Parent Burnout & the Toll of Caregiving  

Nearly every parent we talk to, by the time they make it to us at Antelope, is burned out and doesn’t know it. Or they do know it and are barely muscling through their day-to-day.  

This should be no surprise. Parenting a teen who is struggling with addiction or mental health disorders is an extremely emotionally taxing journey. As caregivers, it’s natural to prioritize the well-being of our children. Still, the relentless demands of supporting a teen in constant crisis will lead to burnout if self-care doesn’t become prioritized. 

Burnout is more than feeling tired or stressed—it’s a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that can impact every aspect of life.

The relentless cycle of crisis management, coupled with feelings of guilt, helplessness, and isolation that come with parenting a teen struggling with addiction or mental health, can gradually erode our resilience and leave us feeling overwhelmed and depleted.

As mental health providers, we are no strangers to this. Everyone on the Antelope team has their own relationship with burnout and exhaustion, and we all have strategies for working through it. 

The best practice with burnout is to know the signs BEFORE burnout happens. What leads up to your burnout? If you know you’re on your way to burnout, it’s far easier to avoid and work with than after you are already in a burnout state. Here are a few examples from the team: 

I know I’m getting burned out when…

  • I start to show up 5 minutes late to everything. 
  • I stop healthy routines such as exercise, cooking good foods, or cleaning
  • Chronic fatigue or low energy levels – no amount of napping is enough! 
  • I begin to make a lot of small errors 
  • I become irritable, snappy, or frustrated easily 
  • I begin to have minor injuries like stubbing my toe, getting a paper cut, or burning myself while cooking

Once you know the signs of burnout, here are some interventions you can deploy to keep burnout from happening: 

Get connected: Find a support group of other parents who are going through what you are going through. This can be a lifeline. Joining support groups or online communities can offer a safe space to share experiences, gain insights, and access valuable resources. We have one at Antelope here

Find a coach or therapist for YOU.  Enlist the support of a coach or therapist who specializes in working with families of teens struggling with addiction or mental health disorders. These professionals can offer education, guidance, and personalized strategies to help you navigate the complexities of your situation effectively.

Free and Cheap resources that can take you a long way: The more you learn, the faster you can begin to make small changes at home that go a long way. One parent podcast we recently listened to and loved was this episode from the Huberman podcast or the Calm Parenting Podcast.

Involve trusted adults in your life. Don’t hesitate to involve other trusted adults in your teen’s life, such as extended family members, teachers, or coaches. These individuals can provide your teen additional support, guidance, and supervision while offering you much-needed respite and reassurance.

Establish Routines and Structure. Establishing clear routines and structures at home can provide stability and predictability for you and your teen, even during periods of exhaustion or crisis. Getting mornings and evenings back in check can provide needed restful bookends that allow relief from your day for you and your teenagers.

What if I’m already in burnout?

Usually, the only way we know to address burnout is to take a break. If we don’t take a break, we often get sick or injured due to exhaustion. Find a way to slow down. Get someone to watch your teen for a while. Send your kids to camp. But make a point to get away and stop. 

We cannot show up well for our children when we are burned out. As challenging as it is, we must put our own oxygen mask on first. 

Parenting a teen with addiction or mental health challenges is undoubtedly one of the toughest journeys you’ll ever undertake. But remember, you’re not alone. By reaching out for support, seeking professional guidance, and implementing effective coping strategies, you can navigate the challenges of parent burnout with resilience, strength, and compassion. Together, we can create a supportive community where parents feel empowered to prioritize their well-being while continuing to advocate for their teen’s recovery and healing.