We’ve been dealing with the pandemic for over a year now, and for many, life under lockdown is taking its toll. Psychologists are reporting a rise in “pandemic fatigue” with more and more people starting to feel exhausted, stressed, and unable to cope.
While the constant hum of anxiety has had a significant negative impact on the entire population, parents are experiencing this at much greater extremes and much higher rates. According to a recent Brainly survey of 1,000 parents in the United States, 86% of parents said they are finding it harder to stay positive day-to-day compared with before the pandemic, marking a 21% increase from October 2020.
“These are unprecedented times, and as parents, our number one goal is caring for our children and seeing them through the other side. That said, if we don’t put on our own oxygen mask first, we won’t be able to do the work that’s required for them, our families, our colleagues, or ourselves,” says Patrick Quinn, Parenting Expert at Brainly.
While it’s not always avoidable, Quinn has several tips to help reduce your chances of experiencing Pandemic Parent Burnout and help mitigate its negative side effects.
1. Take care of your three pillars of physical wellness: nutrition, sleep, and exercise. Not making time to adequately care for yourself increases the risk of burnout, and while these pillars of physical wellness may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many parents don’t place enough importance on them and their connection to burnout. Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health. In addition, not only is regular daily activity good for our physical health, but it can also give us an emotional boost. Stretched for time? You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to reap these benefits. Mini-workouts and short walks are convenient ways to make exercise a daily habit. Last but not least, making a real effort to eat healthy foods will do wonders for your mood and energy level.
2. Share your experiences and connect with other parents and friends. “One of my biggest pieces of advice to help parents overcome pandemic burnout is to connect with friends. That is something that often goes by the wayside when parents are struggling because when they’re working and raising children, they feel like there’s no time. However, it’s absolutely crucial for parents to connect with friends and share their experiences in order for them to maintain their emotional health,” says Quinn. Research shows that spending time with friends triggers the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Friends can also provide a support system by listening, providing helpful feedback, or commiserating about the challenges of parenting and feelings of pandemic burnout. Most importantly, it breaks the cycle of isolation that often accompanies burnout by opening the door to have your experience normalized, which helps us feel less alone. While social-distancing rules may make it difficult to get together in person, FaceTime, Zoom, or even an old-fashioned phone call can still help.
3. Ask your kids questions, instill boundaries, and provide support to each other when needed. “Talk with your children about what they are learning in school and doing on their computers and phones, and decide if any limitations or oversight measures are called for,” says Quinn.
4. Make it a priority to spend quality time with your kids and be generous with your affection. While we need to ensure our children are learning, it’s also important that we are monitoring and supporting their mental and emotional health during a time of acute stress and anxiety. What if instead of burning ourselves out, we could make the most of this time home with our children? In addition, Quinn adds, “Across species, physical comfort is a powerful way to manage stressful events. As much as your sheer quantity of family time might not make extra squeezes or hand-holding automatically appealing, that’s often exactly what kids need to manage big emotions that are simmering under the surface.”
5. Build micro-moments for your own self-inquiry into your routine. When we’re constantly caring for others, it’s difficult to even identify or be aware of what we’re feeling ourselves. Meditation may be overwhelming right now, but even if it’s 10 minutes in the morning, try to find some silence to sit with your own feelings and thoughts. A stream of consciousness free-writing is a great way to excavate thoughts that are clouding our ability to take action or find clarity.
6. Cut yourself some slack. You deserve it now more than ever. “The most important thing a parent on the verge of burnout can do is give themselves a break. This is supposed to be hard, and it’s okay to fail at some stuff. In fact, it’s impossible not to,” says Quinn. Just remember, you’re not alone—most parents are struggling, and unfortunately, that’s to be expected given the circumstances. Try not to be hard on yourself for every slip-up, missed deadline, pile of laundry, or whatever else feels like a “failure”—burning yourself out only makes meeting your family’s basic needs that much harder.
7. Practice realistic self-care. Taking a spa day is not realistic self-care for busy parents. But thankfully, realistic self-care can be as simple as taking five minutes alone on the patio to practice some yoga and breathing exercises, taking an extra-long shower or bath, or reading a few pages of your chosen book before bed. Finding a way to recharge each day helps you to be able to continue to support your family. Quinn says, “By doing this, you are giving yourself an allocated time to focus on yourself, something you haven’t done for the whole day. By actively incorporating this into your day, you will begin to appreciate and look forward to it. In fact, you’ll soon notice how these little breaks throughout the day or week will lift your mood and effectively help you be more present with others throughout the day.”
8. Try to preserve your routines to help maintain a sense of normalcy in your life. What we know in crisis and in life is that we thrive off of predictability and knowing what’s going to happen. That’s why it’s important to try and get up at the same time every day and make sure you’re doing things you’d normally do, including taking a shower, getting dressed, and eating breakfast. This applies just as much to kids as it does to parents. Establishing a sense of normalcy gives us at least some level of control at a time like now, when so much feels out of our control.
9. Connect with purpose and practice gratitude. Children are resilient and tend to bounce back from adversity as long as they have the love, support, and reassurance they need from their parents. Practicing gratitude for the small things you are thankful for and focusing on value-based goals builds resilience. What activities bring you the most joy? What techniques do you use to feel better about circumstances out of your control? “Whether it’s starting a prayer journal with your kids, writing down things you’re thankful for, or writing thank you or get well soon cards to first responders or those who are sick in the hospital, anything you can do together to process your emotions in a healthy way and put things into perspective will go a long way,” says Quinn.
10. Seek professional help if needed. We are living through unprecedented times filled with unprecedented stress, which means you might be having unprecedented difficulty managing your mental health. Quinn says, “A big thing for me is that there’s no wrong time to ask for help. If you feel like you could benefit from talking to a mental health professional, you probably could, and I think that’s a very big part of self-care. There are also countless telehealth options available right now, so you won’t even have to leave your house to consult a medical professional.”
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember there is no one right parenting decision right now. Pandemic parenting involves doing what feels like the best option at the time, knowing you may have to reevaluate in an hour, a day, or a week and that’s okay.