“Burnout, a syndrome characterized by ‘emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a decrease in self-fulfillment,’ is a result of chronic exposure to emotionally draining environments. (Abramson, A., et al., American Psychological Association, Vol. 52, No. 7, 2021). Burnout is a word that we’ve heard repeatedly in the past year, as we’ve all begun to recognize or experience it more and more due to the pandemic. However, burnout is something that has been a growing issue for decades and was brought to light during the pandemic. Parental burnout became an increasingly common concern, as our day-to-day routines completely shifted when lockdowns were put in place. Families were cooped up inside, parents had to take on even more responsibilities in addition to their normal tasks, and feelings of stress and anxiety continued to build. Parental burnout can be a scary thing to face, as unlike with job burnout, you can’t just take a vacation, or quit. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to talk about this phenomenon that is affecting so many, and how we can address it as a society. Below we discuss how to recognize parental burnout and steps you can take to help overcome it.
Identifying the Different Stages of Parental Burnout
It’s not always easy to identify parental burnout, as it starts subtly. The first stage is typically overwhelming exhaustion, which may look different depending on how old your children are. For parents of young children, it will often be physical exhaustion from running around the house, playing with them, taking care of them, etc. With teens or adolescents, parents are often more emotionally exhausted due to conflicts and difficult parenting decisions that come during these pivotal years in their children’s lives. The pandemic undoubtedly exacerbated the issue of exhaustion, as parents focused on child care and homeschool during the day, pushing their own work to later in the evening. As a result, they’d be more tired and stressed the next day, leading to chronic stress, irritability, and anxiety. This creates a vicious cycle that is hard to be broken. The next stage often includes parents distancing themselves from their children in an attempt to preserve energy. The symptoms tend to build on each other, just as they would with job burnout, leading parents to feel trapped. This leads to the third stage, which is a loss of fulfillment in parenting. While they, of course, still love their children, they can’t deal with the duties of being a parent anymore. This can cause parents to display neglectful or violent behavior, which is evidently harmful to a child’s wellbeing.
How to Manage Parental Burnout
It is evident that parental burnout can be detrimental to everyone in the home. Therefore, it’s crucial to find ways to cope and address the issue.
First and foremost, it’s important to recognize and validate these feelings of burnout. Admitting that you’re struggling isn’t easy for anyone, and especially as a parent. For many, it comes with a sense of guilt, which prevents parents from having open and healthy conversations about these feelings. Opening up to other parents and gaining social support from those experiencing similar situations and feelings can be extremely helpful for coping. Burnout is much more common than parents realize, so normalizing the syndrome will help to remove some of the shame that parents feel about the situation.
Noticing Stress Levels
It’s important to note that among parents who have experienced burnout at the highest levels, lockdown and the pandemic alone wasn’t the only factor. In most cases, the parents experienced burnout based on how they viewed the pandemic. Those who went in with a negative view, thinking it would be a nightmare to have the kids home 24/7, experienced more feelings of exhaustion. When you’re feeling exhausted as a parent, it’s important to take a step back and look at your perspective to identify other sources of stress.
Taking Charge of Your Mental Health
Parental burnout is an overwhelming issue and you can prioritize your mental health by making small changes in the daily routine. It’s crucial to incorporate self-care into your daily routine (and we don’t mean booking a full spa day or week away- that isn’t always realistic). We’re talking about small breaks that can be practiced daily. Give yourself 5 minutes alone to just take deep breaths. Take a walk around the block. Find small increments of time where you can take microbreaks throughout the day to ground yourself and feel relaxed.
Room to Move Teaches Nonverbal Strategies that Can Be Incorporated into Microbreaks
As parental burnout continues to impact so many families, we’re here to help. As Isabelle Roskam said, “Burnout is the result of too much stress and the absence of resources to cope with it.” At Room to Move, we provide resources to help you reset the stress response through creative strategies. Our courses and family consultations teach nonverbal methods to manage stress through your daily routines. Learn more about what we offer or contact us today.