No matter where you are in your caregiving journey, there might come a time when your own health takes a back burner. The responsibilities get too much, and you find yourself struggling to get through your to-do list, feeling very overwhelmed. You’re prioritizing all your other tasks and not taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you've reached this point, you may be close to or already suffering from caregiver burnout.
What is caregiver burnout?
The likely consequence of a caregiver not taking care of themself is called caregiver burnout. Besides being physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, it’s common to also experience a shift in attitude from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned towards your caregiving responsibilities. (Cleveland Clinic, 2019) In addition, you might be experiencing some of these general and common experiences or symptoms:
Withdrawal and isolation from loved ones, hobbies, and social activities
Emotional and physical exhaustion
Never getting a break from caregiving, leaving you with no time for yourself
Feeling frustrated, angry, and upset
Feeling impatient most of the time
Constantly worrying and feeling anxious, your mind is thinking of your to-do list all the time
Feeling hopeless of the situation
Changes in your sleeping patterns, appetite, weight
Burnout will look different in every individual, but if you recognize any of the symptoms listed above, then it may be time to make some changes to your routine.
What causes caregiver burnout?
There are ways to prevent yourself from experiencing caregiving burnout, but before we discuss prevention tips, it’s helpful to first understand some causes that lead to burnout. These may include:
Role confusion For most, caregiving isn’t the only role they take on. Many people also have other responsibilities: full-time jobs, taking care of children (if any), personal responsibilities, and more. If you find yourself thrown into the role of a caregiver, it can be confusing to separate the different roles, and trying to meet the needs of everyone is no easy feat to handle.
Lack of control Many caregivers often struggle to manage their loved one's care due to the lack of money and resources available to them.
Workload Caregiving itself is a full-time role, and accompanied by all your personal responsibilities, there is just way too much to do, leaving you with no alone time.
Unreasonable demands If you are an informal caregiver, sometimes other family members such as siblings, parents, or the care receiver themselves, might burden you with unreasonable demands. Alternatively, you may be overburdening yourself with demands because you consider giving care as your own exclusive responsibility.
How can I treat or prevent caregiver burnout?
Now that you better understand the causes, here are some helpful prevention tips you can follow to reduce your chance of experiencing burnout.
Ask for help Ask for help if you need it! No one can do it all, and that’s ok! Here you can leverage your support network. Are there any family members or friends that can help relieve you of some of your responsibilities? Perhaps a friend can help you with errands, or a family member can assist t you with your meal prep. Remember if you don’t ask, you will never know, and most of the time, people want to help! If you are looking to grow your support network further, check out our article on 5 Tips to Grow Your Network of Support.
Open up to someone Talk to a family member, friend, neighbor, or therapist, or consider joining a support group to talk about your feelings. This can help relieve some of the emotional stress you might be feeling and remind you that you aren’t alone.
Take breaks Take regular breaks to rest and do the things that bring you joy. Whether it’s going on a walk, getting coffee with a friend, or reading a book, taking breaks is essential for recharging and will allow you to become more energized and focused.
Utilize respite care services. If you feel like you need a longer break to rest, take advantage of respite care services. This can help relieve you of caregiving duties for up to a few days."
Take care of yourself. While caring for someone else, don’t forget to take care of yourself! Start by eating nutritious foods, exercising daily, and getting enough sleep. Don’t forget about your emotional health as well. Journalling, meditating, and practicing gratitude are some ways you can improve your emotional wellness.
Being a caregiver is a full-time job for many, and in addition to personal responsibilities, this can be enough to tip your workload over the edge. Caregiver burnout is not inevitable. Learn to recognize signs of burnout early and utilize these prevention tips to help in avoiding it. Remember that it’s ok if you need to take a step back and put yourself first. It doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. Providing care can take a toll on mental health. If you are struggling, consider calling a local helpline. USA AARP offers caregiving advice (Monday-Friday, 7am-11pmET) at 1-877-333-5885. The support line is also available in Spanish, at 1-888-971-2013. Call the Caregiver Action Network helpline at 1-855-227-3640. Canada The Ontario Caregiver Organization can connect you with a resource specialist if you call 1-833-416-2273. Call Crisis Services Canada toll Free (24/7): 1 (833) 456-4566, or
text support (4pm-12am ET daily): 45645
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Clinic, Cleveland. “Caregiver Burnout; Causes, Symptoms & Prevention.” January 13, 2019. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9225-caregiver-burnout#:~:text=is%20caregiver%20burnout%3F-,Caregiver%20burnout%20is%20a%20state%20of%20physical%2C%20emotional%20and%20mental,are%20able%2C%20physically%20or%20financially.
Fisher, Martin. “Causes and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout: Called to Care: Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.” Causes and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout | Called to Care | Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, MD, June 25, 2020. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/about/community_health/johns-hopkins-bayview/services/called_to_care/causes_symptoms_caregiver_burnout.html.