Families Under Pressure: Understanding Parental Burnout and Strategies to Combat it

Without question, parents and caregivers have been under immense pressure over the past few years, some unrelenting, others under more of a constant hum that just echos in the background of their everyday flow.

Is there a way to get out of this cycle? If so, how do we do it without putting more pressure on ourselves? 

We can start very small and be very deliberate here. Let's start with what I've been hearing from parents lately...

"I used to cherish my hobby time and now I can't even tell you what my hobbies are."

"I felt like my needs just faded into the background. I'm responsible for everyone else's needs being met, I just can't seem to make time for mine."

Sound familiar? It can feel like taking a ride on a never-ending carousel.

The term "burnout" has many faces, including parental burnout, which is increasingly becoming a widespread concern. A recent survey reveals a staggering 42% of global workers reporting burnout. You aren't alone, and there are things that we can (gradually) implement to slow down the speed and duration of this carousel ride.

Defining burnout as a three-dimensional syndrome characterized by extreme physical / emotional / mental exhaustion, emotional distancing from one's child(ren), and inefficacy within one's parental role, it can affect various roles, including parents working outside of the home. This is what I refer to as dual role collision: when your work life / responsibilities collide with your household life / responsibilities. The challenge lies in differentiating burnout from depression and other mental disorders which is something that can be discussed in more detail with your healthcare provider and mental health team.*

So, how can busy parents combat burnout while trying to make some more space for their own personal needs? Here are a few strategies:
  1. Reserve and protect daily "me" time: Schedule a pocket of downtime on your calendar. This time can be used to recharge, to take a screen break, to read a book instead of swiping on social media, or to even take a nap if you're able. The point is that you have protected time every single day which is dedicated to YOU and YOUR needs.
  2. Embrace novelty while breaking up the monotony: introduce a new activity into your life. For me, I recently started sculpture art in my office using Plaster of Paris and aluminum screens from Home Depot. I have zero formal training in sculpture art, but I am learning a new skill and it is something that I enjoy doing. As mentioned in Harvard Health Publishing, "practicing a new and challenging activity is a good bet for building and maintaining cognitive skills".**
  3. Set, respect, adhere to boundaries: Recognize and be aware of your own limitations- the hours you are awake don't have to be spent fully occupied with activities, tasks, chores, and overloading yourself. Consider what is most urgent and pressing, make those tasks / actions a priority, and triage the rest.
  4. Brief getaways and micro-vacations: This is not possible for everyone, I completely understand that. If you are able to take a walk, a drive, something that allows you to take in some new scenery, consider that an alternative. If you can manage a cost-effective, 1/2 day brief getaway while your kids are under a partner / loved one's supervision, explore it as an idea.
  5. The act of asking for help is not easy, however practice can make it a bit easier: Maybe a micro-vacation isn't in the cards right now, but making some changes in household task distribution is a bit more reasonable. Start small, be deliberate, and work up to more significant requests. It can be a difficult practice for all of us, but we will never improve if we don't practice it.

Would you be willing to try any of these?

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*Disclaimer: The information posted by Shelley Kemmerer PA-C, MCHS of Run Tell Mom LLC, and its representatives on the Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter account @runtellmom website, blog, (runtellmom.com), and newsletter (runtellmom.com), or any other medium or social media platform (the “Information”) is for educational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical, mental health, legal, or other advice.  Run Tell Mom LLC is not engaged in rendering diagnosis, treatment, counseling, or therapy services by providing the Information, and your use of the Information does not create any practitioner-patient or other treatment relationship between you and Shelley Kemmerer PA-C, MCHS, Run Tell Mom LLC, or any of its representatives.  Shelley Kemmerer PA-C, MCHS, Run Tell Mom, and its representatives assume no responsibility and expressly disclaim liability for any consequence relating directly or indirectly to any action or inaction you take based on the Information.  Reliance on any Information provided by Run Tell Mom LLC, its representatives, and contributors, is solely at your own risk.  Always seek the advice of your own licensed and qualified medical, mental health, legal, or other professional, and do not disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it based on the Information. Call your medical or mental health professional, or 911, for all emergencies.

**Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, February 15). Train your brain. Harvard Health Blog. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/train-your-brain