Burnout as a Young Working Mom with Alexandra Stark

In our 32nd episode, Sofie is joined by Alexandra Stark, a licensed mental health psychotherapist, to discuss the impact of burnout on working mothers. Throughout the episode, Alexandra uses her professional expertise and knowledge to paint a picture of how burnout can disrupt work, life, and family dynamics. She also shares invaluable tips to help young mothers combat this state of exhaustion and emphasizes setting proper boundaries is the key to young women being both great parents and great professionals.

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About the Guest

Alexandra Stark

My name is Alex. I am a coach and a mom. I’m also a real person. I like wine, vacations and spending time with my family. I once lived on a ship for a year in Panama (the country), while managing a remote, high end marlin fishing lodge in the Pacific Ocean.

My practice is dedicated to helping high achieving women, especially Moms in Executive Leadership & business owners succeed at work while staying present, being connected at home and leading fulfilled, balanced lives.

I understand how the path to a successful career can make it seem impossible to lead a balanced life. After all, the world will not only ask more of you than you can possibly give, but demand that you never stop giving of yourself. But let me tell you a secret– Not only is balance possible, but it’s quite a bit of fun. What’s more, by finding balance and satisfaction in your personal life, you can perform better in your career.

Oh, by the way – I am also a licensed mental health psychotherapist with a practice active in 3 states. Before going into business for myself, I had over 10 years experience in executive level leadership in a large nonprofit focused on education and mental health. I am a mom to two young daughters and am all too familiar with the fact that if left unchecked, career pressure and burnout can take over your life.

In fact, that’s how this Executive Burnout Coaching program came to be.

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/alexstarkcoaching

Website: https://www.starktherapeutic.com/

Transcript:

Sofie: Hello everyone and welcome back to Claim Your Potential, the empowerment podcast. I’m your host, Sofie, and today I’m joined by Alexandra Stark to discuss an insightful topic of burnout among young working mothers. 

With a rich background in coaching and a deep resonance with the challenges faced by high-achieving women, especially those juggling executive leadership roles and business ownership, Alex brings a fresh and distinct perspective to the conversation. Beyond her coaching expertise, Alex is also a licensed mental health psychotherapist, with an active practice spanning three states. Drawing from over a decade of executive level leadership within a nonprofit where her focus was on education mental health, Alex also possesses an intimate understanding of the very pressures that often lead to burnout, especially for dedicated working moms. 

Please welcome, Alexandra Stark. Thank you so much for being with us today, Alexandra.

Alexandra Stark: Thank you so much Sofie for having me on, I really appreciate it.

Sofie: It is a pleasure to have you on and I would love to start our episode hearing a little bit about your journey. You know, what made you want to get into to – to coaching? And then you also have your – your mental health practice. So I’m really curious what that journey was like for you?

Alexandra Stark: Sure. So I started my career as a in nonprofit and was there for about ten years and kind of worked my way up in that nonprofit to an executive level leadership role and really found that I enjoyed and loved being in that role so much. I learned a lot and the organization that I worked with was specifically catering to adolescent girls and young women through empowerment and coaching, education and mental health. And I just thought it was such a fantastic mission and really learned during that time that a lot of the women that I worked with, you know, kind of around my age, were starting the families and having kids and so it was then that I realized that, you know, being a mom in a leadership role with kids was, you know, definitely spark some challenges just from a you know, kind of time perspective. And you know making sure to do both – both things really well.  

So when I left that role, I jumped into private practice. I had been a licensed therapist the whole time I was in nonprofit but had never done private practice. Jumped into private practice working specifically with moms, ah working moms, high achieving moms and leadership roles. Who were feeling lots of stress, anxiety, guilt, really had worked so hard to get where they were in their career but then also felt that the pressures of motherhood and career combined were, you know, were just too much. So they were coming into the therapy space, you know, really wanting to work through those things which ended up really turning out to be burnout. So when we figured that out and I started to see that pattern come through my therapy space more frequently, I started, you know, thinking that there’s – there has to be a way to kind of help more women and be of a bigger impact rather than just in the therapy space. So then I created the coaching program through a different business to specifically use a hybrid model, executive coaching and burnout prevention and recovery model to help women who are in working moms, in leadership roles who want to do both and who are great at both and just need some support in really managing what that looks like.

