Being a parent can often be romanticised; however, recent studies show that 80% of parents suffer from burnout. The term ‘burnout” is often associated with high-profile jobs with excessive hours and much to sacrifice for success in their career. However, it’s not just working that can cause burnout; parenting can be too. Parenting is also classed as a full-time “job”; however, it is a lifetime commitment, with no option of resigning. That’s why it’s important to recognise the signs of parental burnout and start to put strategies to deal with it before a more extreme burnout happens.
Parental burnout was identified in the 1980s and was described as “an exhaustion syndrome, characterised by feeling physically and mentally overwhelmed by their role as a parent” by researchers Isabelle Roskam and Moïra Mikolajczak.
Burnout is a gradual progression, as many don’t realise they are at risk until it takes over. Though, it’s never too late to deal with burnout and reverse its effects before they develop into serious mental or physical health problems. It’s important to be self-aware and recognise the “red flags”, and knowing when you need to take a break and recharge can avoid potential burnout.
Burnout red flags:
- Short Temper – Snapping quickly at loved ones over things that you normally wouldn’t react to.
- Foggy Brain – Memory issues, lack of mental clarity, unable to focus.
- Low Tolerance – Things you may not have noticed previously now irate you and leave you with no patience with tasks, children, or others.
- Heightened Emotions and Sensitivity – Becoming sensitive to bright light, loudness, crowds, eye contact, struggling in social situations, and crying for little or no reason.
- Headaches– Increase in headaches, doesn’t like to go away.
- Bad Sleep Patterns – Waking up early, going to sleep late. Up throughout the night, restless.
- Forgetfulness – confusion and forgetting things daily, caused by depression, lack of sleep and a bad diet.
- Bad Stomach – Stress can sometimes slow down digestion, causing IBS pain. Either constipation, diarrhoea or frequent trips to the toilet, and stress can only worsen digestive problems.
- Depression – Symptoms of depression include low mood, hopelessness, low self-esteem, lack of energy and sleeping problems.
- Anxiety – Chronic anxiety can lead to irrational thoughts and irrational fears that interfere with your everyday.
- Feelings of Isolation – the sense of being alone even with others around. They are separated from others, socially or emotionally.
- Overwhelming Feelings – Overwhelmed by expectations, responsibilities, and lack of time.
- Bad Communication – Lack of active listening or snapping quickly.
- Using Food, Drugs or alcohol to cope – Parents often joke about having a drink when the kids are in bed. However, habitual drinking to “unwind” `does not solve the problem and can lead to much more serious issues.
In extreme circumstances, parental burnout can increase the child’s risk of abuse and neglect, which is not a surprise. Research has indicated that parental burnout/stress is a risk for domestic violence. The risk increases as the parent’s stress levels increase, leaving parents to imagine the possibilities of walking away.
So, what can you do to prevent parental burnout? It’s important to be aware of the signs, and if you feel they relate to you, then reach out for help; there is no shame in asking for support. The Devon Clinic has been funded a programme for stressed single parents, offering nine sessions of counselling treatments. This hugely successful programme can help control and overcome any signs or feelings of being burnout. If you are not a single parent, do not worry. We have many practitioners that can help support you in your time of need. Speaking out is the first step you can take; help is out there.