Health & Wellbeing

6 strategies for coping with parental burnout

Team Kindship
• Date:
March 25, 2022
• Reading time:
6 minutes

No doubt we have all heard the sayings…

‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’

‘You must secure your own oxygen mask before that of others’

‘You can’t give what you haven’t got’

‘You’re running on empty’

‘You will stop working if you don’t recharge your batteries’

You get the gist. All cute metaphorical ways to say you're bloody tired, exhausted in fact. The truth is raising our tiny little humans is one hell of a tiresome gig. A 24hr job in which you wear many hats and continue to put the needs of your children ahead of yours. Insert raising a child with a disability and you have yourself the perfect recipe for extreme parental burnout.

All too often we know the signs but keep plugging away like it will randomly disappear, and normal functioning will soon again be restored. But it doesn’t happen like that, and more often than not you reach a boiling point which may lead to you being rundown, on the verge of breakdown, sickness, distancing, depression, anxiety…all the things.

Perhaps you have become so good at faking your ‘ok’, you are no longer even aware that burnout is happening, and you just continue to run on empty. That the exhausted, anxious, overwhelming feelings you’re constantly having are just your new normal, that’s just you now?

The reality is that there are many indicators of parental burnout. It's important to look out for the symptoms, because as cliché as it may sound you in fact can’t pour from an empty cup.

Parental burnout can look like

-Being easily triggered

-Restless

-Lack of enjoyment

-Overwhelmed by own emotions

-Exhaustion

-Easily frustrated

-Difficulty acknowledging how you feel

-Emotional distancing

-Withdrawal from being social

-Low motivation

-Loss of pleasure in parenting

-Increased anxiety

-Ongoing fatigue

-Thoughts of doing something for yourself seems impossible

-Feelings of uncertainty about parenting ability

The answer, however, is simple when it comes to curing parental burnout. Take some time for yourself, do something you love, self-care, self-love and blah, blah, blah…

If only it was that easy!

Parenting a child with a disability makes that quite a tricky task. You don’t magically have an endless pit of time up your sleeve. Appointments make an already busy week hectic, the extra needs your child has requires you to be with them ALOT and if siblings are involved usually any extra time you have is trying to be there for them too. There is a never ending to do list. Literally! Your mental resources are stretched to their limits every day. So, when do you look after yourself? And more importantly how?

While I am no master on this topic and could probably take some of my own advice! It is something I have intentionally been exploring and tuning into more recently.

Parental burnout strategies

Have a chat

Give yourself permission to talk about the way you are feeling. Parental burnout is not a taboo term, sometimes admitting you are struggling is so empowering just in itself.

Just because Judy on social media seems to constantly have all her shit together doesn’t mean she does, often it’s the Judy’s in the world that need to hear others are struggling too.

Pick up the phone, ring your sister, your friend or your mum. Have a vent. Post it on social media, I guarantee that people will thank you for it.

Positive venting is a healthy coping mechanism to release all those built up emotions. It can help give you a clearer perspective and lessen some of the tension you have been feeling.

Time out sanctuary

I know better than anybody that it’s not that easy to just have some time out, to get away and have some much-needed time to yourself. But I also know how beneficial it is to at least try.

The other day I had an epiphany moment. I created a space outside just for me. I moved some furniture around and immediately went on-line and ordered an ottoman and cushions from Kmart and just like magic I have my own ‘time out’ area. I have started my morning there everyday since. It's my intentional space I have created just for me. Yes, the kids sit there occasionally too but it's still MY space. The place where I go to start my morning, when I need a breather, 5 minutes to myself, to have a coffee or read a few pages from a book.

An alternative or addition to this could be to incorporate meditation. As little as ten minutes a day to take you to your time out sanctuary.

Music

Music is such a powerful way to boost your mood. I have different playlists I put on according to my moods and I listen to music every single day. Often, I put it on first thing after I have had my coffee, make the beds and get the house ready for the day. It’s a nice way to start the day and the ‘morning chores’ aren’t so much of a chore. Just something little that sets the tone for the day for me.

