Mothers on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the psychological account of the pandemic

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Robert Maurer

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People who have never suffered from anxiety are falling under the weight of the tension and stress caused by the coronavirus, obsessed with excessively long isolation. Mothers' mental health, in particular, may be the worst part of this story. Choked by long days of teleworking at home and with the children to look after without any outside support, their effort has been so titanic that it's understandable that they are exhausted, practically on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Mothers' mental health suffers in quarantine

A study conducted at the University of the Basque Country highlighted the consequences of the coronavirus crisis on the mental health of mothers. After interviewing 6.829 people, 46% acknowledged that they found an increase in general psychological distress, but women reported a greater impact: 12% said they felt very ill, compared to 6,8% of men.

One in three people had difficulty focusing and disconnecting from worries during the pandemic, but these symptoms were more common in women (46,5%) than men (35,6%).

The gap widens when it comes to anxiety or distress because 44% of women reported an increase in these problems, compared to 25% of men. Depressive feelings, guilt or despair are also more intense in women. And it is they who have suffered the most intense loss of confidence, optimism, serenity, vitality and energy.

Crushed by the weight of obligations and with no way out

The fears, anxieties and uncertainty of the current situation have become fertile ground on which other problems grow. Suddenly, many women had to combine work from home with housework and full-time childcare, which added an extra dose of stress, worry, and obligations to their lives.

At first, many thought it would be a question of adapting to the new situation. Try to solve it. Put all the pieces together like a puzzle. Find creative strategies for working with children at home. Get up a little earlier in the morning. Go to bed a little later at night.

But when this situation continues over time, when we lose more and more hours of sleep and lack the external support and infrastructure necessary to work from home knowing that the children are being cared for, the anguish grows. It accumulates.

Many of these mothers have lost the precious help of their grandparents or the support of the school for childcare. Not only did they have to face very busy days, but they didn't even have the opportunity to disconnect. They couldn't relax for a second for weeks. They didn't have time for themselves. They have not been able to engage in enjoyable activities that allow them to disconnect from the daily grind and relieve tension.

When the overload continues over time, anxiety and stress soon appear. This ends up affecting mood. Irritability, frustration and anger appear. All this makes them nervous. And it's not strange because they are already on edge, literally. At this point, mothers' mental health is already damaged.

Excessive activity is always followed by a brutal fall

We cannot ask too much of ourselves over and over again. Our body responds to an increase in the demands of the environment by putting in place all the resources to face the problems. During times of stress, the body releases key hormones - glucocorticoids like cortisol, catecholamines like norepinephrine and adrenaline - to prepare us for the future.

These hormones not only provide us with the necessary energy and boost, but they can also act as mitigating factors to make us resist. But we cannot maintain this level of alertness and activity eternally.

A period of enormous stress and strain is followed by a brutal drop in performance. We run out of strength physically and mentally. The hormones that have kept us active drop below basal levels. So many mothers are going through a phase of apathy and indifference which is the breeding ground of depression.

To get through this phase we have to take time, be patient with ourselves. Leave behind the feeling that "we can't do everything" or "we haven't done enough". Because it is likely that we will not be able to do everything, but it is not essential. We are in an emergency situation, so we need to prioritize. And one of the things we need to prioritize is our own mental health.

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