According to a survey by researchers at Ohio State University (OSU), more than two-thirds experienced parental burnout in the last year. Researchers surveyed 1,285 parents who had under-18-year-old children. The survey was conducted online from January to April 2021. According to the survey, certain conditions were strongly associated with parental burnout. These included being a female, having anxiety and having children with anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Researchers found that parental burnout was also affected by the number of children in the household. The survey found that parental burnout increased in families with two to three children, plateaued with four to five children and then rose again with six or more.

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) was updated in 2019 by the World Health Organization (WHO). Burnout is not a medical condition. The WHO’s definition of it is only for the workplace.

Bernadette Mellenyk, OSU’s chief wellbeing officer and dean of College of Nursing, says that the survey highlights the difficulties faced by parents during the pandemic. Dr. Melnyk, who co-authored the survey, said that “we truly have a mental pandemic within our COVID-19 panademic.” Parents need to be aware of their limits and pay attention when signs of parental burnout begin to manifest. Dr. Melnyk states that parental burnout can have serious consequences and that we need to establish a prevention strategy. According to mental health professionals, here’s what you need to know about parental stress–including warning signs as well as resources that parents can use.

“Burnout” is a condition of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. Erlanger Turner, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, and executive director of Therapy for Black Kids tells SELF.

Eileen KennedyMoore, PhD, a psychologist, says that parents feel a lot of exhaustion due to the pandemic. “It’s been an extremely long and difficult journey, and it’s not over,” Dr. KennedyMoore, who wasn’t involved in the research, said. “It’s just strain from having to cope with such difficult circumstances for so many years: People are profoundly exhausted.” She adds that the conditions of the pandemic – not knowing when the risk of getting sick will subside, and uncertainty about when routines for pre-pandemic periods can be resumed – has turned some parents’ coping strategies upside-down.

COVID-19, for example, forced parents to be in an indefinite pause. Dr. Kennedy-Moore states, “Often, we get by something by saying, ‘If it makes it through Sunday, then I’m good.'” COVID has made it difficult to do the things that we normally would to save our lives. There is no escape.”

Although the risk of serious disease and death has decreased for many people due to the safe and effective vaccines available, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on children’s and adults’ lives (especially for those children or parents who have not been vaccinated). Dr. Kennedy-Moore shared that four of her patients had to cancel within a week because of COVID-19 cases in their own homes. “In my school district, they re-instituted the masks. She explains that the feeling of “When are we ever going?” is very difficult for parents raising children.

Experts say there are certain warning signs that can indicate the onset or progression of parental burnout. These signs should be used as a cue for parents to pay more attention to their needs. Dr. Melnyk states that if a person is experiencing burnout that interferes with their ability to concentrate, judge, or function, it’s a sign that they need professional help. This could be a shift in how parents view their parental responsibilities. Dr. Kennedy-Moore says that if our children feel like they are obstacles, rather than loved people, it’s a sign we need to take a break.

Dr. Turner suggests that parental burnout can also be manifested by a loss of motivation, frequent headaches, and feeling overwhelmed by an easy task. Dr. Melnyk added fatigue, irritability and a tendency to get upset easily to that list.

Dr. Melnyk suggests using the survey’s scale to determine if parental burnout is impacting your mental health. The survey asks parents to rate their children’s behavior on a scale that then assigns them a score. This score is used to determine if a parent has mild, moderate or severe parental burnout and gives guidance on next steps based on their results. This survey can help you determine if lifestyle changes might be beneficial for you. However, it is not intended to replace professional guidance. If you have any of these symptoms, this survey may be a good first step.

You may be able to determine whether or not your mental health is affected by parental burnout, regardless of whether you complete the survey. You might find that if your burnout is milder, such as if you feel tired and irritable all the time, it’s possible to reintroduce healthy practices that were forgotten. Below are some suggestions from experts on what parents can do for their burnout.

