UPMC Expert: Parental fatigue and burnout | Life

Parenting is hard work on any given day and with recent societal stressors including the ongoing pandemic, parents are left feeling overwhelmed, cognitively and emotionally drained, and physically exhausted. Being a parent is a full-time, 24/7 job that involves constantly placing the needs of your children and others in your life ahead of your own.

Parental fatigue and burnout are very real and result from our choices to consistently sacrifice ourselves to the detriment of our own well-being. The problem is that most people think that this is a normal part of parenting, a badge of honor per say. This culture leads parents to feel weak, inadequate, ashamed, or guilty for being tired or asking for help. However, suppressing and dismissing these feelings will only take toll on your mental and physical health in the long run.

Signs and Symptoms of Parental Burnout

Parental burnout is the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that one feels from the chronic stress of parenting and the direct result of continually spreading ourselves too thin. This often manifests with emotional distancing from the child/children, irritability or irrational emotional responses, mental fog or forgetfulness, feelings of anxiety or depression, and a sense of being a “bad” or ineffective parent. The cognitive and emotional symptoms and compound stress can also affect our physical health.

While our bodies are equipped to handle stress, we can easily become overwhelmed when we are continually operating in “survival mode.” The prolonged release of stress hormones can begin to have lasting effects mentally, including confusion, difficulty remembering and concentrating, depression, sleep disturbances, hostility and obsessive behaviors, as well as many physical symptoms including hormonal imbalances, weight gain or loss, chronic poor sleep and increased risk of serious health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.

Tips to Combat Burnout

Most parents are likely to experience mild-to-moderate parental burnout, especially in their child’s early years. The good news is that parental burnout is temporary. Consider the following tips to help manage your feelings, stress and the demands associated with parenting:

  • Find time for yourself and do not feel guilty for taking care of your own needs. You cannot be on duty 24/7.

  • Eat nutritious food, exercise daily, and get adequate sleep every night.

  • Find someone to share your experiences with who is in a similar situation — your partner, a friend, a neighbor, or look for a local parenting group.

  • Accept help from others. Most people will be happy to help if you tell them what you need. Offer ideas such as food preparation, errands, or babysitting for a little while so you can get some time to yourself or do things without the child/children.

  • Prioritize what needs to be done and separate what would be nice to have done. Focus your energy on what matters most. Remember, there is no such thing as the perfect parent.

Being a parent is the most rewarding and challenging role you will ever have in life. Your child needs you to be at your best, and if you do not take care of yourself, you will not have the energy or mindset to be able to be present and active in their life. Remember, you are not in this alone and that this something that every parent goes through to some degree.

If symptoms are interfering with your life, reach out for help. Doing so is not a sign of weakness. Psychotherapy, peer support, and medication are the most common treatment options for anxiety, stress, and depression. Your primary care physician or a mental health professional can help you find the right combination of treatment unique to you.

Jackie Baker, LCSW, is a clinical social worker with UPMC Behavioral Health and sees patients at UPMC Williamsport Divine Providence Campus, 1100 Grampian Blvd., Williamsport. For more information, visit UPMC.com/BehavioralHealthNCPA.

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