Burnout as a parent can happen quite easily so it’s important to learn how to recognise it. In this article for Smile Magazine, I talk burnout, how to recognise symptoms as a first step to getting your life back onto a stress-free track.

How can you identify burnout as a parent?

Burnout as a parent can start to show if you are not looking after yourself. It could take hold before you know it so it is important to know what that looks like to help keep it at bay. In June 2006, the Scientific American magazine published an article that describes a 12-stage model of burnout. It was developed by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North. As burnout lives on a spectrum, the various stages need to be managed and treated differently.

Why is burnout in parents different?

Parents are susceptible to a range of mental health as well as physical challenges when bringing up our family. More information is now being highlighted in relation to burnout, especially for fathers. It is also good to check-in with yourself from time to time and see what you can do to help yourself and your family from burning out. As a dad, the primal instincts to protect your family will kick in and can be wonderful for you as a man to experience but do not lose yourself in the process of providing, trying to be everything and solve every problem yourself. That is far too much pressure for one person in an already high-pressure culture that it is not worth losing yourself over. Of course, as parents, a lot of tiredness is related to parentally-induced lack of sleep however, over time, this can build-up and eventually lead to exhaustion, therefore it is imperative to be self-aware of your own behaviour as well as your partner’s behaviour as time goes on.

Burnout comes in different degrees, from your common “I can’t wait for the weekend”, to a far more serious “I need a sabbatical from my life” burnout.

Some of the pointers below will help you understand yourself more as well as understand the needs of your partner to prevent burnout as a parent. Use this easy-to-digest list as a way to check-in with yourselves and your loved ones.

Behaviours that are typical for burnout symptoms:

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself: demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
  2. Working Harder: an inability to switch off.
  3. Neglecting Needs: erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
  4. Displacement of Conflicts: problems are dismissed; we may feel threatened, panicky, and jittery.
  5. Revision of Values: Values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant. Work is the only focus.
  6. Denial of Emerging Problems: intolerance; perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined; social contacts harder; cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
  7. Withdrawal: social life small or non-existent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs.
  8. Odd Behavioural Changes: changes in behaviour obvious; friends and family concerned.
  9. Depersonalisation: seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceiving own needs.
  10. Inner Emptiness: feeling empty inside and to overcome this, looking for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
  11. Depression: feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark.
  12. Burnout Syndrome: can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.

The best way to manage stress

Essentially the best way to manage stress on a daily basis while juggling the commitments of work and family is to be self – aware. Learn about yourself and understand what your needs are to function well. You will find your own level of excellence — excellence is contextual — therefore not to be measured against other people but instead in the context of your own goals for family life. Accepting that life will change and that you will need to change is also key. Learning to create a strategy for your new life to help both of you prevent the serious effects of stress should be at the top of your priorities list next to keeping the baby alive. It will serve you well in the long term and remember, it is not absolute. You can only do what you are able to do and giving yourself compassion, and the time and the space to do this will truly contribute to living well and living in happiness.

Top tip for avoiding burnout as a parent:

Breathing helps to calm and gives a moment to stop and recognise how we are feeling. Slowing the breath and deeply exhaling on purpose for even a minute sends a message to the brain that says ‘I’m relaxing.’ This in turn helps the brain to tell the body that ‘I’m relaxed.’ With practice, this helps to reduce the stress hormones that can build up in the body and lead to other health complications.

REMEMBER: If you are concerned about your health or the health of a family member then seek guidance and professional medical support from your GP.

Managing burnout as a parent was published in Smile Magazine.

Puja K McClymont – Certified Life Coach in London and NLP Practitioner

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