So many benefits to listening to music;

-It can transport you to a different time

-Improve sleep

-Boost productivity

-Decrease depression

-Enhance learning and memory

-{Blocks out the noise from all the annoying shows your kids watch on youtube, drowns out all the ‘mum, mum, muuuum’ chants and if it's loud enough eliminates your ability to hear sibling fights} 😉

Lower expectations

I am a bit of a perfectionist but recently have learnt to let go. Not all the time but sometimes (I’m not that hectic just yet). It's ok if you have a week where the kids' hair aren’t all neatly brushed away, matching outfits on and gourmet lunches packed. Half the time the extra effort we go to is unnoticed by anyone but yourself. Which is fine but give yourself permission to lower your standards every now and again.

It’s a constant battle to get my daughter with cerebral palsy to wear her orthotics but I always insist on going the extra mile to tempt her to wear them. Its stressful and gives me anxiety when she isn’t wearing them  but sometimes you need to put your hands up and say F#*K it and pick your battles. If your mental load has reached capacity it's ok to have a time out. Be ‘a good enough parent’ for a week and get back on track next week.

Be active

You're tired, you have no energy, but all the mental health experts say to exercise. Seems like a bit of a contradiction really but intentionally moving your body each day has so many benefits. One of the main ones being; to reduce fatigue.

Exercise is considered vital for your mental state. It produces endorphins and when your body feels good your mind does too.

No one is saying splash on gym gear and turn into #fitspo - rather concentrate on moving your body every or most days.

No time, gyms too expensive, don’t know how, too hard… you could think of endless reasons why exercise is just too difficult. Luckily for you, I have become quite the self-appointed mastermind at getting over exercise hurdles.

-Family walks/bike rides, my daughter has a wheelchair which we can take her in and an adaptive bike. I need to run to keep up with helping her on her bike these days so it’s a great workout.

-Find a friend to keep you accountable

-Have a workout buddy. Go to a park or take turns at each other’s houses

-Find a gym with a creche (personally this option didn’t work for me as I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my daughter and either did she – autism and separation anxiety means it just didn’t work for us)

-Google home workouts. Hello iPad time for kids and workout time for you

-Get a boxing bag and punch it out

-Fit it where you can. I love to go for walks by myself and make sure I make time for at least one short walk when my husband is home (early morning/late nights)

-Get a group of friends together and sign up to a team sport (you not only get the exercise buzz but the happy endorphins from being with friends for an hour).

-Invest in some home gym equipment, Kmart and Big W have a great range of well-priced workout equipment – Sidenote: you don’t even need proper gym equipment to get a decent workout in (use dining chairs for triceps dips/ water bottles for weights etc)

-Wake up early and squeeze in a workout. Gone are the days of gruelling long hour sessions. The rage these days are HIIT sessions, 15 to 30 minutes is all you need!

-Workout with the kids. We set a 30-minute timer and each minute we do a new exercise, it also doubles up as a physio session for one of my daughters.

-Swim in your pool with the kids, google ‘just dance’ and have a dance session, jump on the trampoline with them or do some squats while you push them on the swing.

Just get creative and think it's only a tiny portion of your day that you are dedicating to moving. It gives you a more positive mindset, helps you cope, makes you feel good…just do it!

Set boundaries

You can’t do it all, you can’t go to every social event or help others all the time. Sometimes you need to set yourself some boundaries and learn to say no!

Look at what you are doing and try to eliminate some things to take the load off. Have a diary to keep track of everything but to also show what your week looks like.

Too many commitments? Cancel some of them.

Appointments and therapies getting too much? Take a break

Is there any scheduled time in there to do absolutely nothing? Well schedule some in.

Don’t have the mental energy to go to that BBQ? Don’t go

Learning to say no will assist in minimising your burnout.

Sometimes when we reach burnout it can put us in a really negative headspace, I think it’s vital to try to maintain a positive mindset and remember that it's not a bad life, just a bad day/week.

Above all it is so important to get some time away. We all need a break from our kiddies from time to time, so if you have the option of family, babysitting, day-care, respite…take it!

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