4 ways to help with parental burnout
4 tips to manage your parent-work-life while trying to avoid parental burnout.
During the pandemic, millions of parents had to balance working from home, home-schooling their children, and managing all of the other tasks to run their households, for almost an entire year. This (unsurprisingly) led to an increase in parental burnout.
What is parental burnout?
Parental burnout is generally defined as the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion we feel from parent. This was made all the worse during the pandemic. Having no usual respite or outlet between all of our daily responsibilities meant that day-to-day life became completely overwhelming in its sheer relentlessness.
Today, many parents try to ignore parental burnout symptoms. Many try to avoid feelings of burnout or feel shame when these emotional reactions come up. This can lead to them suppressing their emotions, which only exacerbates the issue.
Parenting requires huge amounts of energy, but of course, it also gives parents energy, and fulfilment in return. The key is to try and squeeze in energy-increasing activities alongside parenting.
Do I have parental burnout?
There are many signs of parental burnout, ranging from physical symptoms to changes in our mental health.
The parental burnout symptoms to look out for are:
Loss of appetite
Low mood and feeling irritable
Inability to switch off.
Although the signs are common for many people, if you start to notice these symptoms every day—your body is trying to tell you it’s time to take a break! While a break is just not on the cards in current circumstances, it’s important to meet these feelings with kindness, know you’re not alone, and there are some small ways to help ease the burden.
>Podcast: How to recognise the signs of burnout
How to deal with parental burnout
If you’re struggling to understand how to deal with parental burnout, it’s important to look at the world around you.
How do I stop parental burnout?
1. Remember that you’re not alone
Talking about what you’re going through is one of the best ways to deal with parental burnout and feel less isolated. Being stuck in your own house day-after-day can easily feel like it’s just down to you to handle everything on your own. Reach out to other people you know in similar situations, start a WhatsApp group with people you feel safe and secure with where you can share your daily thoughts and challenges, or confide in a close friend or family member. Having people around you, albeit remotely, can be a huge support.
If you have a partner or support system available—try to figure out a way to (safely) give yourself an element of personal freedom back. Even though psychologically this can be a huge hurdle to relinquish control and place your trust in other people, it can be a huge release and invaluable to your mental health.
2. Let go of your own expectations
Sometimes, we don’t realise that the pressure we’re feeling can be in part, put there by ourselves. Try these strategies to ease self-imposed pressure:
Every day, repeat something empowering to yourself to set you up for the day. This could be “I am doing a great job”, “today will be a good day”, “this is only temporary”, or “I am confident and capable”. This can be in your head, or even done with your family over breakfast—but is a great way to set yourself up for each day in a positive mindset.
When you’re overwhelmed, every small thing that goes wrong has the potential to send you over the edge—which is especially true in the current climate we are living in. Try to practise asking yourself, “does this really matter?” before letting yourself react. Is anyone going to care if your kids’ jumpers are too short in the arms, or if they’ve done the same craft activity three days in a row? No. Let it go.
It’s easy to put pressure on yourself to try and tick everything off a list during the day. Experiment with having a “possible activity buffet”, and moving tasks to a “done” list under each day—this triggers the reward centre of the brain every time you do something, rather than triggering the pressure response at the sight of an incomplete list.
If you follow certain parents painting a perfect representation of juggling it all on social media… stop following them. No one needs the extra pressure.
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3. Give yourself the fuel you need
A diet that doesn’t meet your brain and body's needs can have major effects on your general well-being. As we know, increased tension levels are key signs of parental burnout, so it’s important to stay well-fuelled. Eating nourishing foods will keep you energised, feeling fresh, and increase your quality of sleep. Some beneficial foods to try and work into your diet are oily fish, nuts, berries and dark leafy greens.
>Curious? Here are the best vitamins and methods to treat parental burnout.
Mindful eating might sound like a pipedream, but it’s simply noticing that you’re eating, and what you’re eating. Try not to eat at your desk, or simply graze your way through the kitchen. Give yourself some time away from screens and focus on the meal and spending time with the kids. Even if it’s just for half an hour, talking about their days and what they’ve been up to is a great distraction.
Hydration is also vitally important to avoid parental burnout. Our brains are 85% water, so even low levels of dehydration can contribute to the feelings of irritability and fatigue. And, by the time your lips are dry or you feel thirsty—you’re already dehydrated. Try drinking eight glasses a day. Drinking enough water also prevents you from snacking on unhealthy food that won’t support your energy levels.
4. Find a mindful moment
When you have kids, particularly babies or infants, you're not in control of your morning routine, they are. You don't know when they'll wake up, if they’ll fill their nappy, fall over, cry, be hungry, be loud, be quiet... the list goes on. The idea of being able to sit and meditate or write a journal every morning, particularly as the primary caregiver is... just not a thing. So, instead think about something you do, without fail every day, and find a way to introduce an element of mindfulness into it.
Take breathing as the simplest form of mindfulness. Just the act of taking five deep breaths takes around one minute, reassuring your body and mind that you’re safe, and protect you from the harmful effects of stress.
So, where can you find a minute? In the shower? On your walk to the playground? After bath time? Pick one, and commit to it every day.