Burnout is not restricted to the high-flying executive with a 7am start who goes on to burn the midnight oil. In fact, it’s not about putting in long hours or taking on an extra load at all. It’s a little more complicated and can find a way of creeping in on us without realising it. It has such a big impact that it knocks us down and sits itself firmly on top us, making it a little difficult to get back up.
Parental Burnout has been given a little more attention lately as it becomes recognised as a legitimate cause for concern for parents of our generation. Having been on the brink of parental burnout myself, I want to help you understand what it is, how to recognise it, and most importantly how to pick yourself back up again.
What is Parental Burnout?
The early days, the first few months, the first year or at least until sleep regulates, is the most deliriously exhausting time in our lives. We are running on empty, catching our tail in a fog of energy deprivation. This is not burnout. Sorry to say, but these are the ordinary tiring days of parenthood. Sounds terrifying I know, but more often than not we move from this overbearing and exhausting time of our lives into something a little more manageable which resembles normality as a family.
Burnout, on the other hand, involves an intense lethargy, resulting from chronic parental stress. The strain of our lives with children can easily take over. There are high levels of exhaustion at play and feelings of being emotionally drained in all manner of our parenting lives. We suffer a disconnect with our role as parent which has the ability to distance us from our children.
Last year, I suffered burnout after months of external stresses. Between working a corporate job and running Mama Moments, balancing two children, childcare, and a home, suddenly all of us were sick. One after the other. And repeat. For four solid months, one of us was sick. There was always someone on antibiotics and I had four throat infections back to back. Juggling time off to care for the kids when they were sick was the last straw and triggered intense burnout for me. Between the stress and the loss of control, I had no reserves in my tank and nothing left to give.
My story is not unusual. Burnout is more common than you may think, and it needs to be addressed as soon as possible so we can parent well and have a good quality of life.
Why Does it Happen?
As I said in my story, burnout can be a culmination of incredible and not so incredible stressors. Often one too many as we stack and stack and stack one thing on top of another until it falls. It can occur due to overwhelm, isolation, battling control with our environment, or external pressures until we are depleted in a way that our daily lives suffer including the way in which we manage our parenting.
How to Recognise Burnout
The problem with burnout is that it is quite literally a slow burner. We may not be aware we are moving towards the edge of the cliff until suddenly we are pushed over the side. Freefalling, we wonder how the heck did this happen?
Recognising burnout is not always easy which is why it has a habit of taking over. If you experience any of these indicators, they are a warning sign of potential burnout:
- Intense Lethargy and Exhaustion
- Emotional Overwhelm
- Emotional Distancing and Disconnect
- Feelings of Inadequacy
- Depression or Anxiety
- Poor or Erratic Sleep
- Irritability or Frustration
- Violent Behaviour of Increased Conflict
How to Avoid Burnout Taking Over
Burnout, no matter the stage it is at, is very real. Your worries, fears and upsets surrounding it are especially important. With self-awareness we have the ability to side-step burnout before it pushes us over the cliff.
- Watch for Signs Recognising the signs of burnout above is always the first step. Once you recognise that your parenting life has hit a few snags and you are being physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted, it’s time to act.
- Prioritise Self-care and self-compassion are the cornerstones to being emotionally balanced to face all of the stressor’s life throws at us. By being aware of our own needs, filling our cup, and being compassionate in our understanding of all we do, we set ourselves up to successfully manage our lives.
- Limit the Stress If we can recognise where stress comes from, we can limit our exposure to it. If the morning rush is a significant pressure, it may mean rejuggling our day, getting up earlier to get things done, or prepping the night before to limit the stress which can lead to burnout.
- Find a Balance Or at least stay grounded. Finding a work life balance or any kind of balance among the madness of parenting is quite a difficult ask with most of us knowing it doesn’t really exist. When we ground ourselves, we learn about what we need as people, not just parents.
- Avoid Comparison We live in a time when comparison sits in the palm of our hands. We watch and compare as our lives are placed online for all to see. Step away from the social media, the phone, conversations which make you feel inadequate. Avoid comparing and recognise all you do for your family.
Taking steps to recognise the hectic nature of life, applauding ourselves for all the good we do, scaling back our expectations, and finding moments to pause will help ease us out or away from burnout. If you find you are struggling to a point where these measures won’t help, please contact your GP for advice and support.