Preventing Burnout as a New Parent
You can feel it through your entire body. Your pulse quickens, your mind clouds or races, you feel completely exhausted, and maybe you even feel a physical sensation of pressure or heaviness on your shoulders. Whether in the middle of a 3 am feeding, while you’re trying to cook dinner, or when the babies are crying, yet again, and you’ve only been in the shower for 30 seconds.
Every single parent has been there, in that moment of complete overwhelm.
These moments of overwhelm are bound to happen as we parent. And probably often. But, how do you prevent the occasional overwhelm from turning into a constant state of overwhelm or even parental burnout?
As you find yourself navigating daily life with babies, feedings after feedings after feedings, learning your babies’ cries, trying to manage sleep- your own and your children, crying on every car ride, it becomes evident how burnout can happen, and how it can happen quickly. Your emotional reserves are constantly pushed to their limits in these moments.
“Parental burnout” is a term used to describe the profound fatigue that parents may encounter, leading to a sense of emotional disconnection.
What are the symptoms of burnout for parents?
*Depression or Anxiety
*Trouble sleeping/lack of sleep (when given the opportunity)
*Brain fog or lack of mental clarity/cluttered thoughts
*Thinking or idealizing escape
*Emotional detachment or creating emotional distance
How do we prevent burnout while parenting?
- Alone time- It may be difficult to imagine much alone time at all, but even a few minutes stolen in the bathroom to remind yourself of who you are is time well spent. This can be a time for self-care like taking a bath, reading a book, journaling, or cooking- but whatever you chose, make sure it’s something you enjoy!
- Time spent with friends/other adults without children– you need time to not be “mommy”, “wife” or “employee”. Go for a walk together, grab dessert, or a glass of wine. If you feel like you don’t have time, one of my favorite ways to spend time with my best friend is to run errands together. Checking off our to-dos, but laughing, joking, and connecting along the way. If you’re up for it explore your community, join a gym, or take an art class!
- Accept and ask for help- I often suggest clients keep a running tab in the notes section of their phones with simple tasks that could be delegated if someone volunteers. Grocery pickup, folding laundry, putting together the baby’s play gym, baby-proofing the kitchen, etc. If they’re someone you trust your children with, ask them to watch your babies while you grab a nap or go on a Target run!
- Keep a gratitude note- you could get fancy here with a gratitude journal, but let’s be real. You don’t have time for that right now. At the end of each day, write down just one positive thing that was good/funny/sweet that day in a note on your phone.
- Let go of perfectionism– there is no perfect parent. Practice self-compassion and understanding. It’s ok to say “This is hard. I’m doing my best.” You are exactly the parent your children need.
- Consider speaking with a professional. If the overwhelm is, for lack of a better word, too overwhelming, consider finding a therapist or other mental health professional.
Nim Tottenham is a professor of psychology at Columbia Univerity with a focus on the link between caregiving and brain development. Nim emphasizes that we care for children by caring for parents. (More on this topic can be found here.) Caring for you as a person to start preventing burnout as a new parent.