I was a health professional with years of experience supporting mums—but even I hit burnout in my motherhood experience. Here are seven things I learned.
In my 30s, I was the co-owner of a busy chiropractic practice and staring down the barrel of a complete life change. We had decided to get married and move to Malaysia for my husband’s work, meaning I would sell my share of the practice.
Then we discovered we were pregnant. I was blessed with a lot of time off prior to the birth. However, I had a traumatic birth experience and we moved back to Malaysia when my baby was just 20 days old. Retrospectively, the support I inherently needed wasn’t as available as I’d hoped. While trying to navigate new motherhood, a foreign country and a babe who thought sleep was for the weak, my handle on calm quickly turned into a world full of rush.
Confronting the motherhood myth
We then moved back to Australia and I began the juggle of working and having a young child. The sanity I felt return to my soul on resuming my career was huge, bringing with it a large amount of mum guilt: The guilt that I didn’t want to be with my child 100 per cent of the time; the guilt in asking for support so that I could do something that really mattered to me; the guilt that maybe, choosing myself a little higher up the chain was necessary . . . but also bad.
The realisations that abounded during this time regarding the myth of the perfect mother really took hold. I realised that we could create our own choices and that my values system—while it had changed with the birth of my first child—was still important. Then we decided to have a second child and I had a newborn and a toddler.
When my second baby was four months old, I decided to open my practice again. As a chiropractor, I could choose my own hours which was an absolute blessing, yet the juggle and balance created a lot of stress around health, mum guilt and connection time.
A few months later, my husband got a job in South Korea. We moved with the kids and embraced the expat life. There, I landed on my feet because I was surrounded by an amazing group of expat women. Most of us were mums with careers we couldn’t continue while living in Asia. We were all navigating a foreign country, schools, supermarkets (yes, it was very different), and discovering who we were. This beautiful village of women opened my eyes to the importance of connection and support.
After two years, we returned as a family unit to central Queensland. Here, I jumped right into work mode again and quickly got caught up in the rush, the busy and the attempts at work-life balance.
I came unstuck in a really big way.
After years of trying to make all of the dots join together, navigating my husband’s FIFO work schedule, being on top of the kids’ schooling, running a business . . . I hit burnout.
I was in “rushing woman mode” for hours and sometimes days on end. It felt normal to always be on the go: Searching for coffee every couple of hours, yelling at the kids, staying up late, sleeping for a few hours when I fell into bed, waking between 2–4 am with anxieties, to-do lists and a feeling of urgency.
7 ways to chase calm
A large part of my recovery was discovering what calm looked like for me, and how to cultivate it into my day. These seven ways that I daily chase calm have truly changed my life, created ease and connection, and brought back an awareness of self that I hadn’t had in years.
How long has it been since you took a really deep breath? The type you feel all the way down to your pelvic floor? Harnessing the power of simple and consistent breath work in my day allowed me to connect back in. When feeling rushed, I stop and focus on two deep and slow breathe cycles, immediately feeling my state shift.
2. Moving my body
Discovering slow, simple and strong ways to move my body that didn’t ramp me into busy mode was key. Goodbye HIIT classes, hello Pilates, weights and cycling.
3. Finding joy
Integrating “joy chasing” in my day (knowing that the more we find it the more it finds us) was a key part of reclaiming my calm. They work in similar brain areas and the more joy I felt, the calmer I was. Basically, I just played really loud music for a while each day = joy activation!
4. Hugging my kids
Simple, but those deep kid cuddles allowed me to feel connection. It also fired off some gorgeous deep muscle receptors, opening up pathways the brain made just for me as a mum, thus significantly decreasing stress response.
5. Bedtime routines
One of the earliest practices I made was creating a simple bedtime routine that worked for me. Lying on an acupressure mat, doing breath work and having a set bedtime all aided in restoring my sleep practices, my restfulness and my calm.
6. Mindfulness practice
It’s all about finding one that worked for me. I am no hour-long meditator, but finding a way to stop and be mindful was key. I began with mindful eating—actually tasting and appreciating my food—and moved towards mindful outdoors movement. Walking in nature without distraction and being fully present was calm activating.
7. Learning how to stop in a moment
The final and continual improvement lesson for me to chase calm was to choose it. On those days when I feel I’m wound up, recognising the feeling and stopping those reactionary responses was key. The more I reframed my response, the increased likelihood of me responding differently occurred. Over time, the calmness choice created a deeper level of calm in my day.
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Dr Ali Young
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