Is Self-Care the Solution to Burnout?
Do you ever find yourself in a season of high stress? The kids have sports and after-school programs. You and your spouse have increased work demands. The extended family wants time with you, and friends want to hang out. You are overwhelmed with busyness.
Increased stress levels, when not managed, can lead to burnout.
Burnout happens when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted from prolonged stress.
There are three dimensions to burnout: exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, and detachment. We’re all in danger of suffering from burnout if we don’t take steps to manage stress.
A typical response when suffering from burnout is to practice self-care. Self-care is anything you do regularly to maintain physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
But while self-care is essential, is it the solution?
Psychologist Justin D. Henderson, Ph.D., suggests that self-care is not the solution to burnout. “Self-care should certainly be an individual’s priority but not to solely address burnout,” says Henderson.
Self-care is valuable for enhancing mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional health. We should partake in self-care proactively, not solely as a reaction to high stress. Self-care should move us toward our goals. When we utilize self-care to relieve stress, it’s only being used defensively.
Self-care should be more than a solution when stressed out. Practicing self-care regularly helps us build a solid foundation for our life and well-being.
So, if self-care isn’t the solution to burnout, what is?
Here are a few steps you can take to help resolve burnout.
1. Get to the source.
Let’s start with a self-evaluation. What is causing the stress in your life?
These are a few options to begin with:
- Issues at work
- An overloaded schedule
- Caretaking (for a child or someone who’s ill)
- Relationship problems
2. Identify changes you can make immediately.
What can you do now to lighten the load? A small step is still a step in the right direction.
Looking at the examples above, here are some small steps.
- Have a conversation with your employer about your workload or schedule.
- Hold a family meeting to discuss what everyone has going on. Awareness is the first step in reigning in overloaded schedules.
- Ask a loved one or friend to watch your child for a little bit so you can step away.
- Ask yourself if you’ve set and communicated clear expectations.
3. Confide in someone.
Feeling burned out is a significant burden to carry alone. Choose someone you trust and take them out for coffee. Ask them if you can share what’s going on.
4. Set boundaries.
Your time is your most valuable resource. Protect it. Set limits on how much of your time you give away. This means you must say no to some things in your life.
5. Be compassionate with yourself.
Burnout can bring on feelings of failure. Treat yourself the way you would treat a loved one experiencing burnout. Show love, compassion, and support. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come, but don’t dwell on them. You are capable of choosing a different reaction. And if you don’t feel like you can, see number seven below.
6. Take care of yourself.
This is where self-care does come in. But it needs to be done as a foundation for a healthier you.
7. Talk to a professional.
Sometimes you need to speak to a counselor or a coach to help you work through issues. That’s ok. Get the help you need to restore your hope and health.
We’re all susceptible to burnout because stress is an aspect of daily life. Unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere. But we can take these steps to help us manage it and thrive.
Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World psychiatry: Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 15(2), 103–111.
Understanding the Stress Response
Self-Care is Not the Solution to Burnout
Why Self-Care Is Not Enough to Beat Burnout
Burnout Recovery: 11 Strategies to Help You Reset
Other blogs by First Things First:
10 Signs You Have Parental Burnout
Have you ever felt like you can’t parent any longer? Like you’ve given everything you’ve got, and there’s nothing left? These feelings are a reality for many parents. They are simply exhausted. And if they don’t address it, exhaustion can lead to burnout.
What is parental burnout?
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger describes burnout as a severe stress condition. It leads to extreme physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Burnout goes well beyond stress or fatigue, though. With burnout, navigating day-to-day responsibilities can be a challenge.
Burnout is often discussed in professional circles. But parents are at risk, too. Board-certified neurologist, Dr. Puja Aggarwal, defines parental burnout as “the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that one feels from the chronic stress of parenting.”
Continual exposure to stressful situations brings on this state of mental and physical exhaustion. For some parents, burnout is all too real.
All parents are at risk, though. Parenting is tough. And parenting can be stressful, especially during the early stages of child development. But what do we do?
Being aware that parental burnout is real and being mindful of the signs can help you get the help you need.
In recent years, Drs. Isabelle Roskam and Moïra Mikolajczak have extensively researched parental burnout. After surveying more than 900 burned-out parents, they developed a Parental Burnout Assessment (and anyone can use it). They’ve also studied more than 17,000 parents in 45 countries to learn more about what causes burnout.
