Over 45% of parents feel the effects of parental burnout. The crippling exhaustion, overwhelming stress, and the feeling that everything is just a bit too hard, is a shared experience with nearly half of all parents. Here is what you need to know about this common phenomenon – and the steps to take to feel like yourself again.
Many parents have come to realise that having children is exhausting… And even more exhausting when a pandemic, working from home and recurring lockdowns are thrown into the mix. The overwhelming feelings of stress and exhaustion associated with trying to juggle both life itself and the lives of their children too, can sometimes feel like a bit too much to handle. If you, as a parent, felt this too, don’t worry – you are definitely not alone.
It’s important to realise that these feelings are completely valid and parental burnout is more than just general tiredness or irritability. If left unmanaged, the all-consuming sensations of burnout can have significant consequences on not only parents’ mental health, but the sense of equilibrium within the family itself.
The first diagnoses of parental burnout dates back to 1983, but more extensive research was carried out in 2017, by Belgium researchers Dr Isabelle Roskam and Dr Moïra Mikolajczak – who really delved into the prevalence of parental burnout, especially in the 21st century.
They found that since previous studies, society has placed more pressure on families to raise high-performing, healthy and stable children – as well as a shift in gender norms – especially during COVID – which has generated an increase in more working mothers, and less who stay-at-home full time. These subtle changes can make the act of parenting more difficult and stressful and thus, emerges the patterns of parental burnout.
Beyond the initial feelings of exhaustion, parental burnout can also manifest in:
- Brain fog
- Increased irritability and decreased patience
- Confusion or forgetfulness
- Significant increases in stress
- Depression or Anxiety
- Feelings of isolation
- Poor sleep or insomnia
- Obsessive-compulsive tendencies
If these symptoms are left untreated for too long, the damage to parents’ mental health, hormones and relationships with both partners and children, can be significant. Research has found that parents who experience parental burnout, are likely to be more coercive or neglectful towards their children – despite the initial burnout often resulting from putting too much time and energy into your children and neglecting your own needs.
Other common factors that can lead to the development of parental burnout are:
- Poor boundaries between parenting, work, and self-care
- Too much people pleasing
- Lack of communication between you and your partner
- Unrealistic expectations for parenthood
- Lack of support when struggles start to form
For parents experiencing this level of burnout – despite how difficult it may seem – there are several ways that this burnout can be alleviated. Here are some common and scientifically proven ways that parental burnout can be reduced:
- Establish a routine: by creating a set schedule within the family that allows time for everyone’s respective activities and obligations – as well as carving out time to be together as a family – parents can set boundaries between work and home and lessen the expectation to be doing everything at once.
- Communicate your feelings: whether it is with a partner or a friend, telling someone how you are feeling is the first step to treating parental burnout. As this condition is often provoked by bottling up stress and exhaustion, the first way to fix this is to let someone know you need support.
- Go to a support group: support groups for parents are a great way to feel like you’re not alone. By talking to other parents who may be sharing the same struggles, feelings of isolation that may be contributing to the burnout can be alleviated.
- Exercise: it’s a well-known fact that moving your body releases endorphins and, for many, provides an outlet where you can release pent up stress. This doesn’t have to mean killing your body in the gym six days a week. If you are starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed, even a ten-minute walk or stretch can help release the feel-good hormones to make you feel more relaxed.
- Consult a therapist: regardless of if you think you don’t need it – everyone can benefit in some way from talking to someone professional about your everyday problems, or perhaps past trauma that has led to burnout. There is no shame in getting help, and if you feel you need to talk to someone, a psychologist may be able to provide the informed guidance that you need.
The chance of developing parental burnout doesn’t go away as your kids grow up. As parents, it is likely that you will always put their needs above your own at points in time. But it is the acknowledgement that you are struggling, communication that you need help, and the seeking out of support that will help you on your journey to feel like yourself again.