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Parenting woes: Learning to manage stress when you’re overextended

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Picture this: your kids are yelling and asking for more of your time, you have five pressing deadlines to meet at work, there is a new frightening crisis presented in the news every day, you have 75 unread messages on your phone, and your partner is asking for date night tonight. Sound familiar?

This is the life of a regular working mother or father in today’s modern world. If we had more time, maybe our lives would be more manageable but unfortunately, we can’t buy more time as much as I wish we could. When more time isn’t available, what is? From parent to parent, I’d like to provide some guidance that comes from a place of knowing what it’s like to feel this way and having an awesome and practical psychology toolkit available to share. Let’s start with recognizing signs of burnout.

As parents, you may find yourself stretching your boundaries and looking to do more and be more. We strive to be perfect, worrying that we aren’t meeting our own standards for parenting, worrying about modeling hard work or work ethic to our children, and in the process, we become forgetful of what both they (our children) and you need – empathy for ourselves and time for self-care. Your kids will appreciate it later in life when you model healthy boundaries. They will have a better chance of becoming well-rounded adults when they learn these important lessons from their parents.

When we don’t have empathy for ourselves or take the time to recharge and take care of our needs, we experience emotional burnout (also known as caregiver burnout). Burnout is a term we’ve often heard in the workplace, but it can occur anytime we are overextended and experience chronic stress.

According to Psychology Today, experts define burnout as:

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.

There are some common warning signs to watch out for when it comes to feeling burnout – however, the symptoms can vary across individuals. Symptoms of caregiver burnout can include the following:

  • Consistently feeling tired
  • Irritability
  • Feeling anger or frustration regularly
  • Crying often
  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Ongoing feelings of helplessness
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Appetite and weight changes

I like to use the 3 Rs of stress management with my clients (and myself) - Recognize, Respond and Resilience. We’ve covered the first R (to Recognize) above, now let’s move on to Respond. Once you identify the signs and symptoms of burnout, you can start to prioritize self-care to start managing the impact. Take advantage of these tips below to prevent burnout altogether:

Focus on self-care

  • Build a relaxation practice
    • Ex: Schedule time around work/family hours to do some yoga, mediation, or deep breathing
  • Connect with others
    • Ex: Call your friend or family member and go for a walk
  • Control what you can
    • Ex: Take action and make decisions in the areas of life you have control over instead of dwelling on the areas you can’t control
  • Set boundaries and limits
    • Ex: Learn to say no and know when you’ve taken on too much
  • Know and live your values
    • Ex: Understand what’s important to you and live accordingly
  • Reframe your thoughts/perspectives
    • Ex: When you experience a challenge, choose to see it as an opportunity to grow
  • Take care of personal & health needs 
    • Ex: Meal prep, exercise, drink enough water, schedule social activities, and consider tracking finances
  • Find what makes you happy
    • Ex: Explore new hobbies and make time for everything that fills you with joy
  • Make an active choice around what you do and don’t pay attention to
    • Ex: Take a look at both external factors (technology use and environment) and internal factors (behaviors and thoughts) that are within your control and decide what you’ll give your time and energy to

The tips you choose to help manage the stresses in your life might vary by stressor or over time, but the key is to build and practice using your various tools to prevent yourself from feeling burnout. While sometimes we need to also work to change life circumstances, those can’t often be done overnight, but the use of these tips usually can!

Build resiliency

Building resiliency is also key to preventing future burnout from happening or recovering from a period of burnout.

Psychology Today defines resilience as…

“Resilience is the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before.”

Resilient people will display certain characteristics, such as:

  • Perceiving self and abilities in a positive light
  • Making realistic plans and sticking to those plans
  • Having an internal locus of control (vs. external locus of control)
  • Good communication skills
  • Viewing self as fighters (rather than as victims)
  • Possessing high emotional intelligence and healthy emotional regulation

You might be wondering how exactly we can build resilience. It can start with maintaining healthy relationships with family, friends, and within your community; trying to see crises as surmountable (instead of unbearable); controlling only what you can; developing realistic goals, making decisions and taking action; using opportunities for self-discovery; developing confidence in yourself and others; keeping a long-term perspective and maintaining a hopeful outlook.

If you’re struggling, you can also access our therapy programs by visiting our Virtual Mental Health Therapy Clinic. If you are part of our Workplace Mental Health Program, please visit your company page for access to services covered by your workplace. We’re always here for you!

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Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.