“Burnout is the result of too much stress and the absence of resources to cope with it,” Roskam said. “You will burn out only if there is an imbalance between stress and resources.”
Here are five signs of burnout according to the Parental Burnout Assessment:
1. Constant exhaustion.
Parenting is tiring; we can all agree on that. But feeling tired or drained all the time is a whole other level. Studies show that parents may experience different types of exhaustion based on their children’s age. Parents of younger kids are often more physically tired. Parents of teens often experience emotional fatigue caused by conflicts with their children.
Frequently, burned-out parents stress over how they will get everything done.
2. Distancing yourself from your child(ren)
Burned-out parents may do this to preserve energy. Have you ever heard a parent say, “I love my children, but I can’t stand being around them anymore”?
3. Loss of fulfillment.
Parents often find they are not the parents they used to be or would like to be. They see a difference in who they are. This can lead to extreme guilt and stress.
4. Suicidal thoughts or ideas of escape.*
With job-related burnout, you can find another job. But leaving is not an option for burned-out parents. Some parents reported feeling trapped and had thoughts of escape or even suicide. These thoughts were more common among parents than in those experiencing job burnout.
5. Being violent or neglectful toward your child(ren).**
Even if a parent opposes being violent or neglectful toward their child, burnout can cause them to be.
Psychologists have also identified other signs of burnout. They include:
- Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or self-doubt
- Headaches, neck pain, and muscle aches
- Loss of motivation
- Changes in appetite or sleeping habits
- Feeling isolated or alone
It’s essential to know and recognize the signs of parental burnout.
Any parent is susceptible to burnout if there’s an imbalance between the stress and their resources. Burnout is preventable, and help is available, too.
You can take steps today to stop the cycle. Here’s How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout.
*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 988.
**Contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) for more resources or to report abuse.
Is It Normal To Have A Bad Day With Your Kids? – First Things First
6 Keys to Being a ScreamFree Parent – First Things First
5 Mistakes Parents Make With Teens – First Things First
My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First
Roskam I, Raes M-E and Mikolajczak M (2017) Exhausted Parents: Development and Preliminary Validation of the Parental Burnout Inventory. Frontiers in Psychology 8:163.
Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis
How to Identify and Prevent Burnout
The impact of parental burnout
How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout
I have a confession to make: I’ve been stressed and exhausted many times. I’ve felt burned out and ready to quit, but not from work obligations – from being a parent.
Parenting is tough. It’s demanding. Before our son was born 10 years ago, I recall people telling me everything would change. I don’t remember anyone telling me I’d be taking 2AM walks to stay sane. No one told me there would be days I’d question whether I could continue. The list of things I wish I’d known then is long.
Parental burnout is a real thing, but don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything. Researchers Hubert and Aujoulat found that “parental burnout results from situations where exhaustion occurs as a result of being physically and emotionally overwhelmed by one’s parental role.”
If you’ve been a parent for at least a couple of hours, you know that parenting stress is real. But when it consumes you, burnout sets in. There’s hope, though. You can stop the cycle of parental burnout.
The stress isn’t going anywhere, but there are some healthy ways to lessen the pressure.
Surround yourself with a community.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
I never quite understood that until we had our first child. But it’s true. Raising a child isn’t easy. Mine didn’t come with a how-to guide.
Surround yourself with people who want what’s best for you. Think about grandparents, other parents, or friends who care about your well-being. You need people in your life to help care for your child when you need it and to help you care for yourself. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or less than. Any person who has raised a child knows the stress involved.
Text one person and invite them over. Ask them to hold you accountable for taking time for yourself.
Take care of yourself.
When you’re responsible for a little one, it’s easy to put all your energy into making sure you meet their needs. When they get all your energy, there’s nothing left for you.
Have you ever been on a plane and heard the safety speech? If the airbags are deployed, put yours on before you try to put on someone else’s. That sounds counterintuitive to parenting, but it’s so true. If you don’t care for yourself, you won’t have anything to give. Being a parent is the best reason I’ve ever had to take good care of myself.
Exercise, eat healthy foods, get rest (when you can), or meditate. Will it be easy? No. Is it important? Extremely!
