“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation 

Take a deep breath.  Slowly in, and then slowly out.  Take a pause from reading this and close your eyes.  Attempt to quiet your thoughts.

It’s easy in theory, these small moments of calm.  Or, at least, the concept is simple. But for many of us, we find it impossible to relax enough to do an exercise like this.

Why? How is it possible that we are wound up so tight that we cannot find calm and conquer the anxiety of life, as Amit Ray calls it?

The answer is glaringly obvious: We are burned out.

My season of burn out

I began blogging about mental health in January 2019.  After a 2010 diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and an even longer journey with chronic depression and anxiety, I have spent the last decade looking for answers.  I am a natural empath. I genuinely feel what others feel, on top of the things that I feel. Because of that, I worried I would spend the rest of my life not only depressed, but also with so little understanding of my illness that I would be unable to help others.

That’s where my blog began.  I have had more than my fair share of bad experiences in heavy seasons of depression and bipolar agony, and I wanted to use that knowledge to not only find ways to heal, but to help others heal.

Besides being a blogger living with bipolar disorder, I am also married and a mom of two small children.  I have been with my husband for about 15 years (married for nearly 10), and we are fortunate enough to have two amazing children.  As I write this, they are about 4.5 and 3.

As you can imagine, based on the things I just told you about myself, I know what it’s like to be burned out.  There have been days where I could hardly get off the couch because my brain just couldn’t possibly cope with any additional demands being placed upon it.  My heart spent the day heavy with responsibility and emotion and worries that I was not able to manage. I feared I was somehow damaging my children.

I have learned so much even just in the past 4 years of motherhood about toxic life patterns and behaviors that cause burn out, and I wanted to share them with you.  Even just making one of these changes, will put you on a path to saying goodbye to burn out for good.

The SET method

I know it seems impossible now, but I really think these tips will help you.  They have certainly helped me, even as recently as within the past few weeks. The key to avoiding burnout is a 3 step process, that can be turned into a math formula.  We’ll call it the SET method.

Self identify  + Education + Take action

First and foremost, you have to be able to do something called self identify.  What that means is, you need to be able to take regular assessments of your life.  How are you feeling physically? What about emotionally? How is work going? Are you able to find enjoyment on a day to day basis?

If you are unable to do that, then you need to find a therapist or other professional to help you.  I also recommend journalingWrite down everything that you are feeling at the end of the day and categorize it into two columns: Healthy and Unhealthy. This is the first step into becoming more emotionally well.

Next, you need to educate yourself as best you can about ways you can make the necessary changes.  I will discuss what I believe are the 7 best ways to do that in the section below. So, I’ll leave that for now.

Finally, once you are able to self-identify, and once you arm yourself with the tools to start healing, you need to take action.  Simply knowing that things are bad and knowing how you could possibly fix it isn’t enough. You have the tools and now you need to use them.  Start with one of the suggestions below at a time. Try it for a couple weeks and see if it makes a difference. That could be all it takes. If you don’t notice enough improvement, try working another one in to your rotation.

7 solutions for burned out parents

These are what I feel are the best suggestions for feeling less burned out.  They are not one size fits all. As I write this, I cannot personally assess what you need.  I’m not a trained medical professional. Just someone who has had success in the past. So, take these suggestions seriously, certainly, but don’t be discouraged if one of them does not help you.

Prioritize

In general, we do too much.  Women especially try to do way too much in today’s society.  We face so much pressure to be moms, and wives, and employees, and in shape, and cook well, and have a lucrative side hustle, and keep our houses clean, to name just a few.  It is super important that we learn to begin each morning prioritizing.

Grab a notebook (or your preferred to-do list making tool) and write out everything you would like to get done that day.  Then you need to put them in order. That order might vary from person to person. One person might have a lot of time sensitive items, especially if they work outside the home.  Another person’s list might be organized around when their children are in school. Regardless, you need to organize them in a way that makes them more manageable.

Pro-tip: Cross 2 or 3 of them off.  Like I said, we try to do too much and I’m fairly certain that a few of the things can be put off for another day.  Once you do that, add in 15-30 minutes of quality self care. That is the most critical part of your list!

Ask for help

Once you have your to-do list figured out for the day (I do mine the night before), look at it objectively and decide where you are going to need some help.  If you are finding you have a lot of childcare needs through the week, it might be a good idea to do your list a week or 10 days in advance to give sitters enough notice.

As I mentioned, we cannot possibly do it all.  This superhero complex is part of the reason we find ourselves so stressed.  Look at your list and highlight all the things that will take some assistance.  It could be needing someone to watch your baby while you clean the house, or letting your dog out while you put in a longer day at work.  

