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June 17, 2024

What is Caregiver Burnout, Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention

Whether you're a professional caregiver or you're a designated family caregiver taking care of an aging loved one, there comes a time when it feels like the burden has become too much and you need to just quit.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) [1], 17% of caregivers feel that their health has worsened due to caregiving responsibilities.


These negative effects encompass both emotional and physical health.

How can you tell that you're experiencing signs of caregiver burnout? This article will show you all you need to know.


What is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a condition that happens when you take care of another person you care about, like an aging parent, family member, or friend, and become extremely tired and overwhelmed. It's like running on empty because caring for a loved one can be demanding and stressful. 

Imagine you have a phone and use it all day, every day, without giving it a chance to recharge. Eventually, the battery will run out and the phone won't work anymore.


Caregiver burnout can show up in different ways. For example, you might feel exhausted, both physically and mentally. Ultimately, you'll enter a space where you're also dealing with issues and can no longer help.

Remember, taking care of yourself is just as important as caring for anyone else.


What are the Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout may materialize in different ways, including mental and physical health deterioration. You can tell if you're burning out by looking out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Physical exhaustion: You'll know you're experiencing burnout if you constantly feel tired, lacking energy, or experiencing frequent headaches, body aches, or other physical ailments.
  • Emotional and mental exhaustion: Feeling overwhelmed, irritable, or moody. You may become easily frustrated, have difficulty concentrating, or experience a sense of hopelessness.
  • Sleep disturbances: The stress of caregiving can lead to trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting enough restful sleep due to worries or caregiving responsibilities.
  • Neglecting personal needs: Neglecting your own self-care, such as postponing medical appointments, skipping meals, or not engaging in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Losing interest in socializing or withdrawing from friends, family, and activities you once found pleasurable.
  • Increased stress levels: Feeling constantly stressed, anxious, or on edge. You may experience racing thoughts, a sense of being constantly on high alert, or recurrent worrying.
  • Loss of personal identity: You may become so engrossed with the person you're caring for that it's easy to forget you have your own life to live. You'll feel like your needs, goals, and interests are being overshadowed.
  • Changes in appetite and weight: Experiencing changes in appetite, such as overeating or loss of appetite, resulting in weight gain or weight loss.
  • Weakened immune system: Frequent illnesses or a weakened immune system due to the chronic stress and exhaustion experienced as a caregiver.
  • Increased use of substances: Turning to alcohol, medications, or other substances as a way to cope with the stress and emotional strain of caregiving.

Many caregivers experience these symptoms but can't even tell they're running low and their health is deteriorating. You must understand that taking care of yourself isn't a luxury but a primary obligation because only then can you truly care for someone else.


What are the Causes of Caregiver Burnout?

Multiple things can lead to burnout in a caregiving situation. Many of these demands may be more personal than from the person you're caring for:


1. Chronic stress

The ongoing responsibilities and demands of caregiving can lead to high stress levels, especially if you're also responsible for the health and well-being of the person. Caregivers often face numerous challenges, such as managing medical needs, providing emotional support, and handling daily tasks for the person they care for.


2. Lack of support

You can experience extreme stress from caring for your loved one if you do it all alone. You deserve some help, as caregiving can become overwhelming when there is limited or no assistance from family members, friends, or other support systems.


3. Unrealistic expectations

Many caregivers underestimate the severe stress that comes with caring for an aging parent or friend. Having unrealistic expectations of yourself, such as trying to be a perfect caregiver or expecting to handle everything alone, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and burnout.


4. Emotional and physical demands

Caring for an older adult who is ill or disabled can be emotionally and physically demanding. Witnessing the suffering or decline of a loved one, dealing with behavior changes, or providing assistance with tasks can take a toll on your well-being.


5. Lack of self-care

With time you may begin to neglect your own physical and emotional needs and well-being, and this is a common risk factor for caregiver burnout. Caregivers often put the needs and happiness of the person they care for above their own, leading to exhaustion and neglect of their own physical, emotional, and social needs.


6. Financial strain

Caring for someone with a chronic illness or disability can result in financial burdens, such as medical expenses, medications, or the need to reduce work hours or quit a job to provide care. Financial stress can add to the overall stress and strain experienced by caregivers.


7. Role strain and confusion

Balancing caregiving responsibilities with personal roles and obligations like work, parenting, or managing household tasks, can be challenging. Juggling multiple roles without adequate support or flexibility can contribute to burnout.


8. Personal health issues

If you already have pre-existing health conditions or are experiencing your own health challenges, it can make caregiving more physically and emotionally demanding, increasing the risk of burnout. Get support for yourself and your aging senior, as you'll need to be alive to take care of anyone.


You may experience burnout due to one or a combination of these risk factors, so study yourself and you're feeling burnt out.


How Do You Prevent Caregiver Burnout?

Don't let yourself drift too deep into caregiver burnout before you take action. The following proactive steps can help you prevent caregiver burnout and get caregiver support early enough.


1. Seek support

You must be realistic with yourself and understand that you need help. Seek help from family members, friends, or support groups. Share the caregiving responsibilities and delegate tasks to lighten the load.

Look for caregiver support services, including support groups and other programs that give support to both professional and voluntary caregivers.


2. Take breaks

Schedule regular breaks for yourself. Even short periods of rest can help you recharge. Consider enrolling your beloved senior in a nursing home or assisted living facility, adult day care, or respite care center.  These institutions sometimes offer short-term respite stays to provide you with time to rejuvenate.


3. Practice self-care

Understand that you come first. Your well-being and that of your loved one depend on you. As such, your self-care must be the top priority. Make your own physical and emotional well-being a priority. Engage in activities you enjoy, exercise regularly, eat nutritious meals, and get enough sleep.


4. Set realistic expectations

You're human and not a robot. Even robots crash, so ensure to be realistic from the onset. You cannot do everything perfectly. Set realistic expectations for yourself and the care you provide. Accept that you may need to ask for help or seek professional assistance when necessary.


5. Establish boundaries

Set boundaries and learn to say "no" when necessary. Create a schedule for your care services with availability and enforce strict adherence to your schedule. Don't work when you should be sleeping, unless it's an emergency. Understand and communicate your limitations to avoid overextending yourself.


6. Stay connected

Maintain your social connections and stay engaged with friends and activities that bring you joy. Isolation can contribute to burnout, so give yourself a break, make an effort to nurture relationships, and participate in social events or support groups that help you relieve stress.


7. Take care of your mental health

Seek emotional support from a mental health professional, counselor, or support group. Discussing your feelings and concerns with a professional can provide valuable insights, coping strategies, and skills to manage your mental health. Ensure you get the help you need.


8. Practice stress management techniques

Engage in stress-reducing activities like deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or mindfulness practices. Find what works best to manage stress and incorporate it into your routine. Remember that many resources are available to help you become a more efficient and healthy caregiver. You'll find local resources for caregivers on government platforms.


If you believe you have fallen physically or mentally ill due to caregiver burnout, quickly speak with a healthcare provider and discuss your concerns. 



As a caregiver, it's crucial to prioritize your well-being to prevent burnout. Remember to seek support, take breaks, practice self-care, set boundaries, and stay connected.


Taking care of yourself is not selfish—it allows you to provide better care for your loved one. You are doing an incredible job, and by nurturing your well-being, you can continue to make a positive impact in the lives of those you care for.

Healthy aging is hard on your own. Kendal at Home can help you age well and enjoy your retirement.

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