Put down your phone. Go get a glass of water, and take deep breaths as you drink. Make it your goal to do that three times today.
Give yourself grace.
You won’t be a perfect parent, and that’s ok! We all mess up. I don’t think I could list all the mistakes I’ve made. As my kids have gotten a little older, I ask them for lots of grace, too. I apologize when I make a mistake.
Don’t fall into the social media comparison game, either. You may see someone who looks like the perfect parent – but remember, social media usually shows the best moments. You may not see all the tears it took to get that perfect photo.
Allow yourself to make mistakes. Tell yourself, “My child doesn’t need a perfect parent – they need a present parent.”
Take a break when you need it.
If your child is in childcare or school, take a day off every once in a while to be alone. Enjoy doing what you like to do. Maybe that’s getting outdoors, taking a long bath or chilling with a movie. And don’t feel guilty about it. You have permission to take time for yourself.
Schedule an hour this week to take a break. Right now, ask your support system to help you make this happen.
Boundaries help to protect your time and your relationships. You may have to say no to some good things. As my children have become more independent, I’ve found that I can say yes to more things I want to do.
Prioritize your well-being and relationships when opportunities come your way.
Ask, “What have I said yes to that I don’t have margin for?” Then do your best to take that off your list.
Parenting isn’t easy, but you can do it. If you already feel burned out and have nothing left to give, reach out to a professional, coach or counselor. You don’t have to walk this road alone.
How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First
Can Self-Care Become Selfish? – First Things First
5 Signs You Need Some Alone Time
Parental Burnout: When Exhausted Mothers Open Up. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1021.
Breaking through the loss cycle of burnout: The role of motivation. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84(2), 268–287.
Beating burnout. Harvard Business Review, 98-101.
The Cost of Caring Without Self-Care
Is Stress Killing Your Relationship?
Are you overwhelmed with deadlines at work, kids in school, the weekly to-do list, health concerns, drama on social media? Is stress taking a toll on your relationship? Do you find yourself taking out your stress on your significant other? If so, you’re not alone.
Stress, handled wrongly, hurts relationships. It’s a reality. Often it’s the small stressors that build up and do damage.
We all face daily stresses. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could use a magic wand and remove all the stress in our lives? The reality is we have to learn to manage stress, not let stress manage us.
Here’s how to tell if stress is impacting your relationship:
Stressed out people are more withdrawn.
When you’re stressed, you may pull away from those you love or be less affectionate. Maybe you’re working longer hours, spending more time alone, or camping out in front of the TV as a way of escaping all you have to deal with. Isolating yourself can damage your relationship.
Stressed out people see the worst in others.
When we’re stressed, it’s easy to allow the small things to overwhelm us. A minor thing your spouse does, like not picking up their shoes, suddenly becomes a sign of disrespect and a lack of appreciation. Maybe they just forgot their shoes. But stress is blurring your vision and you see them doing it out of spite.
Stress leads to exhaustion.
Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. Whether the tension stems from work, kids, or our calendars, it bleeds over into all aspects of our lives. Have you ever noticed that when you’re mentally exhausted, you just want to sleep? Stress takes a toll on our bodies. This can leave our spouse (and others) feeling neglected.
Stress makes us irritable.
Who wants to be around grumpy people? The longer the stress lasts, the crankier you get. This can lead to arguments and hurtful words.[How Not to Blow Up On Your Kids When You’re Stressed Out: The Timeout is a great read if you’ve got kids]
Stress causes us to put other things in front of our relationship.
Technology is a fabulous tool but can also be a source of stress. Endless work texts or emails can interrupt time with your spouse. When we are stressed due to work or other obligations, it becomes easy to prioritize those above our relationship.
So, if you find yourself resonating with these common signs of stress…
Make a plan…when you aren’t stressed out.
If both of you are in a place of little stress, plan how you will deal with stress once it increases. Help to identify each other’s stressors and stress patterns. Look for ways to reduce stressors before they take over.
Reduce your stress.
You can’t help your spouse if you can’t help yourself, so identify what reduces your stress. When I feel overwhelmed, I like to go for a run. It’s time to decompress, soak in the fresh air, and clear my mind. Maybe it’s exercise, music, or getting in nature. Communicate to your spouse what you need to do to reduce stress. Make sure you both have time to de-stress and refresh. (Read How Couples Can Help Each Other De-Stress and Improve Their Relationship)
Prioritize your relationship.