Sofie: Yeah. And you mentioned that you understood that struggle and so as someone who understands the challenges of juggling career and family, you know, I know that you mentioned what motivated you, but what is that aha moment? Or I know, that we all have that maybe it’s – it’s someone that came into our life, but what was that aha moment for you where you really decided that executive burnout coaching, specifically aimed at helping those young working moms, avoid burnout was the path for you?

Alexandra Stark: Well, I think it was probably part of my own, you know, personal journey when I was feeling just kind of overwhelmed with all, you know, running the business, I have two little girls, just kind of managing, you know, just life in general. And I started thinking about, you know, maybe I need to go talk to a career coach which I did. And through my time with the career coach, you know, we started kind of talking about, you know, what is it that you really – what’s kind of the barrier here, you know. Is it time? Is it – is it the work itself? Is it – is it finances? Um and through that time with her, you know, really recognized that it wasn’t that I disliked my profession because I actually really love it and have – have been doing it for a long time but needed something a little bit different and a little bit, you know, a little bit newer for me. And so with the addition of the coaching piece, it was actually a suggestion that was made by a coach to look into being a coach. Um, so it was really through that that I kind of was like, “oh this – this makes a whole lot of sense for me. I think this would make sense and I think this would be a really great next step.” 

Sofie: Absolutely and that’s so fascinating to hear that – that a coach told you to go down the road of coaching. I think that’s kind of a fun full circle moment there.  

Alexandra Stark: I know.  

Sofie: And for our listeners to provide a bit of context for them, you know, when we talk about burnout, how do you see burnout manifest, especially among young working moms?

Alexandra Stark: Sure. So burnout looks like pure physical mental exhaustion. Typically, you know, we the term burnout really is specifically related to career and work. Although, sometimes it’s used more casually. You know, mom burnout or and other ways. But in this context, it’s actually classified by the World Health Organization as a syndrome. So it’s not – it’s not a full diagnosis. It’s not a mental health diagnosis or a physical diagnosis but you can –  um it is an indicator that some people can go to the doctor for it. It can be coded and that was a really big deal that happened for the world of burnout because it’s now being recognized and validated. It looks like exhaustion, disconnection with family and friends, sometimes weight fluctuations, um it looks like feeling dread – just a sheer sense of dread when you have to go to work. Um it looks like just not feeling able to focus, not being able to concentrate, brain fog, feeling like you just cannot detach from work constantly. You know, checking, checking, checking emails messages. Always being on, always being available, by the end of the day when you’re done with work, just you don’t have the capacity to do anything else in your life. So not really a whole lot to do with personal life, relationships, spouse, even kids, so it’s – it’s hugely impactful um experience that most people have a hard time recognizing at first sometimes. They don’t know what it is or they think they just hate their job or they think they’re depressed or have anxiety. Um so it does kind of sometimes take a while and typically it’s cyclical so you may go through a period of burnout. And then, you know, think okay I need a vacation and they take your vacation and you kind of feel better while you’re on your vacation and come back and kind of experience a similar thing three months later.

Sofie: Yeah. And for young working moms that are experiencing burnout, what are some perhaps practical tips that they can really employ to recognize and address burnout before it takes that massive toll on their well-being and professional performance?

