Where to we go from here? Practicing self-care and avoiding burnout

By Leah Persky, PhD & CFLE • Family Life Education Manager

How is it possible that there have been more than 300 mass shootings in our nation in just six months? A week has not passed without a mass shooting in the U.S. in 2022. The recent events in Highland Park, Ill., and Uvalde, Tex., have only made new the pain and suffering of needless violence that exists in our culture. Families across the nation continue to struggle to feel safe.

In other arenas, how is it that the rights of half of all Americans have been infringed upon? Women have lost a sense of freedom, trust, respect and health that are the foundation of all human rights. I am not sure how we have gotten to this point or what we can do to make meaningful change. I wish I had some clear answers to share. I wish I knew that my daughter and every daughter would grow up with their choices, freedom and health needs respected.

As a parent, it is our primary goal to keep our children safe and support their development. The recent months of increasing and unpredictable gun violence, racial and anti-Semitic attacks, the war in Ukraine, and the backdrop of the pandemic have made me wonder how to approach this topic with my own children. Yes, we can highlight the helpers and the many good people (most people are still good) and we can highlight that mass shootings are still relatively rare and most people who get COVID will be just fine. This all seems to ring a little hollow in our current world.

I am not giving up hope, or stepping away from the political and civil processes of our nation. None of us can afford to take this stance. Apathy is one of the greatest threats to democracy. What I am doing is acknowledging the feelings of overwhelm, sadness, anger, frustration and exhaustion that so many parents and caregivers are feeling today. Maybe you feel this way too.

Feeling exhausted even when you have slept, having a short fuse for no real reason, having a hard time focusing, feeling increasingly dependent on social media or news without a sense of completion, or not taking enjoyment in your normal activities are signs of burnout as a parent/caregiver. Feeling that you do not have enough time or competence to complete tasks is another potential sign of burnout. I knew I was feeling burnt out when just packing another lunch felt like too much, even though it is a completely normal and reasonable task to do. I realized I needed something at that moment and knew I was not feeling myself. After some reflection, I realized I needed some time away from the everyday business and tasks and I started to think about how to make that happen.

Taking some time to reflect on these feelings did help me to realize just how much has happened in the past few years. It also allowed me to start asking some questions that can help me figure out what to do next and how to keep going. How can we keep our children and communities safe? How can we protect our democracy and continue to have faith in it? How can we make the changes needed so that we do not continue to worry about the safety of our kids as they attend school or camp? These are the questions I am grappling with now.

I know this is quite heavy stuff for our short and sweet Minnesota summer, but I think that now is a good time to rest (even just a bit), care for ourselves, acknowledge the many complex feelings we may have and make a commitment to come back stronger and ready to take positive steps for our families and communities.

The common caregiving refrain about needing to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others is still true even if it is cliché. As parents and caregivers, we need that support for ourselves today, maybe more than ever. I hope you can carve out some time for quiet, care for yourself, your favorite hobby or TV show, time to simply do nothing.

If we do not care for ourselves, no one else will. I think we all need to provide this care for ourselves, realize all that we have done, and continue to do, with love and tenacity so that we may come back stronger and ready to participate in our communities, care for our families and realize the many good things we have that are worth fighting for. I hope you can find at least some time each and every day to do something that fills you up. We will all be better for it.

If you would like to discuss how to create space and time for your necessary self-care, please reach out to me and we can schedule a free 30-minute parent coaching session. You can fill out the interest form here: https://www.jfcsmpls.org/parent-coaching-interest-form/