COVID-19 Burnout is Getting the Best of Us Parents, Here Are 4 Ways to Cope

Two years into the pandemic, some parents are suffering from burnout. HLN's Lynn Smith, a news anchor and mom, opens up about her own experience and offers ways to help.

WFH mom

From global uncertainty to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of parents are feeling burnt out right now. And while there's hope on the horizon (vaccine rates continue to rise while infection rates fall), it doesn't cause the fatigue to magically disappear.

"Pandemic fatigue is an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis," the World Health Organization writes. It's a "demotivation" characterized by feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. Depression and anxiety are also common byproducts of burnout as well.

Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D., psychologist and author of Mommy Burnout, told me on CNN Headline News the definition of burnout is the chronic, physical, and emotional exhaustion resulting from feeling like you can no longer do your job. She's heard friends, neighbors, and clients say, "I just can't do it anymore." It's something she's also said herself. "We are in a universal experience, and actually a universal trauma," says Dr. Ziegler.

Take Darcy Millard, a working mom of three who speaks to the millions of us who are depleted and feel we've "got nothing left" after each day of juggling the impossible. "It's trying to be a good employee, trying to be a good mom, and trying to juggle everything else that goes along with keeping a home running," says Millard. "I feel like I'm failing at being an employee, being a mom—it's just burning the candle at both ends. It's a lot."

For all that seems to be dividing us in these times, being overwhelmed is one thing that connects us. And it's dangerous. According to a March 2022 study, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a 25 percent increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. Even though the pandemic outlook is improving, many parents still aren't doing OK, but the good news is there are ways to alleviate some of the stress. Keep reading for some tips.

Lean into Your Circle

Feeling overwhelmed right now? A good first step is asking for help from a friend or family member. "Research finds over and over that asking for help is something that actually does fill us up when we feel like we can help people. So, ask for it," advises Dr. Ziegler.

Get on a Schedule

Next, make a schedule. "What we actually know in crisis and in life is that we thrive off of predictability. We thrive off of knowing what's going to happen," says Dr. Ziegler. That's why it's important to try and get up at the same time every day and make sure you're doing things you'd normally do, including taking a shower, getting dressing, and eating breakfast. "Establish a sense of normalcy so that way there is a level of control. Right now, so much feels out of our control," says Dr. Ziegler.

Focus on Whatever Self-Care Means to You

Self-care has been in the American zeitgeist for some time, but the notion is often misunderstood. "Self-care isn't about spa days and extravagant vacations," says Dr. Ziegler. "Sometimes, self-care means turning off your screen and taking a 20-minute walk." Even reading a book with your kids or taking a few minutes out of the day just to snuggle can refuel you. "Parents are feeling like they're failing everywhere and if you have a moment, a genuine moment with your kid, where you felt like you looked in each other's eyes, you smiled together—that can refuel you," says Dr. Ziegler.

Make Sure to Disconnect

Finally, unplug. Make a conscious choice to unfollow negative friends and limit your exposure to negative news on Twitter and on TV. Dr. Ziegler says that can actually add to the traumatic experience we've all endured during the pandemic. Take a brain break even if your children's schooling or your job requires hours of screen time.

That said, it's important to note that there's no way to filter real life right now. It's hard and it's perfectly fine to admit you're not fine. As Dr. Ziegler says, ask for help and if you're afraid to talk to those close to you, the Crisis Text Line can help. And if someone hasn't told you lately, you're doing an amazing job.

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