is a way to create that sense of safety and re-establish the bond, both for ourselves and our children. 

Overall, we have to remember that we matter—our feelings, our stress levels, and our physical well-being matters. We can’t put ourselves on the backburner and expect to be okay. Instead, we need to prioritize our well-being and take time to address our needs. 

Working with a mom therapist can help you establish real self-care practices, manage stress, and prioritize your well-being! Book a FREE 15 minute consultation today.

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

Stress, Overwhelm, Burnout

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout

Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A. (it stands for Doctorate of Musical Arts) is the co-author, with her sister Emily, of the New York Times bestselling Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle and the Burnout workbook. Her job is to run around waving her arms and making funny noises and generally doing whatever it takes to help singers get in touch with their internal experience.

She lives in New England with her husband and two rescue dogs.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
April 29, 2024
April 24, 2024
Understanding and Implementing Responsive Parenting: How to Break the Yelling/Shame Cycle
E:
222
with
Dr. Cindy Hovington
Founder of Curious Neuron
April 22, 2024
April 17, 2024
How to Maintain Friendships (and Make Friends) as a Mom
E:
221
with
Danielle Bayard Jackson
Author
April 15, 2024
April 10, 2024
How Stressed Moms Can Cope: Understanding and Breaking Out of the Stress Cycle
E:
220
with
Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout
April 1, 2024
March 6, 2024
Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts About Baby: The Role of Stress, Anxiety, and Anger
E:
215
with
Dr. Caroline Boyd
Clinical Psychologist
March 25, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
February 26, 2024
January 31, 2024
Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms
E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist
April 25, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
October 11, 2023
Embracing the 7 Types of Rest: Why Moms Are Exhausted and What Actually Helps
E:
194
with
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
Board-Certified internal medicine physician and award-winning author
February 20, 2024
October 4, 2023
Interpreting Newborn Hunger Cues and Sleepy Signs: How to Learn Your Baby’s Needs
E:
193
with
Sharon Mazel
Author of Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 23, 2023
Understanding Sensory Self-Care: How Overstimulated Moms Can Regulate and Regain Calm
E:
187
with
Holly Peretz
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
August 16, 2023
Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom
E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
March 29, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 2: Facing Pregnancy After a Traumatic Birth
E:
166
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 22, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 1: How Birth Trauma Impacts Our Family Decision Making
E:
165
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 16, 2022
Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies
E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 12, 2022
How to Know if You Have Postpartum Anxiety: Red Flags to Watch for in Pregnancy, Birth, and After Baby
E:
142
with
Dr. Sarah Oreck
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
October 5, 2022
Protecting Maternal Sleep: The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression
E:
141
with
Dr. Nicole Leistikow
Reproductive Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
August 3, 2022
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Why Support Matters and How to Find Resources to Help
E:
132
with
Dr. Wendy Davis
Executive Director of PSI
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 16, 2022
What is Matrescence? The Transition into Motherhood (And Why Being a New Mom is Hard)
E:
108
with
Dr. Katayune Kaeni
Perinatal Psychologist
February 20, 2024
February 2, 2022
Discover Your Personal Core Values
E:
106
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 5, 2022
Sleep Training Doesn't Have To Be Scary
E:
102
with
Dr. Aubrie DeBear
Founder of Baby Sleep Dr.
February 20, 2024
January 19, 2022
Carrying the Mental Load: How to Redistribute the Burden and Give Moms More Freedom
E:
104
with
Eve Rodsky
New York Times Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
January 12, 2022
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression: How to Spot the Signs So You Can Seek Support
E:
103
with
Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
December 29, 2021
Decluttering: The Secret of an Easy to Tidy Home
E:
101
with
Katy Wells
Declutter Expert
February 20, 2024
December 22, 2021
100th Episode: Erica’s Husband Tells All
E:
100
with
Frenel Djossa
February 20, 2024
December 15, 2021
The Pressure to Get It Right
E:
99
with
Dr. Jen Douglas
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 24, 2021
Overcoming Gender Disappointment
E:
96
with
Dr. Renée Miller
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 17, 2021
Adding a Sibling to Your Family
E:
95
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
November 10, 2021
Regulating Your Nervous System
E:
94
with
Dr. Quincee Gideon
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
October 13, 2021
Momming With ADHD
E:
90
with
Dr. Melissa Shepard
Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
October 6, 2021
Supporting NICU Moms
E:
89
with
Kristin Reinhart
Registered Social Worker
February 20, 2024
September 22, 2021
Working As A Mother
E:
87
with
Dr. Courtney Tracy
Founder of The Truth Doctor
February 20, 2024
September 8, 2021
Caring for the Postpartum Brain
E:
85
with
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
Neuroanatomist
February 20, 2024
August 18, 2021
Is Breastfeeding Worth Our Mental Health?
E:
82
with
Johanna Phillips
Maternal Mental Health Specialist
February 20, 2024
August 11, 2021
Exploring Mommy Wine Culture
E:
81
with
Michelle Smith
Addictions Counselor
February 20, 2024
July 28, 2021
When Treatment Becomes Trauma
E:
79
with
Dr. Quincee Gideon
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
July 21, 2021
PMS or Something More?
E:
78
with
Dr. Nichelle Haynes
Perinatal Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
June 23, 2021
The Self-Compassionate Mother
E:
74
with
Dr. Kristin Neff
Associate Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
June 16, 2021
The Overstimulated Mommy
E:
73
with
Larissa Geleris
Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
June 9, 2021
Mom Brain
E:
72
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
Neuroscientist and Psychotherapist