It’s the beginning of November, and we just finished week 9 of our homeschool year. By all external measures, we’re trucking along. But under the surface, I’m feeling tired. These are busy days for me, between keeping up with my kids, my marriage, my home, my work, not to mention my interests. Charlotte Mason encouraged mothers to pursue enjoyment and learning too. And I’m doing this. But the reality is this time of year is hard for me. It has been almost 4 years since our daughter Sarah Grace was born and died. So as the days get shorter and cooler, I feel the dreaded burnout approaching. This isn’t my first rodeo with burnout, so I will share 7 practical tips I have learned that help me fight back.
Reminder: God Cares When I Feel Burned Out
First things first. When I start to feel burnout creeping up, I remind myself that God cares about this. He created me and knows my limits and needs even better than I do. Furthermore, it’s not like Jesus is unaware of what it’s like to be human. He came to earth as a human being, embodied. He experienced hunger, thirst, pain, exhaustion just like I do. He had emotions and had to deal with them in ways that pleased his Father. I am not alone in my human frailty.
But even more, Jesus hasn’t left me alone. He sent the Spirit as a deposit, and the Spirit lives in me. I also have Scripture as a source of encouragement in times of burnout. The psalms demonstrate the ways that God’s people have called out to him in times of discouragement and danger. These psalms, along with passages from the prophets, can offer us words to pray or models of prayer.
Sleep Helps Fight Burnout
I have learned over the years that I need more sleep when I’m starting to experience burnout. During these times I’m less inclined to seek out extra social engagements or new commitments because I don’t want to be out late. The irony is that I often end up doing mindless activities that keep me up too late. I’m tired, but I don’t manage my time well, so I’m up late, and then I’m tired again the next day. It’s a vicious cycle, one I have to work to overcome.
This time last year I was at the beginning of what turned out to be a six-month struggle with insomnia. I didn’t have difficulty falling asleep, but I struggled to stay asleep. I would wake in the middle of the night and toss and turn for a few hours. During these early morning hours, my mind would begin running, thinking about all kinds of things. I learned that talking and praying about these things helps minimize my levels of stress and worry at night.
Nutrition and Burnout
When you’re fighting burnout, you don’t have lots of extra energy to think about things like fancy dinners. I find it helpful to have a list of easy meals that are relatively healthy that I know how to make. This way I know we’re eating nourishing food, and I don’t have to invest lots of energy to create new meals. It also makes grocery shopping easier because I can make a list that can be used week after week.
In our times of survival mode, some of my “go-to” meals are things like roasted chicken legs with rice and vegetable, spaghetti with gluten-free pasta, sauteed onion, peppers, sausage, and greens over rice, beef patties with homemade fries, and roasted broccoli, pumpkin chili, and tacos. What are the relatively healthy meals you know how to make that can be your standbys during burnout?
Exercise and Burnout
I definitely feel like a fraud for including this point. In fact, my lack of regular exercise is probably contributing to burnout. I‘m trying to get back into a regular exercise routine, even if it’s walking in my neighborhood and doing pushups, squats, and tricep dips in the living room. The fact is that exercise is good for me. It’s an area I neglected for the last two months as I was trying to get my homeschool rhythm established. Now it’s time to correct this imbalance.
Music Can Be a Balm
Times of burnout often cause me to retreat into my own head. One way I can stop myself from becoming totally consumed with my own thoughts is music. In the car, I’m drawn to classical music. We have a wonderful local classical station, and I enjoy listening when the news is just too discouraging. While I’m working on the computer, I often find that Enya (and similar artists) help me press through when I’m flagging. And when I’m doing more intense marketing work, the sweeping scores of Hans Zimmer energize me.
As November is officially here, I can listen to Christmas carols without shame. The classic Christmas hymns and old carols are a balm to my heart during a time of year when loss is a close companion. Is there music that ministers to your soul during times of burnout?
Isolation Intensifies Burnout
Even though burnout may make us desire to withdraw from relationships, this a time when we need to stay connected with those who care about us. It takes work and effort to maintain friendships, but we need these relationships because much of our time is spent pouring into the children with whom we spend lots of time. We need to be communicating with our spouse and with close friends. We can’t expect them to read our mind and know what we need. Instead, we need to be open with them when we’re struggling. As we share our hearts with our close friends, we can ask them for prayer and encouragement.
Ask for Help
As homeschool moms, people often think we’re superhuman, even saints. I can assure you I am not superhuman. I spend a lot of time with my kids, and it tends to make me a little crazy. Sometimes I need a break. When my husband gets home, I feel excited. Another adult is in the house. I’m not the only one responsible for two children age 6 and under! Modern-day mothering is full of unrealistic expectations, and sometimes we need to ask for help. For me, this help is often a break from the kids.
I’ve been known to disappear to my bedroom or downstairs after dinner, leaving the other three to have some quality time together. It’s possible to love your kids and need time away from them. I have things I want to read and write, and I can’t do this well with children climbing around me. This time to read, write, and think helps me avoid burnout. I can’t (and shouldn’t) be everything to my children, and I sometimes need help to step away from them.
This is a busy time of year, and we as homeschool moms need to continue the good work we began a few months ago. A Charlotte Mason education isn’t a spring. We need to fight back against the burnout that seeks to swallow us up and continue to set a feast before our children. What are the areas where you struggle most? What tips do you have for keeping burnout at bay? I would love to hear from you. You can email me at hello(at)amblesidetales.com. Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Pinterest to see what we’re doing in our Charlotte Mason homeschool.