You’re a team! Commit to each other and to ensuring that stress will not take over your relationship. Dr. Michael Mantell, an Advanced Behavior Coach, puts it this way: “Help each other remember you cannot control the uncontrollable, to always look for victory not defeat, to agree to set aside time to talk and be each other’s defense attorney, not prosecutor.”
Ask for help.
Your partner can’t provide for all your needs. Putting that expectation on each other isn’t healthy. Sometimes we need help, whether that’s a trusted friend or a therapist. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Protecting your relationship must be the priority.
Stress is a reality. You can’t make it go away, but you can manage stress so that it doesn’t kill your relationship. What will you do today to reduce stress in your life?
- 7 Ways You Can Help Your Marriage Survive the Stress of COVID-19
- Is My Stress Level Affecting My Child?
- How Not to Let Parenting Stress Take Over Your Life
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
How to Help Your Spouse When They’re Burned Out
You may have noticed that your once ‘Energizer bunny’ spouse has no energy to do anything. Or they share they don’t feel right but can’t give any specific reasons. It seems like all at once, it ALL became too much. They have no motivation to work or deal with personal issues. They feel exhausted after sleeping all night. And they begin to question their capability to complete tasks from work or at home. Your loved one may be experiencing burnout.
Yes, burnout is a real thing. According to WHO, burnout is caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It affects people in all areas of their lives physically, emotionally, and mentally.
If you believe your spouse is dealing with burnout, these strategies can help you as you help them.
Listen To Them
This may be one of the hardest things to do, especially if you think your spouse can accomplish anything they set their mind to do. Now, they’re questioning everything. You have to listen to them ask questions like:
- Am I a good spouse?
- Is my child getting what they need?
- Are my kids falling behind academically because I’m not a teacher?
- Am I a good parent?
- Is this my fault?
- Am I a good worker?
- Can I do my job now that it’s different from what I was hired to do?
- Am I giving time and effort to my relationship?
- Why is this so hard for me right now?
It’s not the time to try to fix it for them or ask questions. Instead, this is the time to let them dump it all out and try your best to understand. (4 Communication Exercises for Married Couples may be useful!)
Help Out As Much As You Can
Taking things off your spouse’s plate may help relieve the stress. It could be as simple as dusting around the house or taking on homework time from virtual school. If you don’t know where to start, simply ask, “How can I make what you do easier?”
Rely On Your Friends and Family (Use Your Village)
Remember—you don’t have to do everything on your own! Encouraging your spouse to spend some time with friends, family, or alone can lighten the load. Not only should your spouse spend time with friends and family—so should you. You don’t have to be the sole person to assist your spouse. In fact, if you aren’t careful about taking on too much, it may lead to your own sense of burnout.
Take Care of Yourself
While being supportive and non-judgmental of your spouse, it’s vital to take care of yourself. Try to get rest, good food and exercise, too. Find things that help you recharge your own battery.
Encourage Your Mate to Find or Rediscover Hobbies
Being creative can help their brain get out of the fight/flight cycle (more on that here). Be intentional about searching for new hobbies or finding enjoyment again in something they used to do. It could be anything from crocheting, hiking, or woodworking. You know better than anyone what they enjoy. (Read Why It’s Important to Care About Your Spouse’s Interests)
Reevaluate Your Family’s Schedule
Take some time to sit down and have a conversation about your family’s schedule. List everything for everyone, including work schedules, in-person or virtual school schedules, and other things to consider, like:
- When the kids need more hands-on help
- When the kids work independently
- When you need to focus on your job (if working from home)
- Family time
Looking at the schedule with clear eyes can help you see patterns. From these patterns, you can make conscious decisions together about how to spend your time and energy.
People are experiencing burnout at all-time high levels, and it’s a tough thing to deal with. Watching your spouse struggle with burnout can make you feel helpless, but you can get through this together. It’s an opportunity to grow closer and remind yourselves that you can’t pour from an empty glass. Make time for the things that fill you up.
- How Couples Can Help Each Other De-Stress and Improve Their Relationship
- Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?
- How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***