You might think that the term “burnout” only applies to your job, but it can affect more than just your 9-to-5. It can affect the most important job of all: parenting.

With 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview, many parents are feeling the burn of virtual school, canceled playdates, strained spousal relationships, and other challenges. If you’re parenting through the pandemic, you’ve likely experienced a sense of frustration and helplessness.

We seem to have rounded the bend on the worst of the disease, but you may still be feeling overwhelmed by what the future holds.

Feeling at the end of your parenting rope? Here’s how to cope.

While everyone’s experience may look different, researchers have actually defined the concept of COVID-19-related parent burnout.

According to a 2020 research review, this state is “a chronic condition resulting from high levels of parenting-related stress due to a mismatch between the demands of parenting and the resources available for parents to meet those demands.”

It has taken a long time for your emotional toll to be felt.

If you live in a state of stress for a long time, you might be surprised at the effects on your daily life.

You may be feeling less interested in activities you used to enjoy. Maybe you are feeling numb or confused. If you start comparing your current parenting to what it looked like in the past, you can start to feel guilty.

Additionally, parenting burnout inevitably affects relationships with your spouse or partner. “I have observed a drastic increase in the reporting of spousal tension and conflict since the beginning of the pandemic, especially in couples who are parents,” says psychotherapist Haley Neidich, a licensed clinical social worker.

It can become easy for a relationship to become deprioritized when all of your resolve and emotional regulation is being used to manage parenting and your other responsibilities. The level of support received between spouses is a complaint. Resentment can lead to serious relationship issues.

Without a partner things can be more difficult. Less time for self-care and fewer breaks are caused by not having the support of a co-parent.

Parent burnout can impact other people. The effects trickle down to kids.

Children are very sensitive to the emotional states of their parents. Kids may feel left out or unseen as the adults lose their patience. You may have noticed that your child is seeking attention more and more.

Not every case of parent burnout leads to serious consequences for kids, but it’s possible for parental stress to spiral into abuse.

“Sadly, with burnout, children do not get the best versions of their parents. This can lead to child neglect or abuse,” says therapist Molly Nourmand, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “In fact, there is a correlation between higher levels of burnout and coercive or punitive parenting practices.”

Finding help before abuse happens

If you are afraid of hurting your child, you can call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline.

It can be hard to know what to do when you are tired. Here are some tips to help you cope.

1. Make time for self-care

Setting aside time to care for yourself becomes even more important when you are a burned-out parent or a family member.

“If you are in a position of possibility, I would encourage you to build nonnegotiable self-care into your schedule so that you don’t wait until your tank runs out of gas. She suggests scheduling enjoyable activities as a daily commitment.”

Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Taking walk, soaking in a warm bath, or reading a good book can all be forms of self-care. Choose activities that feel restorative to you.

2. Ask for help

A stressful time (like, say, a global pandemic) isn’t the time to power through parenting alone. When you’re feeling burned out, it’s important to recognize your need for help — and reach out to others to get it.

If a teen in your neighborhood can play with your kids, you can ask a friend or family member to babysit. To take some responsibilities off your plate, check low cost household support websites that offer services like house cleaning, yard work, or running local.

Asking for help from your spouse, partner, or co-parent might look like asking for more.

“Parents should acknowledge the reality of their burnout, give each other breaks, and talk openly about their needs, says Neidich. It is not always possible to meet your co-parent’s needs, but talking about small ways to help each other can alleviate a great deal of tension.”

3. Dial down commitments

“Don’t step away from the calendar. Extra breathing room can be found by stripping your schedule of excessive or burdensome commitments. Ballet lessons, soccer practice, and book club can all be resumed when you feel refreshed.”

4. Add meditation

Meditation is one of the most powerful tools available to protect your brain and body from overwhelm,” says Neidich. “Meditation helps to protect your nervous system from the effects of stress by tapping into your body’s natural relaxation response.”

Not comfortable with a long session? Start small with a simple breathing exercise or a recorded meditation.

You can get the kids involved in an activity that is beneficial for the whole family.

It is possible to teach your children a valuable life skill and reset the energy in the house by incorporating meditation. Parents who meditate with their children often say that it is a new type of bonding where they can re-access the appreciation they have in the parent-child relationship.

5. Invest in a hobby

One simple way to reconnect with your inner self: Pick up a hobby! According to research from 2015, leisure time, such as time spent on a hobby:

  • Increased optimism
  • decreased in mood
  • Reduced stress.
  • The heart rate was lowered.

Creative activities like painting, playing an instrument, or writing can help you with your emotional state. You may find more rewards from hobbies that take you out of your environment.

According to Nourmand, doing an activity outside that brings you joy could help offset some of the burnout. If you are feeling deprived socially, starting a hobby that involves a friend is a bonus.

The right hobby can have another hidden bonus for parents and caregivers.

Getting back in touch with something you loved doing when you were a child could help you connect with and relate to your children better.

6. Spend time with friends

The COVID-19 Pandemic did a number on our social lives. It is possible that you have felt isolated from friends in the last 2 years.

It is time to reach out to friends.

Spending time with friends can be an outlet to get away from the stresses of parenting. It also gives people an opportunity to support one another and a normal life.

For some people, the idea of spending time inside with a group of people or even with one other person may not work for health reasons. That is also ok. Other ways to get back in touch with someone are by meeting up outside, scheduling a phone call, or just sending a message on social media.

7. Create a space for yourself

“Taking a vacation or day off from the kids is a good idea to keep your body in tip top shape. For those times when you can’t leave the house, you might consider creating a private sanctuary in your home.”

Is there a place you can keep kids out of? You could designate your bedroom as your personal haven or choose a chair that is just for you. It is equivalent of a do-not-disturb sign when you are in this place.

8. Seek therapy

For some parents, a DIY approach to overcoming burnout simply won’t cut it. If your chosen coping mechanisms don’t seem to be decreasing feelings of helplessness, frustration, or overwhelm, consider talking with a mental health professional.

Finding help for parental burnout

There are options for finding a therapist.

Other sources of help include:

There is hope for a brighter future even though you have been through a lot as a parent or a caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the virus reaches an endemic stage, many of the factors that made the last 2 years so difficult are falling away, allowing for a return to a more manageable, less stressful life.

Getting help, seeking counseling, and other strategies can help you regain your joy in parenting.

There is no shame in feeling that your parenting mojo needs a change. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for parents and caregivers.

As you recover from parental burnout, remember to give yourself some time to heal.

Parents need to be gentle with themselves and adjust their expectations at this time. Keeping as peaceful and supportive an environment in your home is what matters most.