How to avoid pandemic parenting burnout

Parenting in a pandemic is hard. Really hard.

Juggling working from home with home-schooling or childcare, keeping everyone entertained, keeping the house clean, keeping everyone fed – it is no mean feat.

On top of all that labour, parents are also struggling with the loss of their support systems. Grandparents, friends, schools and daycare – which would normally take some of the pressure off – have all been off-limits for months.

The impact all this stress is having on parents shouldn’t be underestimated.With endless responsibilities and little to no time for themselves, 32% of parents say they prioritise everyone else over themselves, with 22% going days without bathing and 18% missing meals.

According to the new research released by Baby Dove, 28% of parents say taking time for themselves is impossible and 22% feel taking time for themselves just adds more pressure and stress.  

Researchers say that parents are at risk of pandemic parenting burnout – and it’s vital they find time in their schedule to look after themselves, as well as everybody else.

Baby Dove has partnered with Loose Women host Stacey Solomon to encouragwe parents to prioritise their own self-care by taking ‘Micro-Moments for Me’ – small every day moments for themselves that can be harnessed to recharge, de-stress and maintain mental and physical wellbeing.

Stacey says self-care isn’t selfish and wants to encourage parents to be kind to themselves.

‘It’s been an absolute privilege to be at home with my three pickles during lockdown, but not every day has been easy,’ says Stacey. ‘Juggling being mum and teacher on top of work can feel overwhelming at times and it sometimes feels like you never have a moment to yourself.

‘That’s why I’m supporting the Baby Dove “Micro-Moments for Me” campaign, to remind all parents to look after themselves and spend a few minutes each day doing something for them – even if that is just locking yourself in the bathroom for a few extra minutes or finding a good spot in a game of hide and seek.’

The campaigners say ‘Micro-Moment for Me’ can be found in ordinary, everyday activities such as having a shower, going to the supermarket, locking yourself in the bathroom, getting a takeaway coffee, or even hiding in the pantry.

Finding time to take for yourself can be difficult, but clinical psychologist Dr Emma Hepburn says looking after your own needs, even in micro-moments, provides the building blocks for wellbeing.

‘All too often we put ourselves last as parents: snacking only on leftovers; forgetting to hydrate ourselves; and using all our time to look after the needs of others,’ says Dr Emma Hepburn.

‘Long term, not nurturing our own needs by giving our mind and body time to rest and recuperate leads to exhaustion, physical and emotional difficulties and even burnout. Which is why it’s so important to look at “me-time” not as a reward, but as a necessity.

‘Looking after our own needs decreases stress, makes us feel better physically and emotionally and increases resilience to face the often challenging task of parenting.

Top tips to help parents find ‘me-time’

Dr Emma Hepburn has shared her top tips to help parents cope in lockdown below.

‘Taking even small pockets of time to look after our own needs also increases our emotional and cognitive capacity,’ she says, ‘which gives us more brain space to meet the needs of others and deal with the challenges of parenting – such as a tantrumming toddler or crying baby.’

Remember self-care isn’t selfish 

Taking time to look after yourself is all too often seen as a ‘reward’ once all the other tasks are done. However, in reality you will never get to the end of that to-do list, so it’s important to shift your beliefs to recognise that looking after yourself is necessary to help you get the task of parenting done.

Keep your guilt at bay by reminding yourself that looking after yourself is beneficial for everybody and neglecting yourself is detrimental for everybody.

Children also learn to behave by the behaviours of those around them. Showing your children that looking after yourself is important will help them learn to look after themselves in the future.

Flex your own rules

Sometimes prioritising your own needs might mean flexing your rules in other areas to enable you to do this.

The toys can be tidied away later so you can have a shower. The kids can watch five more minutes of TV so you can sit down and have a cup of tea. Instead of rushing round trying to get everything done during naps, allow yourself to have time to relax.

Research has shown that allowing flexibility with normal rules during lockdown helped parents cope better.

Schedule ‘micro-moments’

Research from the first lockdown found planning small pockets of alone time helped parents cope, so plan for micro-moments of relaxation during the day by setting up simple activities that keep your children engaged long enough to give you a moment to relax.

You can also proactively plan what you can do in these moments by having a list of ideas that help you relax. This could include breathing exercises, a chat to a friend, listening to music, a cuppa or reading a few pages of a magazine or book.

Physically and mentally relax

Helping your body to physically relax can help manage stress and engage your ‘rest and digest’ system, which helps regulate your energy, enables your body to relax and recover from stress, impacts positively on how you feel and guards you against burnout.

Muscle relaxation, exercise, slow breathing, stretching and yoga, getting outside and even shutting your eyes for a few minutes are just some examples that can help your body relax.

Helping your brain relax is also important to reduce stress but isn’t always easy when it’s overloaded with all the things you have to do. Ways to help your brain relax include focusing on the here and now, or something that really absorbs you such as mindfulness, breathing exercises or noticing your surroundings when you are on a walk. 

Ask for help

Nobody can do it all themselves. Utilising support is also an important part of looking after yourself. Speaking through challenges or stressors can help process difficult emotions and help you cope.

If you have support that can give you some time to yourself then use it and ask for what you need.

Asking for help isn’t a weakness, help is a fundamental human need.

Switch off to switch off 

Your phone can be a distraction from relaxation and increase stress by placing more demand on your attention and zapping the time away that you planned to relax in.

If you find this is the case for you, put your phone physically away from you and/ or switch if off to allow you to properly relax during your micro-moments.

Keep self-care simple

The thought of ‘self-care’ in itself can become stressful if you think of it as another thing to add to your to do list. However, self-care doesn’t need to be complex, it can be simple things to look after your needs.

Integrate simple ways to nurture yourself throughout the day, such as leaving out a bottle of water, having enjoyable snacks in the fridge (not just for your kids but also for you) and setting up kids activities that keep their attention just long enough to let you have moments of relaxation.

Treat yourself like you treat others

Being compassionate to yourself is an important part of looking after yourself as a parent.

It’s natural to worry about your children, and easily fall into being critical of your own parenting. Self-criticism can also be a barrier to self-care. Noticing these critical thoughts and thinking what you would say to someone else in this situation can help develop more self-compassion.

Know when it’s too much

Sometimes micro-moments aren’t enough to help when life is difficult, and further input may be required.

If you are feeling unable to function or cope, or have difficult emotions for more than two weeks, then it may be beneficial to find out what support is available by speaking to your health visitor, GP or another healthcare professional.

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