Americans are shouldering extreme stress due to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic – and parents and caregivers are particularly feeling that strain. About 69% of mothers and 51% of fathers have experienced adverse health effects from worry and stress as a result of the pandemic, according to a recent poll – including difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, overeating, stomachaches and headaches. Balancing the demands of managing a household while meeting work deadlines and ensuring children are safe, fed and able to learn is difficult enough. Now with the stress of constant changes brought by pandemic precautions, many parents and caregivers are approaching burnout. While asking for help may seem like more work, it’s an important step to help alleviate chronic stress.
Burnout occurs as a result of chronic stress. Here are some signs:
- Cynical and detached: loss of enjoyment, isolation and pessimistic outlook.
- Feeling ineffective and unaccomplished: apathy, increased irritability, lack of productivity and poor performance.
- Physically and emotionally exhausted: chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating, increased illness, lack of appetite, headaches, anxiety, depression and anger.
Help is needed
Asking for help may seem difficult, but it’s important. Parental stress can affect a child’s emotional and mental health and strain the bond between them. Children may also have long-term behavioral impacts. Here are some strategies to try at home and work to overcome burnout:
- Delegate: Assign tasks to others. At home, ask for help from a partner, older children or a trusted caregiver. At work, find ways to delegate.
- Effort counts: Completing a task is more important than completing it perfectly.
- Flexible schedule: Try to negotiate flexible hours with an employer. A trial period may be a good starting point.
- Make a list: Write down every situation that is causing stress. Evaluate what could be eliminated or streamlined or delegated.
- Say no to new commitments: Though new opportunities may be tempting, draw a line between critical commitments and distractions. It’s important to take time to recover from a stressful year.
- Set boundaries: While the lines are increasingly blurred between work and home life, boundaries can help temper personal and external expectations.
Impact of chronic stress
Chronic stress can lead to serious, long-term issues. Stress also limits the ability of the immune system to respond to illnesses effectively. Left untreated, stress could put individuals at a higher risk for these diseases and conditions:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Heart disease
Many individuals have turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety due to the pandemic. For immediate help, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. People with deafness or hearing loss can use their preferred relay service to call 1-800-985-5990. Dr. Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. More from MIBluesPerspectives:
- Has the Pandemic Changed Behavioral Health Care Delivery Forever?
- Physical Effects of Anxiety and Depression
- Pandemic Tied to Increase in Sleep Disturbances
Photo credit: Drazen Zigic