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25th May 2017

Are you suffering from parental burnout? (Yes, it’s a real thing)

Alison Bough

Some mums and dads are now so exhausted by modern parenting that the term ‘burnout’ is being used by psychologists.

Parental Burnout – depression linked to being a parent – is a taboo phenomenon that is now being spoken and written about more and more. According to the journal Frontiers of Psychology, almost 13 percent of mums and dads feel ‘high burnout’ meaning that they’re exhausted, unproductive, and withdrawn.

Dr Joseph Procaccini first wrote about the over-committed parenting phenomenon in 1983. His book Parent Burnout identified the boredom, resentment, and mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that results from bringing up children.

For some parents, the dream of having kids becomes a nightmare, and mums and dads experience an overwhelming urge to simply run away. Those considered to be in a state of parental burnout find themselves unable to function on a day-to-day basis, either on a personal or professional level.

Often thought to affect more ‘high-achieving’ or ‘over-zealous’ parents, signs include feelings of ineffectiveness, lack of accomplishment, cynicism, and detachment from their children.

Although there is a lot of overlap between the signs and symptoms of parental burnout and depression, psychologists claim that burnout creeps up more gradually than depressive disorders. Recognising the early tell-tale signs means you will be better equipped to avoid and address burnout.

So what are the warning signs that you could be entering the danger zone?

1. Perfectionism

Parents who are at risk of burnout crave perfection in every aspect of their children’s lives: school, sports, hobbies, friendships, and even health.

2. Not being aware of stress levels

The parent at risk may not be aware of their own stress levels and it is often those around them, or other family members, that notice there is a problem.

3. Feelings of ambivalence

Psychiatrist Dr Barbara Almond, author of The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood, writes that maternal ambivalence is “mixture of loving and hating feelings that all mothers experience toward their children and the anxiety, shame, and guilt that the negative feelings engender in them.”

4. Physical exhaustion

Parents can feel crushed by chronic fatigue or exhaustion, that doesn’t go away with rest.

5. Feeling overwhelmed

Feeling constantly overwhelmed is one the most common symptoms of burnout and just getting through everyday tasks can be a challenge.

6. Problems sleeping

Despite extreme fatigue, many experiencing parental burnout can find it difficult (if not impossible) to sleep.

7. Low mood

Typical symptoms of low mood include low self esteem, worrying, and feelings of frustration or sadness.

8. Loss of libido

A decrease in sex drive or a persistent lack of interest in sex can be a side-effect of the stress associated with burnout.

9. Isolation

Burnout can result in the person avoiding social contact, normal activities, or isolating themselves from family and friends.

10. Significant weight gain or loss

Dramatic fluctuations – either increases or decreases – in weight are a common indicator that something is amiss.