What you need to know about parental burnout
Typically, when you get to the point of burning out within a job role, it is advised to slow down or begin looking into different opportunities. You can use your weekends to relax, and even take some more time off if you need to.
With parenting, you can’t exactly pack up and leave for that holiday you desperately need. It is very difficult to maintain a healthy balance of parenting, social life, work or education and enjoyment, whilst also finding time to relax. This lack of relaxation and constant stress can result in parent burnout - affecting not only you, but your children too.
The definition of burnout is both physical and mental exhaustion, usually caused by excessive workload and long hours when referring to burnout in a work environment. Burnout is relatively common in job roles within the public service sector - teaching, for example. Parenting is extremely rewarding, obviously, but of course does comes with the longest hours (throughout the entire day, every day of the week and even interrupting sleep) and most intense pressures as you attempt to raise and shape a child into an accepted member of the population. The majority of parents will experience parent burnout at some point, although some a lot more severe than others.
Who is most vulnerable?
Single parents can be at more risk of developing burnout due to the lack of help they receive, and therefore more responsibility.
Parents of infants, in comparison to older children, as younger babies/children are more dependant. This goes hand in hand with lack of sleep (due to night time wakings, anxiety etc), and sleep deprivation is a big factor in burnout.
Parents of teenagers. Coping with your teenagers mood swings, their future educational choices, and the extra money they will now be costing compared to when they were much smaller. Balancing this, with the fact your own workload may well be larger now as your career has progressed, can be factors for concern.
Parents of children with special needs. This usually involves more responsibility and a more vigourous routine, with the added pressure of introducing their differences.
Parents with existing physical chronic pain or mental health problems - those who find themselves stressed due to constant pain or depression/anxiety are more likely to experience burnout as they are unable to relax.
Parents with certain circumstantial situations resulting in stress including divorce and poverty.
Parental burnout doesn’t just appear, it is built up over time - that could be days, weeks, months or even years. There are a few signs parents should be aware of in order to avoid full-blown burnout. These include:
Constantly frustrated and irritable without a specific cause, or getting angry at something that would not usually bother you.
Feeling as if you’re not doing a good job, questioning your abilities and achievements as a parent
Emotional detachment from your children
Being in a constant state of fatigue, not waking up feeling refreshed even after an appropriate amount of sleep
Inability to fully concentrate, forgetting simple things
Loss of appetite
Feeling anxious or depressed
Physical pain including chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches - which should all be consulted with your doctor (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201311/the-tell-tale-signs-burnout-do-you-have-them)
Not being productive, wasting time and finding distractions from your normal routine.
Feeling hopeless and detached from others
If you feel particularly low for more than 2 weeks in a row, accompanied by one or more symptoms above, it is worth visiting your GP to discuss the potential for depression or anxiety. The sooner we can identify something, the sooner we can help ourselves.
There are numerous ways you can help to avoid parent burnout when you begin to feel as if your workload and stress is heightened. First and foremost, if taking care of yourself. As parents, it is relatively common to neglect our own needs in attempt to put the child, housework or job first. It is okay to say no if you can’t take on anymore. It is okay to take a night for relaxation and ask a loved one to help you out while you have a break. It is okay to put yourself first for once.
Another way to avoid burnout in the first place is by managing expectations, and being realistic. Nobody is the perfect parent and expecting to do everything perfectly will only result in disappointment. Don't set yourself up to fail.
Finally, don’t compare yourself to anyone. Everybody has different parenting techniques, and even when you see someone coping much better than you, how do you know what happens when they get home and shut the door? We can all put on a brave face, but you mustn't compare someones ability to 'cope' with your own. They are probably as exhausted as you.
If you are already experiencing parental burnout, there are a few things you can try in order to decrease your stress levels. One of the most popular is to learn mindfulness techniques and yoga at home in attempt to de-stress and furthermore, give you the energy you need. Ensuring you eat well and aim for a balanced diet including plenty of water is also key. A good sleep routine, aimng for 8 hours a night, will also do you wonders. Asking for help from friends and family is also a must.
If you aren't looking after yourself, how can you expect to look after someone else?