Signs you could be suffering from parental burnout

Natalie Cornish
·4-min read
Photo credit: Steven Puetzer - Getty Images
Photo credit: Steven Puetzer - Getty Images

From Red Online

Burnout is characterised as a severe form of exhaustion caused by chronic stress. Pre-pandemic – many of us associated the mental health condition with over-working and being constantly busy.

Now, a new form of burnout is on the rise in lockdown which is detrimentally affecting parents and care-givers. This condition is known as parental burnout.

WHAT IS PARENTAL BURNOUT?

Moira Mikolajczak, a professor of psychology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, has been studying the illness for the past five years.

She recently told The Times that parental burnout is 'an exhaustion syndrome, characterised by feeling physically and mentally overwhelmed by their role as a parent'. Her research suggests cases are on the rise, with 10% of parents in the UK thought to be currently suffering symptoms of parental burnout.

This is perhaps unsurprising given that many of us are juggling homeschooling, working and trying to keep children entertained right now with little let up.

So what are the symptoms of parental burnout? And where should you go for help? Here, Dr. Kalanit Ben-Ari, psychologist, author and founder of online parenting community The Village, explains everything you need to know.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF PARENTAL BURNOUT?

According to the latest research, there are four key signs of parental burnout to look out for. However, for them to equate to 'parental burnout' it does depend on how many of them are present, the intensity and the frequency of them:

  1. The parent feels overwhelmed and chronically exhausted from carrying out their parental role

  2. The parent finds themselves emotionally detaching from the child or avoiding them

  3. The parent finds that they are not enjoying their parental role or being with their children, as they used to

  4. The parent recognises that they are not being the parent they would like to be, which comes with feelings of guilt and shame

WHAT CAUSES PARENTAL BURNOUT?

Ultimately, parental burnout is caused by an imbalance of stress/risk versus resources/protective factors.

Someone who is experiencing high levels of stress, for example, might not necessarily experience burnout if they have high levels of resources (e.g. a supportive partner, hobbies or strong sense of community). Where the balance between stress and resources leans towards the stress end, there is higher risk of experiencing burnout.

Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

HOW TO AVOID PARENTAL BURNOUT

Strengthen your support and resources. This could be support from friends, family, neighbours or your community. Perhaps they could help with the child’s homework over Zoom, help with the dog, or pick up shopping from the supermarket for you. This help could also come in the form of paid help, such as ordering a takeaway instead of cooking once a week or hiring a cleaner to free up some of your time.

Express the distress. If you are finding things challenging, talk about your feelings and emotions (not just an account of the day) with someone you trust, who will hear you out in an accepting and non-judgmental way. Speaking about your feelings is an important outlet when feeling overwhelmed. You can also reach out to a GP or therapist (the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has an online directory of registered members that you can use to find a local therapist here).

Work on your stress management skills. This can be done by practising mindfulness (think yoga, meditation and breathing exercises), by being outdoors and enjoying nature, seeking small moments of joy in the everyday (that could be sipping your morning coffee in peace) and reducing your intake of social media and the news.

Empower yourself. Seek out new parenting skills or techniques that might help you day-to-day. While social settings are restricted, find an online community of like-minded parents who will support you in this. A good place to start is The Village, an online parenting community empowered by experts, where community support and expert advice is available 24/7.

Photo credit: franckreporter - Getty Images
Photo credit: franckreporter - Getty Images

Strive for 'good enough'. Manage your expectations of yourself. Think about what is good enough for now. You might relax your expectations about the house tidiness, that the laundry hasn’t been done or that the children have skipped a shower for a day. Lower the standards you expect from yourself to be achievable and focus on the emotional level of the family instead. All we can ask for ourselves is that we do our best – and that our best is good enough.

If you need further help or support, contact your GP or find a therapist to talk to here.

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