5 Ways to Manage Parental Burnout
Constantly trying to balance the demands of work and life can tip anyone over the edge. Many parents find it difficult to withstand the pressures of day-to-day life.
Being a working parent has its challenges on its own. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made parenting a lot more demanding due to school closures, remote working, and stay-at-home orders. It is natural to feel frustrated, stressed, and worn-out while juggling childcare, working from home, and anxiety around the illness.
You are expected to be successful at work, at the same time being there for your family, helping your kids with schoolwork, keeping your home clean, caring about elderly parents, and leading a fulfilling social life. Sometimes this is simply not possible. No without consequences, anyways.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of exhaustion caused by overwhelming chronic stress. Although it has initially been associated with work-related stress, increasing demands of everyday life have caused many parents to experience parental burnout in recent decades.
Burnout is not the same as feeling stressed out from time to time. It occurs as a result of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion over a more extended period. When you are burned out, you always feel exhausted without relief from it.
How to Recognize Parental Burnout?
Parental burnout can cause you to feel drained most of the time, often triggering additional health problems. Emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion can reduce your motivation and productivity and impair your relationships. Research shows that burnout in parents can lead to a desire to leave parenting (escape ideation). But not only that, parental burnout can cause neglectful behavior and verbal and physical aggression directed towards kids.
For this reason, it is essential to recognize and address the signs of burnout on time. Here are some of the common symptoms of parental burnout to look out for:
- Continual fatigue
- Low self-esteem
- Mood disorders
- Difficulty making decisions
- Feeling emotionally distant from children
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Feeling unproductive
- Feeling helpless and hopeless
- Headaches and migraines
Kids’ Challenging Behaviors and Parental Burnout
Parental burnout is more likely if you are parenting a child with challenging behaviors or neurodiversity such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, or learning disorders.
For example, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have difficulties focusing on tasks, paying attention, and staying organized. Their neurodiversity can be challenging for the family, making parenting a great source of stress at times.
Simple tasks like getting dressed, eating their breakfast, or getting the child on the school bus can require enormous patience and effort.
Children with neurodiversity experience difficulties with executive function, lacking the ability of planning, decision making, impulse control, and organizing. Often, parents need to take charge of the executive function for their child.
Kids with challenging behaviors and neurodiversity require a parenting approach that focuses on patience, support, and encouragement, which can drain parents emotionally, mentally, and physically.
How to Manage Parental Burnout?
Parental burnout is often caused by continual exposure to increased demands over an extended period. If we don’t know how to manage stress effectively, any stressful life situation can trigger emotional, mental, and physical breakdown. Here are some guidelines on coping with parental burnout to help you protect yourself from overwhelming exhaustion.
1. Set Realistic Goals
It is not just about what others expect from us. It’s often about us and our high personal aspirations. Most people tend to set high standards and unrealistic goals for themselves, struggling to balance work and life.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries
Boundaries are an essential aspect of self-care. Setting boundaries means recognizing the importance of your feelings and your well-being. They help set limits and practice self-respect. Creating space for “me-time” in your daily schedule is vital for maintaining healthy boundaries and preventing stress and burnout.
3. Challenge Your Thoughts
Parents often tend to think negatively about their own parenting responsibilities and success. Our mind sometimes cannot resist the flow of automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that create cognitive distortions or negative thinking patterns.
Many of us continually feel guilty and insufficient while struggling with work-life balance and our new parenting roles. Sometimes, your mind will trick you into using cognitive distortions to convince you of something that isn’t true.
For instance, your mind can use a guilt-beating strategy to control your behavior. Thinking in phrases such is, “I must,” “I should,” or “I am supposed to” can cause you to set unreasonable demands from yourself, leading to disappointment, confidence issues, anxiety, depression, and burnout.
To challenge such thinking patterns, you need to identify them first. Useful strategies to recognize and change your negative thinking patterns involve mindfulness meditation, journaling, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Once you address your ANTs, you will start feeling in control of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation is a useful tool to challenge automatic negative thoughts and distortions. It allows you to still your mind and tune into your feelings. Mindfulness helps you focus on the present moment, pay attention to your responses when experiencing stress, and release negative thoughts and feelings once you observe them.
Research shows that mindfulness helps alleviate stress levels, raising resilience and giving you tools to respond more constructively under pressure.
Implementing mindfulness exercise in your day at work, for example, can help you relax, improve your memory and concentration, lift your spirits, and enhance confidence.
5. Ask for Help
Any parent can experience burnout associated with parenting. However, if you feel that fatigue and emotional exhaustion cause you to feel unwell, damaging your family relationships, productivity, happiness, and health speak to a mental health professional.
Psychotherapy can help you identify stress triggers, work through your emotions, address and challenge negative thinking patterns, and develop strategies to make parenting less stressful.
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