Overwhelming exhaustion affects today’s parents at record rates. Chronic stress and parental burnout account for mental health challenges, substance abuse, illness, and sick days from work. And the burnout this time of year is made worse for parents because of the busy holiday season. As a licensed clinical psychologist with training in perinatal mental health, I can attest to a growing concern among practitioners like myself who are witnessing an unprecedented number of parents who are overloaded with responsibilities and feelings of inadequacy.1
I can’t reinforce enough the benefits of implementing mindfulness into a parent’s daily routine. You may think this is easier said than done when juggling kids, household chores, work, and other obligations. Yet, even small things can become hectic if moms and dads are not centered, which can affect their daily abilities. When I became a mom, I recognized the need for resources for those impacted by parental stressors. Here are tips on what I do and recommend that parents avoid and handle burnout with the busy season upon us. The result is that we feel more connected with our families and ourselves year-round.
How to Recognize Parental Burnout
Parental burnout can look like physical exhaustion, such as daily fatigue and difficulty sleeping, irritability and anxiety or difficulty regulating your emotions, or a sense of detachment from your children. These symptoms may result from emotionally draining environments, like holiday parties.1,2
5 Tips for Avoiding Parental Burnout During the Holidays
1. Talk About the Elephant in the Room
Acknowledging that you are exhausted is the first step in finding and implementing ways to handle the tiredness and stress-induced feelings you are experiencing. Sometimes, parents feel guilty speaking up and saying they need help. If the holidays, for instance, are becoming way too much for you, come up with ways to reduce expectations and focus on creating a space where less is more. For example, watch The Nutcracker movie at home instead of attending a live performance, decline party invitations, and opt for a family game night. Expressing your emotions, however difficult they may be, is an important stage in overcoming serious implications in the future because it can mean finding support to help you cope.
2. Ask for Help from Family Members and Professionals
When you feel your superhero cape could use a little breather, turn to a trusted friend or family member, and ask for their help with your day-to-day activities. Also, consider consulting a mental health professional to deal with intense emotional distress and thoughts of inadequacy. Having a go-to person you can always contact is an excellent reminder that you are not alone, and the holidays are no exception.
3. Implement a Schedule with Time for Self-care, Relaxation, and Mindfulness
Yes, parenthood has space for mindfulness and self-care, even when it feels unrealistic. Establishing a set time all to yourself and choosing how you spend it can go a long way in relieving stress. No, you don’t have to run away to a spa or go on an extended vacation. A simple moment of bliss, such as a morning yoga session before the kids wake up, time spent alone reading a book, or even just sitting outside for 10 minutes, can do wonders in allowing you to breathe and take much-needed time for yourself. The hustle and bustle of a parenting lifestyle always mean you need time to unwind. So, put it on the schedule like any holiday outing or children’s activity. And start saying “no” to things you don’t want to do!
4. Join a Support Group
Spending time with other parents without the kiddos, be it in person or online, is an excellent opportunity to find common ground and share ways all of you handle your feelings of parental burnout. What you bring to the table may help someone else and vice versa. We parents are all in this together, so supporting each other benefits our families and us tremendously. Cultivating our friendships is also essential, especially when our relationships change when we become a parent. These friendships can be increasingly valuable when times get tough and may nourish our need for connections.
5. Identify Coping Strategies When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
When you feel burned out, embrace self-compassion, and give yourself grace, just as you would for others. You can also find ways to help you feel more centered and in the present moment amid the chaos of daily life. Remember to eliminate negative self-talk and unattainable perfectionism and start a self-care journal for writing activities to help reduce stress. You can use the journal whenever your feelings become too much. Your busy life may not change, but your approach to dealing with it can.
If parenting leaves you feeling mentally and physically exhausted, I strongly encourage you to seek assistance and know that help is available. When we open up to others about our feelings and recognize our challenges as parents, we ensure that we’re seen and heard.