Experts say parents can reduce symptoms of burnout by making sure they are spending enough time with their children. Dr. KennedyMoore states that parents often want to be alone when they are suffering from parental burnout. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking a leisurely walk or seeing a movie by yourself. Even if you only have five minutes to recover, it is still important to do something. Dr. Melnyk says that simple things like this work.

Adriane Bennett, PhD, a psychologist and psychiatrist at Cleveland Clinic, says that parents should take short breaks to do something they enjoy. You can do this by letting your child take a short nap, or allowing them to play in a safe place. Then you can take a moment to do what interests you. This could be for parents as a way to de-stress, such as a short yoga class, journaling, knitting, journaling or any other activity they have found useful in the past.

It’s just as important to have social activities as time alone. Experts recommend talking with other parents about parental burnout. If you feel really burnt out, seek support from another parent. Dr. Kennedy-Moore predicts that they will say, “Me too.” Talk to someone you trust about your feelings. Dr. Melnyk says that many parents feel the same way.

Dr. Bennett says that parents who are experiencing parental burnout can feel less isolated and shameful if they talk to other parents. She says that parents who are experiencing parental burnout often think, “There must be something wrong.” Because other people understand what they’re going through, it helps them feel less alone.

Talk therapy sessions can help you to de-stress. You should also keep in touch with others who are in similar situations. Dr. Bennett says that although therapists are in great demand, it’s not a bad idea to put yourself on a waiting list. You can tell them if you find another provider and you would like to be taken off the waiting list.

Dr. Kennedy-Moore states that “Because it is so difficult to get into a therapist [right away], two things can increase our positive energy are social contact and physical activity.” Consider options that allow both, such as hiking with other parents or their children. If meetups are not possible due to COVID-19, or other reasons, remember that a stroll, bike ride, or running with your child in a nearby green space all count as physical activity.

Parents should review their priorities and reevaluate their calendars when they feel overwhelmed. “We must question our standards. If it doesn’t matter to us, let it go.” This could be for parents as it means that you should review your calendar and eliminate what isn’t necessary. Dr. KennedyMoore states that parents need to determine what is important to them and their families and what can be canceled or paused to make room for time with their children.

Parents might find it helpful to give their children advice during stressful times. Dr. KennedyMoore states that while parents make sure their children have healthy lifestyles, they may not hold their children to the same standards. This can lead to poor well-being. She advises parents to ensure their children are getting enough sleep and eating regularly, as well as keeping track of screen time.

Dr. Turner suggests that parents should think about whether their children are being helped or hurt by social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Dr. Turner says that parents should also understand the importance of taking breaks from social media. Research shows that increasing your consumption of social media can lead to a decline in mental health and stress levels. This will ensure you don’t get distracted alerts from social media sites that try to lure you back on the platform every day. To make sure you don’t scroll for more than 20 minutes per day, you could set a timer.

Although some of these options, such as therapy or affordable access to childcare, would be ideal for parents, many people don’t have the means to afford them. However, there are cheaper and more affordable options that might still be helpful:

Dr. Melnyk states that it is important to recognize and treat symptoms while they are still mild so that parental burnout does not become overwhelming.

We also know that meditation and deep breathing are not always the best ways to get through difficult times. Dr. Kennedy-Moore advises that parents should seek professional help if they feel depressed.

We get it. Finding a therapist is difficult and sometimes impossible. Dr. Kennedy-Moore states that she receives as many as three calls per day from patients who wish to see a psychologist in her practice. It may take some time to find a therapist who is available, so it’s a good idea to consult a doctor first. Dr. Melnyk suggests that you talk to your primary care physician, who can refer you to a mental counselor.

This guide will help you find a therapist that is affordable.

Dr. Melnyk emphasizes that parents must take immediate action if they are aware of how it is affecting their children. She says that parents often believe they have to be superhuman to excel at all they do. It is a strength to know when you are tired. It is not weakness. It’s time to be more compassionate.

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 if you or someone you care about is having suicidal thoughts.