Have you ever found yourself feeling like in you’re in survival mode, completely exhausted, and struggling to enjoy being with your children? You might be experiencing symptoms of parental burnout. We understand that parenting is hard and relentless and becomes especially difficult when we constantly put the needs of our children before our own.
Symptoms of parental burnout include:
· physical tiredness (lack of energy and motivation)
· emotional withdrawal from our children or partners
· mental exhaustion (brain fog and forgetfulness)
· physical symptoms (headaches, pain, and nausea)
· feeling stressed, irritable, incompetent, doubtful, hopeless, lonely, or guilty
· changes in appetite or sleeping habits
· using alcohol or drugs in attempt to numb and cope
Parental burnout, just like burnout from the workplace, can leave you feeling extremely fatigued, worn out, or depleted in energy. Many parents will describe it as ‘running on empty’. This can leave you feeling like you’re emotionally detached from your children or the world around you. Experiencing parental burnout can make it difficult for you to be emotionally present your children.
Many parents also report feeling incompetent in their role as a parent when experiencing burnout because they feel like they’re not doing a good job or perhaps not feeling like the parent they used to be. Parents can then begin to lose their confidence and sense of enjoyment. Many parents also report feeling guilt or shame that they are feeling burnt out, not enjoying being with their children, and wanting time away.
These feelings, in addition to fatigue, lack of motivation, and decreased opportunities to get relief from parenting can all lead to parents feeling isolated and lonely, which can begin to impact parent’s mental health and overall wellbeing. Symptoms of parental burnout can also present as physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach upset, nausea, pain, and dizziness, and even increasing vulnerability to illness as you feel more run down.
We know that parental burnout can occur from a variety of reasons, including:
· lack of practical social support from family or carers or single parenting
· lower access to emotional support to discuss these feelings
· increased physical, mental, and emotional demands with number of children
· having young children which is a greater risk factor for emotional exhaustion
· having a child with a disability and/or extra support needs
· perfectionistic tendencies in the parent
· feeling a lack of control or confidence in parenting
It’s important to know that feelings of parental burnout are not uncommon and can be alleviated with professional help. In fact, seeking help for these feelings may act as prevention against developing depression.
Some helpful strategies for managing symptoms of parental burnout may include:
· Increasing sleep through improving sleep hygiene, asking someone to take over, or taking rest wherever you can get it
· Prioritising self-care (whatever that looks like for you) as a form of relief from parenting which can help you to recharge
· Challenging your own expectations of how you should be as a parent, or getting appropriate parenting support,
· Asking for help from friends, family, or carers to share the parenting load
· Be open and talk about your feelings with your loved ones or other parents
· Be kind and patient to yourself, feeling burned out will occur, but how you treat yourself helps with this
· Practice mindfulness strategies to manage stress and help feeling present
· Seeking professional help from a Perinatal Psychologist to learn why you are experiencing parental burnout and how to best manage
· Consulting your General Practitioner to rule out any possible medical reasons contributing to feelings of exhaustion
Remember, parenting is hard and feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm are a normal response to this; however, there are ways to cope and reduce these feelings. Our team of Perinatal Psychologists here at the Perinatal, Child & Family Hub on the Sunshine Coast are experienced with treating parental burnout and may be able to support you with your needs.