Alexandra Stark: Sure. That’s a great question. And I feel like the prevention piece is key. I – I work with women who both are in the recovery, you know, timeline but also women who just want to prevent it. They know about it. They’ve kind of seen a little bit of it popping up in their lives. And they’re ready to kind of tackle it before it becomes, you know, a really chronic concern, a chronic issue. So some strategies I would recommend would be setting really strong and healthy boundaries with your work. Really starting that process by recognizing your own value system, your own core beliefs, and kind of the priorities that you have set in your life as a whole. Sometimes burnout prevention focuses too much on the tangibles and the to-dos and that needs to happen as well, but that needs to be secondary. The primary piece of this is kind of looking more internally with, you know, your own value system, how your values relate to your work, your core beliefs as far as how they relate to work and home. How you want your life to look like and then from there manage the tangible pieces like strong healthy boundaries, learning how to be an assertive and clear communicator, learning the power of no, how to say no, you know, in a way that makes sense for you in your work life.  

Also, I like to use the term overall wellness rather than just self-care. I feel like self-care kind of became a buzz word and it has, you know, some mismeanings, but really just looking at your overall wellness and well-being as a whole rather than just a tiny part of, you know, self-care. So having self-compassion, also mindfulness meditation is really huge. Understanding in the practice of being mindful and present and living in the here and now rather than what’s going to happen tomorrow or yesterday is a really helpful tool.

Sofie: Yeah, and I love that you mentioned that prevention piece. How a lot of it is about prevention rather than treating the symptom so to speak. And I feel like a lot of – of what contributes to this burnout is this desire to be perfect and so how do you guide your clients, especially those young working moms that are trying to juggle it all? How do you guide them in letting go of perfectionism and really embracing a more sustainable approach to managing their responsibilities?

Alexandra Stark: I love that you mention that, Sofie. That perfectionism piece because that is –that’s so spot on. A lot of times, you know, women will have a piece or a little, you know, nod to perfectionism. Also see a lot of guilt, people pleasing, that kind of all goes in the same category. Right? So perfectionism is typically bred in earlier years, through you know how you receive and respond to personal achievements and accolades. And a lot of times we learn as younger people and also yeah, you know, young working moms that we get a lot of accolades in the workspace but maybe not so much at home. I mean anyone who’s raised, you know, a toddler or a young baby, they’re not walking around thanking you all the time for your efforts and parenting. Right? So we see a lot of, you know, if the workspace is where a lot of times like young working moms will get you know the, “hey, wow that’s a really wonderful presentation.” Or a, “good job on that, you know, budget report.” Or, “you did an excellent job with the board of directors today.” So that’s where they kind of derive their success and their value. So they kind of bolster that in their perfectionism and try to do all of those things to be perfect at work to receive. You know, the internal validation that maybe they aren’t getting in other places in their lives so in order to kind of combat that, we learn a lot about how to drive personal and internal validation through other areas of your life. Finding things in your life that maybe, you know, someone isn’t saying great job on this report, but even something like, seeing your child, you know, use a skill that you’ve taught them. Even little small things like seeing, you know, your – your little one learns how to tie their shoes or seeing them get, you know, a glass of water by themselves before being before you have to get it for them. Where it’s even things like sleeping through the nights. So these are all skills that we don’t think about as, you know, deriving personal success in accolades. But if we can kind of swing the pendulum a little bit more to finding that joy and that personal satisfaction from other things in life besides work, it typically will reduce that need to feel that perfectionism in the workplace.

Sofie: Yeah, oh my goodness. The – as you were speaking, I was thinking back to just the amount of times that I have felt that overwhelming sense of, “I need to be perfect. I need to make sure that everything I’m doing is making other people around me happy. That the work I’m doing is perfect in that no one is ah – like everyone is, you know, happy with me and everyone, you know.” And it’s that very strong sense of, as you said, people pleasing and perfectionism and so it’s wonderful to hear those strategies there because I know that’s definitely pieces that I need to start employing. And definitely I love that piece of, you know, finding ways to appreciate others, especially other women I think that’s something that we as women sometimes forget to do, um, it’s almost like we have our blinders on where it’s, “I got to work, I got to work, I got to work. I can’t focus on anything else right now. You know I want to have that – that professional success and we don’t take the time to take those blinders off and go wait a second, “there’s other women around me that are probably struggling with this too.” And so maybe just that small common of you know, “great job with that expense reporter or great job with presenting to the board today or you know what, I know there’s been a lot going on, you’re doing great.” Just those bits of encouragement I feel like are so helpful and I know that when I get that, I feel so empowered. I feel so happy. I feel so motivated to keep going because it’s – it’s that sense of someone’s recognizing the work that I’m doing. Yeah and as we’re talking about burnout, I think something that’s going through my mind is I feel like a lot of the time burnout can really creep up on us without us realizing it and so are there any early warning signs or red flags that we should be mindful of to really proactively address, you know, burnout before it happens kind of going back to that – that prevention rather than symptom? 

