Emotional burnout is a consistent concern for parents, but the added pressures of a hectic holiday season can make things worse. With a new year beginning, it’s a perfect time for fathers to regroup and remember to take care of yourselves, so you can be the best possible parent for your children.
Burnout is the process of becoming increasingly exhausted to the point where you can not function properly. It can happen to anyone with a schedule that requires balancing various responsibilities, particularly when there are emotional stressors involved.
Parents are particularly susceptible to “caregiver burnout,” which comes from the high levels of stress involved with caring for someone who is completely dependent on you.
The symptoms of burnout can include the following:
- Being unusually irritable and quick to anger
- Feeling overwhelmed by normal tasks (such as doing the dishes, providing routine care for you child, etc.)
- Feelings of guilt and low self-esteem (e.g. “I can’t do this;” “I’m a bad parent;” “Other parents do this so much better than me”)
- Physical symptoms of illness, such as headaches, inability to sleep, sickness without a clear cause
- Severe burnout can result in the body shutting down, trips to the hospital, and anxiety or depression disorders.
However burnout manifests itself, it negatively affects your mental health and ability to be a good parent. When you are stressed, those negative feelings ooze into the house and affect your kids, creating a spiral where they feel bad because you feel bad, which makes you feel even worse. Fortunately, practicing self-care can help cure current issues and prevent future ones from occurring.
This blog has covered The Oxygen Mask Rule of Fatherhood. But, as they say on the airplane during the safety presentation, “assist yourself before assisting others.” This may sound blasphemous for parents, whose lives are dedicated to their children, but you must remember that it is hard to create a happy household for them if you are too stressed to be happy yourself.
As a father, you should aim to incorporate self-care into your daily life in order to keep yourself fresh and fully operational as a parent. Following are some practical examples of how to integrate self-care into daily and weekly life:
- Take care of yourself the way you would your children: Much of parenting is spent reacting appropriately to your kids’ needs - such as giving them a snack or nap when they’re grouchy. Do the same for yourself - you’re a human too and you need snacks and relaxation to make it through the day.
- Exercise: It’s not only good for you in the long term, it makes you feel better right away! Exercise releases serotonin, which calms you down, and endorphins, which make you feel happy. If you can’t get away and exercise on your own, run around with your kids - it will make everyone feel better.
- Sleep when you can: Rather than do chores while your kid naps, nap with them! Also consider putting yourself to bed at night the same time you put them to bed. It may cut into your precious personal time, but you’ll feel much better the rest of the next day with a good night’s sleep.
- Fun is the counterbalance to stress: According to Amy Morin, a licensed social worker, “If you’re going to be effective in doing hard work you need to balance the stress with intense fun.” Kids are the most fun types of humans in the world and they’re always up for a laugh or an activity. Take advantage of that spirit to balance out your stress.
Burnout can have serious negative effects on a father’s mental health and daily ability to function. It can also be challenging to accept that burnout is happening, because parents are always focused on giving the best for their children. But it is crucial for them that you take time for self-care, to maintain a healthy emotional balance and keep the well full so you can keep giving, without going empty.
What's one thing from the list above you could start doing better today?
Megan Dottermusch is a community relations coordinator for 2U, Inc. supporting mental health and advocacy programs for the Masters in Social Work program at Simmons College online. She is passionate about promoting proper nutrition and fitness, combating mental health stigmas, and practicing everyday mindfulness.