As a parent, you dedicate your life to caring for your child every day. For years, you’ve helped them learn and grow, attending to their physical, mental, and emotional needs. But along with the amazing joys of parenthood come frustration and emotional strain. Helping your child navigate schoolwork, peer pressure, healthcare needs, and a plethora of other challenges in addition to your own daily responsibilities can really begin to weigh you down. This is called “parental burnout.”
“New research published in Clinical Psychological Science suggests that parental burnout can have serious consequences,” according to Robyn Koslowitz, Ph.D., in an article published by Psychology Today. “Burnout was associated with escape ideation — the fantasy of simply leaving parenting and all its stressors — as well as with neglectful behavior and a ‘violence’ category that included verbal and psychological aggression (e.g., threats or insults) and physical aggression (spanking or slapping) directed at children.”
The bottom line: When the stressors of parenting increase in their intensity and compound over time, they can dramatically affect your ability to be the best parent you can be.
Parental burnout wears you down and affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally. In fact, one in four Americans describe themselves as “super stressed,” according to Mental Health America.
Experiencing this type of chronic stress is similar to when your “check engine” light goes on — your car starts to run less efficiently and, if you let it go too long before taking your car to get it checked out, can suffer additional damage. When you don’t take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health, you can experience wear and tear from the stressors of parenthood.
The mental and emotional symptoms of parental burnout include:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Depersonalization (feeling disconnected or detached from your thoughts or feelings)
- Feelings of incompetence
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased irritability
- Social isolation
- Decreased sense of professional efficacy
The physical symptoms of burnout include:
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Muscle tension (common areas are in your jaw, shoulders, and neck)
- Digestive issues
- Weakened immune system
“If we’re disconnected from ourselves, we can’t give attachment, love, and nurturing. If we’re under stress, we can’t always respond with patience and model compassionate caring in the face of challenges,” Dr. Koslowitz explained.
If you’ve noticed some (or most) of the above symptoms, you may be experiencing parental burnout, which means that you could likely benefit from some stress-reducing strategies to help you recover from chronic stress and get back to enjoying the gift of parenthood.
Fortunately, there are several easy things you can do to prevent parental burnout. The key is to implement these wellness practices well before you start experiencing the symptoms of burnout in order to experience the greatest benefit. This helps to build up a buffer between you and the stressors associated with parenting.
If you think you might be headed toward burnout, don’t despair. You can still incorporate these strategies and experience their benefits.
1. Practice General Self-Care
One of the best ways to protect yourself from the stressors of life in general and parenting is to practice self-care. Self-care is any practice that promotes your overall well-being and can be divided into four main areas:
- Mental and emotional
Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time. Ways to practice self-care on a daily basis include:
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating regular and balanced meals
- Exercising regularly
- Staying connected socially with friends and family
- Making time for spiritual practices
- Scheduling time for hobbies and fun
2. Seek Balance
Creating a balance in your life between home, work, and socializing can be helpful for preventing burnout. While the actual structure of this balance may look different for each person, creating safeguards around your “parent time,” “you time,” and “work time” can be extremely beneficial.
Some examples of ways you can balance your parental duties with your work and social life include:
- Set priorities for each day: Schedule your daily goals in writing to help lessen the stress of your many responsibilities.
- Set aside designated time for self-care every day. Even a few minutes of self-care a day can do wonders for your peace of mind, whether that’s listening to your favorite music, meditating, or reading a good book.
- Limit the number of after-school and/or after-work activities if you’ve overcommitted yourself.
- Schedule “family hour,” for example, where your entire family can come together and spend time enjoying each other’s company.
- If you have a spouse or significant other, ensure you schedule some alone time as well.
3. Remember Your ‘Why’
Another helpful way to reduce the impact of stress and prevent parental burnout is to remember the reasons why you wanted to start a family and become a parent in the first place. Remind yourself why family is important to you and your goals for the future.
It’s easy to magnify stressors and let them overtake your life. But when you take the time to put them into perspective, it can make those stressors shrink and seem much less intimidating.
4. Surround Yourself With Support
There is no reason why you have to struggle with the stressors of parenting alone. Surround yourself with a support network of family and friends who understand the challenges and joys of parenting. You can lift one another up during tough times and celebrate one another’s successes in times of growth.
It is extremely beneficial to make spending time with family, friends, and your significant other a priority. While it may be tempting to isolate yourself in times of stress, spending time with your support network can actually help you de-stress.
Know that you don’t have to be a perfect parent. No one is. But with patience, understanding, and affection, you can be the best parent you can be.