6 things to do when you're suffering from parental burnout

We've all most probably felt like this at some stage... most days even.
We've all most probably felt like this at some stage... most days even. Photo: iStock

Many of us know the feeling well; the unending, relentless pressure of responsibility. Running a family is no easy task - there's very little room for reprieve in our busy lives and we're all just trying to keep the balls in the air without dropping too many.

It's a common complaint among parents to feel overwhelmed, that there's no break and thoughts increasingly turn to memories of a past life that seem now to have been so carefree. If not resolved, parental burnout can result in depression and anxiety. It can adversely affect our relationships with partners, our children and friends and turning to alcohol is a quick and accessible 'fix.'

When primary carers perceive there isn't the time or resources for self-care, they are less able to be fully engaged with their families. They feel depleted, running on empty as they tend the needs of everyone else first. There are three meals to be made per day, sport training, homework, showers, work, and trying to get one-on-one time with partner, other family and friends.

Counselling psychotherapist, Dr Karen Phillip, told Essential Kids that part of helping yourself through parental burnout involves recognising the signs and having a tool kit at the ready. "Accept there will be times when you are going to feel overwhelmed and exhausted and afford yourself temporary time off, even for 15 minutes," she says.

If it sounds easier said than done, it most certainly is, and not solely because of a lack of time. Retraining the mind to recognise burnout and being willing to put a self-care plan into action is a challenge. It's not impossible, however, and if we better understand our limits, it can quite quickly become habit.

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that recharging involves expensive day spas and holidays to exotic destinations, however these are not achievable for many, or too infrequent to lean on when times are tough. Regular, mindful self-care must be within reach, free or inexpensive.

Dr Phillip suggests five key strategies for busy parents to combat parental depletion:

1. Listen to uplifting music and dance

Physical movement releases feelgood hormones and reduces stress levels and the kids will love it too.

2. Download a meditation app

Smiling Mind is a good one - commit for as little as five minutes while the kids are occupied or asleep. They can even do their own, using the kids modules.

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3. Play with the kids and laugh.

If time out isn't possible, summon your inner child. You can build blocks, cook, create a cubby, kick a ball or ride a bike with them, or have a family disco. 

4. Get outside.

You can sit and watch the clouds, play with the dog, pick flowers; this keeps kids happy and involved while you can relax and watch, participate or simply enjoy the fresh air.

5. Request support from partner, family or friends 

There is no shame in asking for help when you feel overwhelmed and need that break. If you can, try to schedule this time regularly so you have it to look forward to and your family sees you practice self-care on your own terms.

6. Watch your alcohol intake

Dr Phillip also warns against using alcohol to get through the hard times, noting the prevalence of suggestions to drink, when a parent voices frustration on social media. We've all seen it, or even thoughtlessly done it ourselves; comments to the tune of, 'Wine, stat!' or 'Get thee to the bottle shop!'

"Human beings have an inbuilt ability to self soothe and make appropriate decisions most beneficial to themselves, their family and their life. Using alcohol as an escape only magnifies problems," says Dr Phillip.

"While many social media posts mention drinking to escape the burnout of parenting, keep in mind the short-lived pleasure can have long term detrimental consquences."

And while no-one is suggesting a few glasses a week is a sign of trouble, parents in distress are often being encouraged to self-medicate with alcohol. As with everything, moderation is key.

So next time you find yourself inwardly screaming you've had enough, put one or more of Dr Phillip's strategies into action and see how you go. Keep that little tool kit tucked away in your mind, for whenever you need it... even if it's daily. Everyone needs to step away occasionally, breathe, and regroup.

Thanks to Dr Karen Phillip, Counselling Psychotherapist and Parenting and Relationship Expert, for speaking to Essential Kids