Parenting isn’t easy. That’s a fact.
From late night feedings and tantrums to meltdowns and math homework, raising tiny humans is hard. And it’s particularly difficult if you’re (constantly) placing the needs of your wee one ahead of your own — which many of us do.
This can result in parental burnout, a condition in which you’re so exhausted that you feel you have nothing left to give.
“Parental burnout is the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that one feels from the chronic stress of parenting,” Dr. Puja Aggarwal, a board certified neurologist and a certified life coach, tells Healthline.
“It can manifest with emotional distancing from your child or irritability, i.e., being easily angered. Some with parental burnout may experience forgetfulness and/or increased feelings of anxiety or depression, and many question their ability to be a parent in the first place. Feelings of inadequacy, confusion, and isolation are common.”
“Burnout is the result of prolonged stress where the demands placed upon an individual outweigh their ability to meet expectations,” adds Michaela Decker, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“Signs of burnout include physical fatigue, emotional exhaustion, lack of motivation, a sense of despair, as well as a detachment from others and pleasurable activities.”
The good news is that parental burnout is temporary. There are things you can do to combat this condition — and cope.
Here’s what we know about parental burnout and how you can prevent it.
Burnout in a nutshell
Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by emotional, physical, and mental stress. It can happen for a variety of reasons. Work, for example, is a common trigger, as is parenting and feeling that you lack control. Burnout happens when you’re overwhelmed and are unable to keep up with the demands of life.
While burnout affects everyone differently — some people experience physical symptoms while others struggle emotionally — the most common symptoms of burnout include:
- exhaustion, or feeling tired or drained all the time
- feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or self-doubt
- headaches, neck pain, and muscle aches
- loss of motivation
- changes in appetite or sleeping habits
- detachment, or feeling alone in the world
- isolating behaviors
Those who are burnt out may also misuse or abuse drugs or alcohol. This is often done in an effort to calm down, numb out, or cope.
Parental burnout is nothing new. People have been experiencing this condition for years, especially during the last century, when women entered the workforce in droves. And today’s parents are experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Reports of parental burnout have increased exponentially over the last 18 months due to COVID-19,” Aggarwal says. “Burnout was present prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic has significantly worsened parental burnout, and the reasons are numerous. Parents have lost jobs, houses, and income leading to additional stress and anxiety.
“Some parents are worrying about where the next meal will come from. They do not know how (and if) they can feed their kids, and many children are [or were] at home doing virtual school, which also contributed. Parents had to be teachers in addition to parents.”
Individuals with poor coping skills are also “at-risk,” according to psychologist Martha Horta-Granados. “People with poor coping skills, low frustration tolerance, or poor resilience skills would be more susceptible to experiencing burnout.”
Whether you recognize the signs of impending burnout or are already past the breaking point, know this: You’re not a bad person. Nor do you need to live like this. There are ways to cope.
Talk with your spouse, co-parent, or partner
One of the first things you can (and should) do if you’re feeling burnt out is to speak with your spouse, co-parent, loved one, or partner.
Explain what you’re dealing with — and how you’re feeling. Be honest. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re struggling or overworked and overwhelmed. Tell them what you need, outlining concrete steps, if possible.
Get enough sleep
Twenty-minute power naps, for example, can be restorative and reduce stress. They can also improve your focus and help you better regulate your emotions.
Finding (and making) time to exercise may seem like a ludicrous suggestion, especially if you’re feeling exhausted or drained, but exercise can actually increase your energy levels. It can also reduce stress.
Rest, if and when you can
Feeling overworked? Overwhelmed? Is your stress level particularly high? If so, take a few minutes to rest, e.g., have a warm cup of coffee or tea. Sit on the sofa and watch cartoons with your kids or listen to music. Creativity is key.
Build a support network
Having a supportive partner or spouse is great, but many individuals need more help. Some also lack resources or at-home support.
Parenting groups are a great way to meet like-minded individuals. They may also help you feel heard, seen, and understood.
Finding a childcare provider or sitter is a good option, particularly if you need a break.
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, you may want to contact a psychologist or therapist.
“There are times when we can benefit from the support of others, including mental health professionals,” Dr. Diana Concannon, a licensed psychologist and crisis response expert, tells Healthline. “Sometimes just talking things through can help us to gain greater perspective or new insights that support us to be more joyful.”
Be patient with yourself
Raising children is both challenging and rewarding. Feelings of frustration and exhaustion can (and do) occur. It’s normal. Most individuals will experience parental burn out. But how you treat yourself matters.
“Allow yourself to feel your feelings,” Horta-Granados explains. “You do not have to face everything alone, or be a super mom or dad. Remember that you’re a human. You’re vulnerable. You cannot do it all, and be patient with yourself. Be kind.”
While it may sound impossible sometimes, it’s important you practice self-care every single day.
Take 2 minutes every morning to just breathe and think about yourself. You can also meditate or journal, if you have the time. Bathing at the end of the day can help you relax, physically and mentally. It can help you unwind. Practicing a short yoga routine may also help. Walking is also an excellent form of self-care.
Many individuals experience burnout. It’s a common reaction to external stress. But there are ways to cope. Exhaustion, stress, and fatigue don’t have to be an accepted part of your routine.