Author: Philip Adkins, National IAPT Clinical Lead at Vita Health Group
Many parents are undoubtedly feeling increased stress and exhaustion due to the intense pressure of trying to home-school and take care of their children, whilst maintaining a full-time job, keeping their relationships intact and their home in a modest state.
Psychologists have likened the impact on parents to a state of burnout with commonly reported mental and physical symptoms including exhaustion, irritability, and emotional detachment.
Those experiencing the weight of these feelings may be unsurprised to learn that parental burnout is a serious condition brought on by uncontrolled chronic stress related to the role of raising children.
According to new research, about 40% of parents of primary school pupils are feeling even more stressed about home schooling than they did during the first lockdown, 14% are crying more often, 18% are having more sleepless nights and a quarter are being less patient with their children.
Despite the increased overwhelm, a survey by VitaMinds – conducted during the first lockdown – found that a quarter of parents are bypassing care for their own mental health and have no coping strategies in place to manage feelings of overwhelm.
The power of talking.
The build-up of stress that many parents are experiencing following two national lockdowns can impact on our resilience to cope with the demands of day-to-day life.
With parents facing so many challenges and drains on our emotional resources, it may be helpful to stop and reflect on what we can do to manage stress, prevent burnout, and build on our resilience to cope with parenting through lockdown.
The simple act of talking has the power to make a big difference to someone’s resilience levels. Ahead of Time to Talk Day, which takes place on Thursday 4 February, Philip Adkins, National IAPT Clinical Lead at Vita Health Group, shares six small but mighty ways to talk your way to a more resilient mind:
The words ‘should’ or ‘ought’ have become a fixture in our everyday dialogue and we often use them to keep ourselves in-check. However, these two words can be problematic because they are judgemental in nature and can make us feel inadequate. Parents who are perfectionists or compare themselves with others tend to be much more vulnerable to this language.
When you feel you ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to do something, question yourself on why you feel that way and look ahead towards the benefits that something may bring to you. Your role as a parent is not to provide the perfect existence. Take a non-judgemental stance towards yourself and your family and lower your expectations to make the day feel more achievable. Ultimately, this will help protect both yours and your children’s energy and resilience levels.
It is important in challenging times that you are pragmatic about what you can control and avoid overburdening yourself or feeling bad if things do not go to plan because when we are stressed, we lose the capacity to problem solve.
One way to avoid overwhelm is to ask yourself, “Is this in my control to do something about this?” If you can provide yourself with an answer, allow yourself to let the worry pass by, or act on what you can feasibly do. Turning your mind towards acceptance of the situation will help build resilience.
Try to develop some realistic small goals and then aim to work towards them. Feeling a sense of accomplishment is important, hence why it is great to set smaller, achievable goals that are impossible to fail. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”.
Share your goals with your children and, or, partner, at the start of the day and ensure you celebrate your achievement together at the end of the day. Small steps like this can really add up to a collective sense of success.
Turning a problem around and around in your head often leads to a dead end, or worse, increased feelings of stress and anxiety. You can help wrap your brain around a problem by sharing your story, which will give it a beginning, middle and an end. Sharing the weight of your thoughts with someone else, will help you reflect on it in a clearer and more logical way.
Expressing feelings is important. If you feel isolated write your feelings down on paper, call a family member or look to speak to a professional. It is important to have people you can confide in and who you can call upon if things are feeling overwhelming. They may be able to help you explore of range of possible solutions to your problems.
When you are feeling burnt out, it is easy to retreat into yourself and avoid contact with others. In reality, this may only compound your negative feelings. You may feel the conversation with your close circle of friends and family has run dry, so why not take this opportunity to reach out to an old friend?
Feeling isolated can be detrimental to your mental health, but taking this new path to re-connect with an old friend and scheduling in regular catchups could feel invigorating and it could help them too.
Having confidence in your own ability to cope with the stresses of life can play an important part in resilience. Likewise, being more confident in your own abilities, including your ability to respond to and deal with a difficult situation, is a great way to build resilience for the future too. Listen for negative comments in your head. When you hear them, practice immediately replacing them with positive ones. Or try saying “stop” straight after having a negative thought. How you talk to yourself can greatly affect how you think, feel and behave, and help to put things into perspective.
The important thing to remember is that you are not alone on your journey. While you may not be able to control all the circumstances around you, and sometimes it may all feel overwhelming, you can grow by focusing on what these challenges can teach us. Leverage the support of loved ones, trusted professionals and of course, your own positive mindset.
If you are concerned about your mental health, please contact your GP in the first instance. In addition, any parents who are struggling with their mental health are encouraged to use a free NHS mental health psychological talking therapy service, provided by VitaMinds.
VitaMinds research polled 2,000 UK parents of children aged 4-16, across the whole of the UK. September 2020.