Alexandra Stark: Yes, there are there are really, ah, like – like you said a ton of warning signs, but a lot of times we don’t know what to look for. Right? Sometimes we think, you know, as – as working moms, “well this is just what I signed up for.” Or, “this is just kind of my life.” Or you know, “we – I’m working mom and I have two kids or one kid.” Or whatever and it’s just this is just this is it. Right? Like this is my life. So a lot of times we just think that that’s the way it’s supposed to be and so it takes a little bit longer to recognize. But if we know what to look for, then definitely that prevention route is going to be huge. So you’re just going to want to look for, there’s a couple things, so physical symptoms you might see. Like I mentioned before is just like kind of sheer exhaustion. Not just like, “oh I’ve had a rough day and I’m tired,” but just that sheer exhaustion that maybe used to show up in your life once a month but now you’re feeling it every single day. You’re coming home and you’re crashing. You can’t even fathom, you know, cooking dinner and doing the laundry and playing with your kid. That just, you know, you just kind of sit around and a lot of times there’s a disconnection involved. So we’ll see women kind of sitting on the corner of the couch, like just scrolling on their phone. Like while their kids are playing, not because they don’t love their kids or don’t want to play with their kids, but they’re just so exhausted and mentally depleted that they don’t have the capacity to engage. A lot of times there’s weight fluctuations so that can be either up or down and just kind of not really understanding why, that a whole lot of change like in eating patterns or exercise but kind of just that body is holding on or losing the weight. Headaches, tension headaches are huge, just inflammation and pain.

That’d be kind of like your physical symptoms. And then, you know, you’re more emotional symptoms is just like that sheer dread feeling like maybe more frustrated at work. You know, something – a task that used to be no big deal or a task that used to be you know, kind of, something that even if it was challenging, you didn’t go home thinking about it. Also, that just feeling frustrated, feeling like you, you’re trapped like you want to quit your job. Like you want to go into a completely different field. Even if it’s something you’ve been working for – for ten years all of a sudden you hate it. And you want to go, you know, I don’t know sell stuff on eBay or like be a greeter at Walmart. Like just escape. Like that escape like I just need to escape and do something different. Also, some interpersonal stuff can start to happen. You know, colleagues can start to trigger, you can start to feel like, “oh god. I don’t, I can’t deal with this person. I don’t want to be in the same room with them.” Just kind of like that, “get me out of here.” So that would kind of be some minor preventative symptoms that you might look for.

Sofie: Oh goodness. I am thinking back to, ah, maybe not that long ago actually. Definitely something that I just gone through where I had that just immense dread of coming to work. It was like I – I played through my mind, “okay, how can I get out of this job. I want to get out of this job. I don’t like being in this Job. You know, I don’t like my supervisor. I just don’t want to be around them.” And it was, you know, a lot of that playing through my head and so I’m thinking back on it and I am now realizing, “oh man that was burnout.” That was just complete exhaustion and just, you know, an overwhelming amount of work thrown my way that I took on at one time and it just manifested in this extreme burnout and it definitely did not play out well.

Alexandra Stark: Right? Did you know at the time that that’s what you were experiencing?

