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Parental burnout – what is it and do you have it?
Parenting experts tells us how to spot the signs of parental burnout, and how to avoid it.
The good news is, burnout can be prevented (Alamy/PA)
Parenting can be stressful – but if you’re feeling overwhelmed every day, you may be experiencing signs of parental burnout.
Burnout has been the subject of growing focus in recent years in the context of our working lives, when chronic stress starts taking a significant toll, affecting people both mentally and physically – and the same can apply with parenting.
“Parental burnout is where a parent feels overwhelmed by parental stress,” explains Jo Thurston, a service coordinator at Action for Children’s Parent Talk live chat service. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed on a day-to-day basis, you may have parental burnout – you might feel you don’t have time to look after your own needs, or that the pressure to be a ‘good’ parent is too much.
“Burnout happens when stress gets too much. You can feel helpless and defeated, you can experience exhaustion, feel detached or depressed, or have little or no motivation.”
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Research by the charity in 2021 found 82% of UK parents had at least one of the warning signs of parental burnout, such as anxiety, disrupted sleep, feeling isolated, depression, and overwhelming mental exhaustion.
Thurston says there isn’t one single thing that means you’ve definitely got parental burnout, rather a whole raft of possible signs and symptoms. These include physical or mental exhaustion; being short-tempered; feeling anxious or panicky; feeling depressed and not enjoying the things you used to enjoy; wanting to get away from the kids; trying to cope by using food, drugs or alcohol; a change in appetite (eating too much/too little); disrupted sleep; feeling unwell a lot, plus headaches, joint and muscle pains.
Matt Buttery, CEO of the parenting programme provider Triple P UK, and an associate professor at the University of Warwick, adds: “It’s important that parents prioritise their mental and physical health to make sure they can be present, positive and patient with their children. Being a good parent doesn’t mean your child should take over your life. Parenting needs to be viewed in the wider context of personal self-care, resourcefulness and wellbeing.”
To help prevent parental burnout, Thurston and Buttery share the following suggestions…
1. Take time to recharge
Parenting can easily take over, but it’s important to make time to see your own friends and do activities you enjoy, and generally give yourself time to recharge your parenting batteries, suggests Buttery. “Just 15 to 30 minutes a day recharging can help you provide a more positive and calm environment at home for your child,” he explains.
A recent Australian study found parents who are kind to themselves and take time to relax have better health and wellbeing, are more confident in their parenting, and have more positive interactions with their children.
2. Prioritise sleep
Getting to bed at a decent time and implementing a relaxing bedtime routine will help give you the best chance of a good night’s sleep. “Try to get into a good sleep routine to allow yourself space and time for sleep,” advises Thurston.
3. Get some exercise
Thurston advises parents to carve out some time to get some exercise, and if it’s outside then even better, as getting fresh air can really boost mental health. Thurston says: “It’s vital that you get outdoors or do some exercise – or both.”
4. Consider saying no more
One of the main reasons for parental burnout is parents simply taking on too much. “To give yourself some time off, work as a team with your partner or with other carers and parents,” Buttery suggests. “Keep in mind that doing fewer things that you can fully commit to and enjoy, can be more fun than attempting to complete everything and becoming overwhelmed in the process.”
5. Talk about it
Instead of trying to cope alone with the stress and exhaustion associated with burnout, don’t be afraid to get help – whether that’s through official channels like the GP, or just talking to friends and family. “Many parents feel there’s stigma around reaching out for help,” observes Buttery. “But if you’re struggling, talking to your friends and family can be really helpful. You might find they’ve been struggling too and they could have their own tips.”
Thurston adds: “It’s important for anyone experiencing burnout to reach out and talk to someone, whether that’s a family member, friends or their GP.” She says anyone looking for further support can visit Parent Talk for advice and log on to a one-to-one chat with a parenting coach.