How to Avoid Parental Burnout During Stressful Times

Sometime last week, I stayed in bed until 10am, enjoying absolutely nothing about it. Instead, I lie there immoveable; my body feels heavy, and the rigamarole of motherhood looms like a mountain I feel unequipped to climb.

A mini-mental break was not something I actually had time for (who does?). But bless my wonderful husband for giving me the space I needed to let it happen. In the moment, I had no idea what was going on—but now I see it clear as day: I was in the throes of parental burnout.

Psychologist Dr. Carrie Thomas explained to me that at its core, parental burnout is mental and physical exhaustion. It is the result, she said, of over-sacrificing yourself and failing to tend to your own needs. And while any parent in any moment can suffer, burnout may be particularly pronounced now, when we are tasked with filling many roles at once.

 

It’s More Than a Bad Day

Sure, feeling burned out may share an awful lot in common with simply having a bad day. But Sofia Mendoza, a licensed clinical social worker, cautioned parents that, if not properly addressed, burnout can have very real and far-reaching consequences.

“Everyone is different, but if symptoms are not addressed, it could contribute to major depression, severe stress, or even losing control and lashing out on those around them, including their kids,” Mendoza said.

So, what’s the first step in helping yourself through these rocky periods? Recognizing the symptoms. Dr. Thomas explained that overtaxed parents can feel both emotional and physical effects, like feeling detached from loved ones, unmotivated, irritable, or quick to anger.

“I think it is difficult to identify and acknowledge because our society emphasizes the joy and blessings of being a parent, and minimizes the challenges and difficulties,” Dr. Thomas said. But to ignore it, she warned, may invite health issues down the road connected to stress and exhaustion.

 

 

Self Care Is Needed for Survival

The term “self-care” feels so overplayed and commercialized at this point that each time I hear it, I reflexively groan. But Mendoza encouraged me to reframe this idea of nourishing ourselves as a crisis survival skill all parents need to take to heart. She described self-care as a “big prevention effort,” and noted that by taking part, we’re teaching our kids an invaluable lesson.

“Taking care of ourselves first is akin to the ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others’ message we hear on airplanes,” Mendoza said. “We’re modeling to our children that to help others, we have to help ourselves first.”

 

How Can You Practice Self Care in the Era of Social Distancing?

Long gone are the days when I could acknowledge my need for space and gratefully leave my daughters behind with their grandparents. While I love these little humans more than words can say, the thought of filling the roles of worker, caregiver, and teacher all at once forever is enough to send me back to bed again. Needless to say, it is more critical than ever for each of us as parents to do our part in warding off this grueling type of exhaustion.

Dr. Thomas suggested lowering your expectations when it comes to your role as a homeschool teacher. She also encouraged partnered-up parents to keep the lines of communication open with their significant others, building alone time into both of your schedules.

Mendoza urged parents to lean on independent play, where it is developmentally appropriate. This may mean setting your little one up with LEGOs, craft supplies, or a nature hunt in the backyard so that you can sit still for a moment on your own. The trick, Mendoza said, is to assure children that this alone time is limited—and then follow through afterward by reconnecting with each other.

 

Source: @julesdenby

Whatever you choose to do to care for yourself is up to you. The only rule is that it brings you a measure of peace and happiness—which are critical to the sort of replenishment you need to recover from burnout. And as with most things in life, consistency is key.

Once you have managed to shift the balance in your life—regaining some of your own focus—you may begin to feel better within days. However, cautioned Dr. Thomas, if you want that feeling to last, you need to maintain your good habits or risk another bout of burnout.

 

It does not benefit the people who depend on us if we sacrifice our own well-being in the care of others.

 

Once you have managed to shift the balance in your life—regaining some of your own focus—you may begin to feel better within days. However, cautioned Dr. Thomas, if you want that feeling to last, you need to maintain your good habits or risk another bout of burnout.

“It does not benefit the people who depend on us if we sacrifice our own well-being in the care of others,” she said. “To be a good parent, we need to establish boundaries and acknowledge our personal needs—and then actually take time and energy to meet them.”

 

Read More: Easy Bedtime Hacks to Help Moms Get More Sleep (Because We’re Exhausted)

 

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