Sofie: No. I just thought that there was something really wrong with – I mean I kind of pinned it all on my supervisor. I was a little like, “oh this, my supervisor isn’t very good. I don’t feel very supported.” You know, I and I would nitpick everything that was wrong with them and granted there were bits and pieces that, you know, were maybe not their strong suit in terms of management. But it definitely wasn’t at the extreme that I was playing it through in my head. Same thing with my workload, I was overexaggerating the amount of work that I had to do and I was over exaggerating the stress that each project would give me. And then looking back on it, just writing down everything I was doing, I was I’m kind of like, “oh that actually wasn’t that much work now that I read it out loud”. Right?

Alexandra Stark: Right. And that’s, you know, that’s such you – I’m so glad you mentioned that because that’s another really important thing to note is a lot of times I mean granted, yes, there are sometimes that there are toxic work environments that you just can’t fix but a lot of times burnout stems from the way that we approach our work instead of the work itself. So you’ll sometimes find people who look kind of like job hop and they’ve been in, you know, all these different jobs and they keep experiencing the same thing and that’s why burnout really, you know, needs to be kind of taken care from the inside out. So it – it could be that you determine at the end of your burnout journey that the job isn’t the job for you, but most times it’s us and how we approach our work then the actual work. That’s the problem.

Sofie: Yeah, I’m – I’m thinking about a couple people that I – that I know that shift jobs quite frequently and it wasn’t until I spent a lot of time with them in their environment, in their working environment watching them work, that I realized the reason why I think that they were shifting so often was because of that burnout element where they were just getting so burned out so quickly that it did become a nitpicking of, “here’s everything wrong with this job.” You know, “I feel so – I feel like I’m not appreciated. I feel like this. I feel like that.” Which of course again, as you said, there are those environments but sometimes when we are so burnt out, we do find all the bad in a workplace and we overexaggerate the bad sometimes in the workplace. And that of course, I would assume, that it would cause us to job pop quite a bit and so that’s – that’s great to know there because now I’m also understanding how I as someone seeing that happen could perhaps better support that person now knowing it’s likely burnout. Not that you hate your job. It’s we need to find a way to perhaps get you to destress a bit and to take a step back and to take some time off.

Alexandra Stark: Right, and usually, those things are self-imposed. Right? A lot of times the, you know, the job isn’t saying you have to answer your email at ten pm, right, you – you have to come in on Sunday to finish that. It’s usually how we approach it and how, you know, it’s self-imposed, so kind of like learning those skills and strategies to come through that. Still do a great job at your job, but it’s just going to look a little bit different.

Sofie: Yeah, absolutely. And I’d love to tie everything together for us here with what is one thing that our listeners should take away? And perhaps more specifically, what is one thing that our young women who are those working moms should take away from this episode?

Alexandra Stark: I would say that the number one thing for young working moms is to really recognize and understand that they have a lot more power and control over their lives than they might think that they do. And that you can be an excellent parent and an excellent professional. You don’t have to choose – you can do both very, very well and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Sofie: Yeah, oh my goodness. I love that. I think that’s such a great tie in to everything that we’ve talked about today. And for all of our listeners that do not want to stop hearing your amazing wisdom, because I know that I’m definitely walking away with a better understanding of how I can recognize my own burnout, how I can recognize the burnout and others and really the different strategies that that I can employ to help prevent that. For listeners that would love to hear more from you, how can they get in touch with you?

Alexandra Stark: They can contact me on by email. It’s Alex at Alex start coaching dot com. I also am on Instagram at talk to Alex Stark and I do have a private free Facebook group where I offer lots of free trainings, resources, guides, and it’s all dedicated to moms in leadership roles. And that can be found on Facebook as well.

Sofie: Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that and I will have all of those links in the description box for all of our episode listeners. So definitely go give that a look and, you know, feel free to reach out to Alexandra and thank you so much Alexandra for coming onto the podcast. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you.

Alexandra Stark: Hey, thanks so much Sofie. It was nice talking with you.

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