Dr Ali Young is a chiropractor and author of Work. Mama. Life., a new book aiming to help working mothers achieve balance in their work and personal lives and ultimately avoid burnout. She joined editor Cec Busby on the Flying Solo podcast to share some tips with other working mums who are finding the daily grind a bit too much to bear.
As a business veteran of 19 years and a mother herself, Dr Ali Young has plenty of insight into the unique challenges working mothers face. It was her personal experience with burnout that helped Ali realise that she wanted to help other working mums avoid the same fate.
When burnout becomes a significant health challenge
As more and more research is done, it is becoming quite clear that stress and burnout don’t just affect our mental health, they can have severe consequences for our physical health. Ali knows this fact all too personally.
“I have lived overseas and juggled trying to keep things happening back in Australia as well as small children, and I got to a point where I hit burnout,” Ali reveals. “I felt like I had no time to do anything well; I wasn’t able to look after my health well, I wasn’t running my practice well, I didn’t feel like I was mothering well. And it’s because I was spreading myself thin.
“The way it showed up in my burnout was a significant health challenge where I thought I had cancer or multiple sclerosis, as did my doctors. I was freaking out. We did a lot of testing, and it turned out it was just that my brain was burnt out. It was tired, and I needed to learn how to nurture it better.
“I didn’t even realise I’d got there until it hit me in the face,” Ali admits. “As a health professional, I probably should have. But it made me realise that if I can get to that point, there are a lot of other high-level working mums that also can, and that’s what started the book journey.
“It came down to prioritising what mattered most to me and looking at my values, systems, and procedures; then calling in support and doing the most important things first.”
Listen to Dr Ali Young on the Flying Solo podcast:
Essential tips to combat burnout
Ali says a critical factor in avoiding burnout is recognising when your stress levels are mounting before you hit the point of no return.
“One of the key things to recognise is a low threshold for change and for things altering in your world. That point where the smallest change in your schedule for the day makes you cranky; or your kids are doing something which you might typically find pretty funny or joyful, and you just can’t deal with that going on in your world because your life is running on that very thin edge of normality.”
“We need to give ourselves permission to look after ourselves first,” says Ali. “Maybe you need a mummy time-out where you hand off the children to your partner and say, ‘I need half an hour or an hour to myself’. Maybe it’s as simple as prioritising movement for your body, or more of a long-term venture. Look at nourishing yourself and how to do it simply – no fad diets! I also suggest sleeping well and practising small parts of calm in your day.”
But Ali says the most crucial step busy working mums should take is reconnecting with people socially.
“Connecting with our people is what we get rid of first when we are busy. We say, ‘I’m not going to catch up for that wine or that coffee or that exercise class; I’m just going to keep working and mumming’. And that’s the downfall.
“I think we have this innate sense within us that if we keep ticking things off the to-do list, it’s going to relieve the pressure. Whereas our human brain needs connection with other people to function at its best. And actually scheduling that time in is vital.”
Learning to say no or ask for help
“I think that a working mum myth is that we need to do everything ourselves,” says Ali. “We get caught up in the ‘busy’, and we just keep doing all of the things, but we haven’t actually looked at if they are the things we want to do. It’s so easy to fall into that trap.
“I think it’s starting with the small things and learning that ‘no’ is a really great word. I was a very big ‘yes’ lady. I am a people pleaser; I would say ‘yes’ to everything. I think focusing on what mattered to me and then changing my answer – and thinking before I answered – was important for my boundary-setting.
“Also calling in help, even within my family unit. Saying, ‘come on, kids, do your chore’ or, ‘come on, partner, pull your socks up’. Maybe it comes down to your partner picking the kids up one day a week, doing dinner or a night-time feed, or taking over the sports organisation. It’s about figuring out how to get the teamwork happening to make everyone’s lives function better.”
When it comes to making positive changes to your life and routine, Ali says taking small steps is the key to starting.
“Look at your week and the time you have and ask yourself, what matters most? Is movement really important to you; is eating well? Just choose one of those things that you can take back control of. When we reclaim a bit of control in one tiny area, that can start a shift towards making small, positive steps in your life and in your family’s environment.
“I always tell mums that if we look after ourselves, the ripple effect out to family members when showing up as our best self is huge.”
Get your hands on a copy of Work. Mama. Life. by Dr Ali Young at all good bookstores or online.