Whatever it is, ask for help.

Self-care

Self-care is the most important part of your list.  It doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive (in fact, I don’t think true self-care should be).  It should be a daily activity that is restorative vs strictly pleasurable, and something that is easy to replicate on a daily basis.

So, what are some things you can do each day that I consider self-care?  And how do you fit it into a busy schedule?

This isn’t always popular.  But I recommend waking up 15 minutes earlier and going to bed 15 minutes later, at the very minimum.  Ideally, you would get an hour total every day. When you wake up early, take a nice hot (or your preferred temperature) shower, wash your face, brush your teeth, and get dressed.  If you have kids, ask your spouse to help manage them so you can accomplish this. If you are a single parent, try to get up before the kids get up.

Before bed, spend at least 15 minutes journaling or doing some other sort of mindful, relaxing activity.  Art is another good one! Adult coloring is sort of everywhere in today’s day and age, but the benefits are endless. I talk more in the blog post I linked to about why the activities need to be restorative vs pleasurable, and what the difference is.

Adults need regular self-care or they can face serious mental health consequences.

Journaling

One popular self-care activity I just mentioned is journaling.  This is a very common form of therapy that you can do at home at a small cost, and with little effort.  If you are not a writer or are new to journaling, don’t worry. It’s super simple.

All you need is a notebook and a pen.  I think the prettier the better. Find a color notebook that really soothes you or speaks to you in some way.  For instance, if you are triggered in some way by the color red, I would not suggest picking a red notebook or red ink. Or, maybe you prefer to ditch old fashioned tools and use Google Docs or some other form of word processor.  

However you decide to journal, you can start in as little as 5 minutes a day.  Set a reminder on your phone to go off at a certain time, and just let the thoughts flow.

Here are some prompts you can use if you don’t know where to start:

  • What you did that day
  • What went well (I would not recommend focusing on what went wrong)
  • What your goals are for the rest of the year
  • The last dream you had that you can remember

See a therapist

Even in 2020, this is such an underutilized tool.  Depending on your insurance, it can be pretty affordable.  I even recommend the occasional therapy appointment for those who are not diagnosed with a mental illness.  I don’t think it would hurt for the average stressed person to make a quarterly or biannual appointment with a therapist just to unpack everything.

Therapists are trained to look outside the box.  To offer coping strategies that you might not have thought of. Finding and beginning a relationship with a therapist can be daunting, but it is just that: A relationship.  And one of the most beneficial ones you might ever have.

Enjoy time off

You cannot be everything to everyone all at once.  You need time to recharge and enjoy life! At the time of this writing, I am planning a weekend in the city with my younger sister (with no kids), and I could not be more excited.  2019 was a challenging year for me, and I definitely deserve it.

We all do.  We all need that time where we can step away from our responsibilities- and yes, our children- and just be US.  Remember, you were a complete person before INSERT LIFE EVENT (getting married, having kids, taking that promotion, etc.) Those things did not complete you.  They just added to your life. And sometimes, we need time away.

Do not ever feel guilty about that.

Learn to say No

This one has been so helpful to me over the past year.  I have stopped participating in things that no longer brought me joy, distanced myself from friendships that made me sad, and learned to create boundaries for myself on a daily basis.

For instance, I started putting my kids to bed earlier.  Thus, saying No to later bedtimes. This time to myself at the end of the night is so beneficial for my mental health.  And physical health, because stress is no good for your body either! I relax, do something I enjoy- making sure it is restorative`of course.

Cutting out things/people that are toxic or otherwise making you unhappy is one of the best tools you can have in your journey for better mental health.

Don’t let yourself get burned out

This might be another unpopular opinion, but yes, we do this to ourselves.  We make the conscious choice to not do anything of the above things, and then find ourselves in an uncomfortable rabbit hole that we can’t climb out of.

Make the commitment to start somewhere, once you read this and then share it with a friend.  Pick one of the ideas I mentioned, and run with it. Make it yours. Make it fit into your life.  Cram it if you have to.

You are deserving of a stress free life, and I truly believe it is possible.

About the Author

Jen (the writer behind the blog, Diffusing the Tension) lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband and two children (ages 4.5 and 3). She has bipolar disorder and frequently writes about her experiences with that. In her spare time, she is OBSESSED with true crime. She is also a bookworm, TV junkie, and fitness nut. You can follow her on:

Twitter- @jvan3610
Instagram- @diffusing_the_tension
Facebook- Diffusing the Tension
Pinterest- @diffusingthetensionblog