Parental Burnout, an unintended consequence of a pandemic

‘Parental Burnout’ is “an exhaustion syndrome, characterised by feeling physically and mentally overwhelmed” (first identified by Isabelle Roskam and Moïra Mikolajczak in the early ’80s). Simultaneously working, managing a home and raising children involves complicated and frequent role-switching. Each of these roles requires different cognitive functioning and does not allow the brain enough time to deep-dive into the productive functioning that each requires. This means that what we do takes longer and does not to the same level of quality that deep-diving allows.

Research conducted by Seville et al. (2020) during Lockdown 1.0 showed that although fathers took on a much greater role (versus pre-pandemic) in home and childcare, mothers took on a proportionately greater level of responsibility (30% versus 47% respectively). Mothers were more likely to engage in active childcare such as meals and bedtime, whereas fathers were more likely to engage in more passive childcare such as playtime and screentime.

Stories have been emerging for some time now of parents experiencing deep levels of Compassion Syndrome, which leaves parents feeling overwhelmed, stressed, guilty and isolated. A few ‘real-life’ stories are told in a recent Guardian article. Compassion Syndrome has historically been associated mostly with those in the care industry. However, parents are starting to experience this in untold measure, especially when they are also managing a diverse team of staff.

In reality, we don’t know we are experiencing burnout until we actually do burnout. It is essential to start putting some strategies in place to give you time to mentally and emotionally recover each day to help mitigate against long-term stress and burnout:

* If possible, carve out at least 30 min’s of alone-time each day – although playing electronic games can help with feelings of ‘escapism’, it still uses up cognitive energy doing so – put your phone down and use the time to rest your brain. Take a bath, go for a walk, sit on your balcony or in the garden, listen to an audiobook, engage in a hobby or craft, bake… the key is to ‘switch off’ the analytical, thinking part of your brain and give your creative, divergent part of your brain a bit of exercise.

* If you don’t already do so, start journaling. If you don’t have time to write things down, do voice recordings. A big part of therapy is the process of ‘releasing’ the thoughts from your head. Running water is a lot fresher than stagnant water. Ruminating tends to stagnate thoughts.

* Try putting a few more firm boundaries in place, both for you and for family members. If possible, delegate more tasks. Done is better than perfect.

Self-care is so important. Don’t wait until breaking point before reaching out to family, friends, or colleagues. Reach out to the Mind Charity or Samaritans or try searching on PsychologyToday, BPS or BACP databases for a therapist near you or one you think could help you. Video therapy is a norm now, and finding the best therapist in a different part of the country is better than finding an ok therapist near you.

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