Parenting is an amazing journey that fills us with wonder and gratitude. It’s also challenging and exhausting at times. At some point in your parenting journey you might start to feel like you’ve got not patience left; you might be grumpy, anxious and constantly feeling overwhelmed. You might even find yourself snapping at your kids more often. The moments of happiness and gratitude you used to experience seem to stretch fewer and farther between, until one day you realize you’re not enjoying parenthood as much as you used to. You also realize you aren’t being as good a parent as you’d like to be. These are common symptoms of parenting burnout, a normal but rarely talked about experience, that can happen at any time. Sometimes it happens when you are in the midst of a life transition, like a new baby or a relocation. It can also happen because your child is going through a difficult phase and you’re stressed and tired out from it. Or it may happen seemingly out of the blue for no reason at all. No matter the scenario, burnout is usually a wake-up call that you need to start taking better care of yourself.
Symptoms of burnout vary by individual and may include, but are not limited to the following; depression, anxiety, constant feelings of impatience, bouts of anger, constant guilt over parenting choices, insomnia and exhaustion. Often we get so busy taking care of everyone else that we forget to take care of ourselves, and if we aren’t taking care of ourselves we won’t have anything to give our children. So, if you are feeling burned out and have noticed it’s having a negative impact on your parenting, read on for some tips on how to heal!
Reclaim your Passion
Remember when you were in 3rd grade and there was one particular activity that you loved to do more than anything else? It might have been writing poems, singing, fishing, or dancing, or it might have been something completely different. The point is, you couldn’t wait to do it because it made you so happy. It was probably what you wanted to be when you grew up. Unfortunately, most of us lose sight of this activity as we get older. Parenting is wonderful in so many ways, but it has a way of making you forget who you were back before you became one. Rediscovering your childhood passion will help remind you of who you used to be. If you can’t remember what you loved to do, you can find it again by paying attention to what you think of when you’re relaxed and peaceful; the things you long to do when you are calm enough for your mind to wander. That is the direction you must follow to reconnect with it. Once you’ve found it again, make it a part of your daily life in small ways, and nurture it with your time and attention. This activity, whatever it is, connects you to your heart, your calm place; the place within that reminds you of the parts that have gotten lost in parenting. It will also point you in the direction of what needs attention right now, the forgotten parts of yourself that aren’t receiving the care they need.
Take a Break
To heal from parenting burnout, you must, I repeat must, take a break from your kids. This one is hard for me even though I rationally know I need to get away. At first whenever I would plan an outing for myself, I’d feel sad when I left like I was abandoning everyone during family time. Sometimes I wouldn’t end up going. However, it soon became clear that when I didn’t take the break I needed, I didn’t enjoy the family time anyway because I was burned out and crabby!
Figure out something you can go and do on your own when your partner is home, and then make yourself go and do it. Recruit a babysitter, family member, or trusted friend to take care of your little ones if you don’t have a partner. You must figure out a way to get some time for just you. Go for a walk, take in a movie, take a class of some kind, go for a drive, hit a coffee shop, go to the library. The ideas are limitless once you start brainstorming. Maybe you could even have someone take the kids out for a while and you can, gasp, have the house all to yourself!
Get off the Internet
With the world wide web at our fingertips we have a wonderful learning resource and way to stay connected with family and friends. However, the internet and social media can have a dark side when overused. When you spend too much time surfing the web, it can leave you feeling drained and overstimulated. Social media causes our ego brains to go into overdrive, comparing and judging, thus turning our emotions into a roller coaster controlled by words and images. When you are on a break from your kids the goal is to have a mental, emotional and physical break from the challenges of parenthood. If you spend your break time on the internet and social media, you may find that you don’t feel refreshed afterward. In fact, you might feel worse than you did before. I’ve learned this through experience. On my parenting breaks, I used to get on the internet and read news stories, inspiring articles, check Facebook, look at classes and degree programs and do job searches. I was oblivious to huge amounts of time passing, and the next thing I knew my break was over. Rather than feeling refreshed and ready to handle the rest of the day, I’d feel drained, exhausted and mad at myself for wasting so much time. As much as I used to enjoy doing it, I realized something had to change.
A good way to break the internet habit is to have set times of day for internet use, such as morning and evening. Then keep the amount of time you’re on to a minimum. I have recently implemented this rule for myself and I feel so much better. Use your breaks to recharge with activities like reading a book, writing for pleasure or taking a short nap. Maybe you could even allow yourself to be bored for a few minutes! It is in the moments of allowing our mind to be bored that it truly rests. It might be during this time that you realize the way that devices, worry, or constantly being on the go keep you from being in the present moment. Make the most of your rare down time, your mind and body will thank you.
How does your body feel when you are stressed? My body becomes tight and constricted, I get pockets of soreness that aren’t usually there, and I start rushing through my tasks. When your body is constricted and tense it means stress hormones are pumping through your system and you probably don’t feel very good. The mind and body are directly connected, so in order to relax the body the mind must be relaxed first. Relaxation of the nervous system is essential to our physical, emotional and mental health, so implementing a relaxation method is an important part of self-care.
My favorite ways to achieve mind and body relaxation are: Yoga, massage, meditation, and exercise. Yoga and massage relax the mind and body by stretching the muscles all over which results in fresh oxygen flow throughout the body. Exercise works by taxing the muscles, which then alleviates stress and tension and leads to a release of healthy hormones throughout the body. Meditation is a type of mind training that teaches awareness of thoughts and feelings in the present moment without judgment of them, ultimately leading to increased relaxation levels. Body scan meditation is a particularly helpful method for inducing full body relaxation. Work any combination of these activities into your routine as frequently as possible to enhance your quality of life and heal the effects of burnout.
It’s important to remember that feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion and mild burnout are normal parts of parenting. Most parents are constantly striving to do the best they can, so it’s normal to feel overwrought at times. However, if you aren’t proactive about using self-care techniques things can get worse. Our inner wisdom is always on call to let us know when something needs our attention, embracing these lessons of self-care can lead to some amazing discoveries. In order to provide our children with the unconditional love and compassion they so desperately deserve, we must first give it to ourselves.
The symptoms of parenting burnout vary by individual. If you have thoughts or feelings that interfere with your ability to care for your children or you’ve had thoughts of harming yourself or your children, you should seek medical care immediately. Additionally, if the symptoms of burnout persist or worsen after using self-care techniques for a period of time, you should seek medical attention.
About the author
Sarah Oxley is a writer, devoted student of life and lover of psychology and poetry. She is mother to two beautiful children who remind her each and every day of how to live more mindfully. She is motivated by a desire to inspire others to live their best lives and believes that life’s most important lesson is learning to be kinder to ourselves and others. Sarah is a contributor to KachyTVblog.