‘Overwhelming’ exhaustion: COVID leaves 66% of working parents burnt out, study suggests

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From remote school to financial uncertainty, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been an immensely difficult time to raise kids. And more and more parents are burned out.

A new study has found that 66% of working parents meet the criteria for parental burnout – which occurs when chronic stress and exhaustion overwhelms a parent’s ability to function and cope.

Researchers with The Ohio State University published the report on Thursday. Their findings are based on an online survey of 1,285 working parents conducted between January 2021 and April 2021 – capturing feedback from families across the nation during significant public health lockdowns.

The report’s authors underlined that parents struggling with burnout today are far from alone.

“’Parental burnout.’ When I heard that, I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s what I’m feeling,’” Kate Gawlik, associate professor at Ohio State’s College of Nursing, co-author of the report and mother of four, said in a university news release. “It’s just this overwhelming sense of having to be on 24/7 in so many different roles and just having to be invested in those roles so intensely.”

Burnout is not a medical condition. In 2019, the World Health Organization formally recognized burnout as a “syndrome” and “occupational phenomenon” that can have health consequences. As noted by the American Psychological Association, while there are similarities, consequences of parental burnout differ from job burnout.

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Working parents were particularly at risk for parental burnout, as they juggle numerous stressors both at work and home, researchers said. 

“You want to try to be such a great parent; you want to do well at your job; you want to be a good partner; you want to have a clean house,” Gawlik continued. “There’s just so much being thrown at you with having to do all of that in a pandemic, it’s almost like burnout, to some degree, is inevitable.”

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The report found that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated stressors and contributed “to epidemic levels of parental burnout and exhaustion.” And burnout isn’t going away anytime soon, the report’s authors said.

“We’re not going to just magically come out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said report co-author Bernadette Melnyk, Ohio State’s chief wellness officer and dean of its college of nursing,  in the university’s news release. “We have to do so much more on the prevention side of things and not wait until parents and/or their children are in crisis.”

Experts stress that acknowledging your burnout level is key in terms of effectively addressing it. Gawlik and Melnyk’s report provides key strategies for both parents and children – including taking 5-to-10-minute “recovery breaks” for stress relief throughout the day and talking to loved ones about how you’re feeling.