- Though not an official mental health condition, parental burnout can occur when parents feel weary and exhausted due to child-rearing duties on top of work and other stressors.
- Parental burnout symptoms can include fatigue, irritation, over-parenting, and anhedonia (the inability to feel significant amounts of pleasure in one’s daily life).
- To help prevent burnout, parents can shift their mindset away from unrealistic expectations for themselves and their household, focusing on self-care, time management, and holistic health.
- Perfection isn’t possible while raising kids, but that doesn’t mean parents can’t find meaning and happiness in their time spent with family—whether it’s organized or chaotic.
When it comes to being a parent, many may feel the expectation to be bullet-proof, tireless, and a fearless leader of their household. But the reality is that parents are human—and will struggle like anyone else. And if pushed beyond their limits, parental burnout can occur.
Parental burnout is a unofficial condition that is characterized by irritability, fatigue, increased aggression, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. To avoid experiencing parental burnout, it’s essential that parents attempt to recognize the symptoms and obtain the proper support—such as that of a licensed mental health professional.
Follow along as we explain the signs and symptoms of parental burnout—and what to do if you’re feeling as though you’ve hit your limits.
What Are the Symptoms of Parental Burnout?
Parental burnout symptoms can include:
- lack of sleep
- Increase in sleep
- Anhedonia, or a reduced ability to feel pleasure
- Decrease in sexual arousal
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Anxious rumination
- Decrease or increase in appetite
- Catastrophizing thoughts
To distinguish between parental burnout and experiencing burnout in a more general sense, it’s important to look at the stressors and triggers that are at play. When a lot of the above symptoms are present within a childcare role or when children are present, it’s very telling that parental burnout is occurring.
What Negative Effects Can Overparenting Have on Children?
Research indicates that overparenting occurs when a parental figure sets excessively rigid expectations and rules for a child, which can cause a wide variety of effects on children. Some potential negative effects can include but are not limited to:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Increased hostility
- Disobedient behavior
- Anxious thoughts
- An increase in lying behaviors
- Poor academic performance
- Social withdrawal
- Poor hygiene
Overparenting is exhausting to both children and parents, and can also lead to parental burnout as a parent tries too hard to enforce rules. For example, a parent might not have patience with their child and “snap” at them, or even respond violently, increasing conflict and potentially damaging the relationship if the pattern continues to persist.
What Are the Complications of Burnout?
Parental burnout also can also have the following complications on physical health:
- Increase in blood pressure
- Brain fog
- Short term memory impairments
- Difficulty focusing
- Fast heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
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What Effects Can Burnout Lead to?
Some of the effects of parental burnout are as follows:
- Feelings of loneliness
- Increase in interpersonal conflict due to increased irritability
- Decreased distress tolerance
- Decrease in engagement in social support system and hobbies
All of the combined factors above can negatively affect a person’s presentation of mood and emotions which can then cause a “domino effect” of conflict, tension, and discrepancies within both interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning. These can disrupt family systems, patterns, and ultimately relationships.
Critical Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Parental Burnout
One of the best ways to recover from parental burnout is to seek help from a licensed mental health professional. To further identify if you would benefit from speaking to someone about burnout from parenting, you can consider if you or someone close to you has identified any changes in your personality, habits, or routines.
- Have you been acting in ways that you normally do not act?
- Have you noticed any changes in how frequently you are communicating and interacting with friends and family?
- Are you feeling as though you are struggling to feel happy, fulfilled, or at peace in your life at home?
Asking yourself these types of questions can shed light on any behavioral changes that could indicate you’re suffering from parental burnout.
What Are the Risks of Parental Burnout?
If left untreated, some of the risks of parental burnout can include:
- Complications with your partner or co-parent
- Decreased work performance
- Depression or anxiety
- Losing your temper with your kids
- Aggression and aggressive behaviors
- Increase in frequency of conflict with children
Parental burnout depletes a parent of their innate ability to cope with stress, thus increasing the likelihood of conflict between not only the burnt-out parent and their child(ren) but other family members and individuals that live in the house. And as stated above, parental burnout can also increase the likelihood of development of a mental health disorder, such as anxiety and depression.
What to Do When You Are Burnt Out from Parenting?
Some of the most comprehensive ways to combat parental burnout might involve:
- Taking microbreaks. For example, take a cold shower in the middle of the afternoon on a hot day. Skip a morning meeting in favor of drinking an icy beverage in the sun. Think about what you need to recharge specific batteries. You can shift your expectations and find little, mindful moments for self-care.
- Considering your resources within the community and beyond. Because you are definitely not alone in your parental desperation, the chances are high that your community offers inexpensive childcare options through Parks & Rec or the YMCA. Community organizations often host free family events, from outdoor movie screenings to kid-friendly concerts, so check your local listings and get some dates on the calendar.
- Using your evenings to focus on yourself. If you feel as if you’re missing out on personal time because you have to work during the day, then arrange more activities at night. Attend an evening date with your partner, go to a baseball game, or go out for ice cream and talk a walk after dinner.
- Being willing to modify, but not break, healthy habits. Your summers might not be as structured as your school years, and your routines probably won’t be perfect, but you still need to cover the basics: A nutritious diet, regular exercise, and ample sleep. But this still leaves room for flexibility. For example, maybe you’re used to jogging outside in cooler weather. In the summer, you might switch to air-conditioned workouts. And if you accept that your family will be eating more dinners out, you can plan to supplement those meals with healthier breakfasts.
- Planning as best you can, but acknowledging your shortcomings. Not every parent is an expert planner. If you have trouble with time management and long-term planning, ask a friend or family member to help you get organized. Don’t be ashamed if you get overwhelmed by looking ahead. You bring other strengths to your household. Sometimes planning and anticipating a future event can even deliver a rush of dopamine to a stressed brain.
Parents can become overwhelmed, or burnt out—it’s just the truth. Routines won’t stay the same as you’re raising children. So the best thing parents can do to avoid feeling overwhelmed is to learn coping strategies to deal with change. Parents will continue to love their children, and can avoid physical and emotional exhaustion by finding meaning in both their structured time and chaos.