It’s important to take care of yourself, too
Tantrums, teenage hormones, diapers, after-school activities—parenting is stressful, no matter which child-rearing stage you’re in. It takes a lot of work to raise decent, happy, and healthy human beings, and it may mean that you end up placing your own needs on the back burner. Here are some guaranteed ways to combat parental burnout before you spiral into mental and physical overload.
That to-do list swirling around your head is called the mental load, and it’s a huge parental burnout perpetrator. Individual tasks—like remembering to schedule your child’s next wellness visit or helping build their science diorama—may seem easy enough to handle, but they can add up quickly. Doing it all on your own can lead to intense mental fatigue and forgetfulness. If you have a partner, it’s time to divide and conquer. And if you’re a single parent, turn to your family and friends for help with your to-do list where possible.
When you’re a kid, you’re often handed an intricate network of people who are there for you. As we grow older, you become responsible for creating our own, which is easy to neglect. By building and nurturing your social support system, you’ll protect your mental and emotional well-being. Once you have other parents to ask questions and share stories with, you’ll feel more connected and understood.
It’s natural for parents to worry about their children, but sometimes a parent’s anxiety can be all-consuming. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—a type of talk therapy—can empower parents to better manage their worries. Guided by a mental health counselor, CBT works to increase awareness of the way you view and react to challenging situations and helps you to identify strategies to better respond and manage your stress more effectively in the future.
If you’re the parent of a baby or young child, sleep can sometimes seem hard to come by. Even when your child finally starts sleeping through the night, you may still struggle to get those eight hours. Lack of sleep can contribute to mental health disorders, heart disease, and other health issues. Getting enough sleep prepares your brain and body to handle stress and can improve cognition and mood. Develop a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine, avoid screens and caffeine in the evening, and address insomnia with your health care provider.
Spending time outdoors is a science-backed way to reduce stress and anxiety. It doesn’t have to be that long either. Spending as little as 10 minutes in nature can positively impact overall mental health and well-being. And when you can’t get outside, research shows that just looking at pictures of fields, grass, and trees could help you recover from a stressful event.
Another way we counter stress is by eating healthy foods. In one study, participants reported lower stress levels when consuming more fruits and vegetables. Additionally, plant-rich meals high in omega-3 fatty acids lower cortisol levels. Nutritious food provides our bodies with the energy we need during periods of extreme stress. Stock up on a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other unprocessed foods so you have easy access to nutrient-dense meal options.
A glass or two of wine may seem like a good way to unwind at the end of the day, but it may be doing more harm than good, as research shows that even moderate alcohol intake can exacerbate anxiety. Alcohol temporarily increases dopamine and GABA in our bodies but once those neurotransmitter levels drop, it may lead to anxiety. If you feel like you need to have a drink at the end of the night, make it a cup of caffeine-free tea or other non-alcoholic beverage, such as a mocktail with healthy ingredients, like adaptogens.
While seeking support from your network or community is an important step you can take to prevent parental burnout, setting boundaries may also be necessary to protect your mental well-being. For example, if you have a friend or family member who requires your constant attention or asks for too much, you may feel overwhelmed and depleted. By establishing boundaries with individuals who tend to overstep, you’ll be better equipped to focus on your responsibilities and manage stress. Communicate your intentions and say no to excessive requests so you can better manage burnout.
Exercise influences our brains by protecting our memory and thinking skills. Further, working out has a positive effect on mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. It’s recommended that healthy adults aim each week to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise—such as walking at a brisk pace or swimming laps.
When we focus our energy on positive thinking, emotional regulation, and present awareness, we can reduce high levels of burnout. One way to do this is through practicing meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. All three are mind-body stress-reduction techniques scientifically proven to reduce stress. Studies show a significant reduction in burnout among those who work in demanding careers, such as health care workers and teachers, when they participate in meditations-based wellness programs. Check out meditation apps, classes, or retreats to support your practice.