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Caregiver burnout is more common than you may think and should be taken seriously. It can impact your health, your happiness, and your relationship with your loved one.

Caregiver burnout has a few main causes:

  • Caregivers are busy. Many caregivers are also parents and employees, so they’re always jumping from task to task.
  • Caregivers are always on duty. Caregivers who live with their loved one are always waiting for the next task or request. This makes it difficult to relax.
  • Caregivers are lonely. Many caregivers express feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Here are the signs of caregiver burnout and steps you can take to prevent burnout in the first place.

What are the Signs of Burnout?

Caregiver Burnout Sign #1: You’re less patient with your loved one.

If you’re experiencing burnout, your temper might flare more often. This is especially true if you’re the sole caregiver. When you’re around your loved one all the time, you’re always on duty. You can never fully relax because you’re waiting for the next task or request. Over time, this might make you short-tempered.

Being impatient with your loved one may cause you to feel guilty or inadequate. It may strain your relationship with your loved one and they may come to feel like a burden.

Here are some steps to overcome this sign of caregiver burnout:

  • Recognize that this is burnout. You might not even notice this as a sign of burnout at first. You may just feel like your loved one is being extra demanding or unappreciative.
  • Let your loved one know. If you have open communication then your loved one can support you. You might say, “Hey, mom, I’m feeling overwhelmed this week so I’m going to bed early tonight. Is there anything you need before I do? I’m hoping not to get up again once I’m in bed.” Most of the time, our loved ones do want to support us, we just need to show them how.
  • Set healthy boundaries. If you're clear about your needs, you’re less likely to lash out because you’ve set healthy boundaries.
  • Consider respite care. If your loved one has a hard time respecting boundaries, having someone else take care of them can give you the space you need. Respite providers can be friends, family members, or paid caregivers.

Caregiver Burnout Sign #2: You have a strained relationship with your family.

Caregivers often feel alone and isolated. Many caregivers wish that their siblings and other family members helped more. Frustration with family members may worsen if you’re experiencing burnout. If you’re overworked and tired, it can be easy to become resentful. Then, your family members may avoid you out of feelings of defensiveness or guilt. This might make you feel even more alone, making matters worse.

Every family’s situation is different, so you’ll need to assess yours. Here are a few common scenarios:

  • Siblings are uncomfortable providing direct care for your parent. Consider asking for help with things like cooking meals or cleaning.
  • You had a complicated childhood. Some caregivers find themselves caring for parents despite complicated family histories. If that’s the case for you, perhaps your siblings are unable to move past that history in the way you have.
  • Your family lives far away from you. If so, they may not even realize the extent of the support you provide.

Understanding your family dynamics will help you recognize what the barriers are for getting help. If you’re comfortable doing so, reach out to your family for support – here's an article with tips on asking for help. At the very least, let your family know that you’re feeling burned out so they can be there to listen.

Caregiver Burnout Sign #3: You’re always tired, sick, and feeling run-down.

Constant stress can make you tired and weaken your immune system. Between all of their responsibilities, many caregivers feel there isn’t enough time to sleep. Even if you’re sleeping a lot, you might still feel tired and run-down, especially if you’re always busy. For a better night's sleep, use sleep tips like darkening the room and powering down before bed. Then during the day, try fighting burnout with food by eating more lean protein and leafy greens.

Regain some energy by learning how to say no. You don’t have to say yes to every request. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t have time to bake homemade cupcakes for your child’s classroom – store bought is fine. If you’re dreading a social engagement, politely decline and use that time to recharge.

On the other hand, make time for activities and events that bring you joy. Leave the dishes in the sink for a night if it means you’ll spend the evening catching up with an old friend. Learning how to say no will allow you to say yes to the important things.

Caregiver Burnout Sign #4: You don’t make time for your own needs.

If you’re experiencing burnout, you may not have the energy to focus on your own needs. Who has time to go to the doctor or cook healthy meals when you barely have time to sleep? This will ultimately cause more harm than good.

If you don’t take care of yourself, you may experience long-term impacts on your health. Put reminders in your calendar so you can keep track of your own health, just as you would for your loved one. A little bit of time each month will go a long way towards protecting your long-term health.

Caregiver Burnout Sign #5: You feel sad and hopeless.

Many caregivers experience depression. Depression is a sign of burnout, especially if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed for a long time. Depression can be serious and for many people, professional support can be an enormous help.

Professional help may consist of medication, therapy, support groups for caregivers, or other types of interventions. If your feelings of hopelessness are frequent or last a long time, seek professional help. You can talk through options with your doctor to find one that works for you.

Learning How to Take Care of Yourself

Caregivers are wonderful at taking care of others but don’t always know how to take care of themselves. Protecting yourself from burnout isn’t a selfish thing to do. Your loved one doesn’t want your well-being to suffer because you’re a caregiver. Caregiving isn’t about taking care of someone at the expense of your health and happiness.

Caregiving is about giving your loved one the opportunity to live a rich and fulfilling life. It's about making memories with your loved one that you’ll cherish forever. Caregiving is hard work, but there is so much more to it than that. Recognize the signs of burnout, and take steps to address them. This will protect your health, well-being, and relationship with your loved one.

About the Author(s)

Ashley Krollenbrock has been a caregiver for her mom for 10 years. She has her Masters of Public Health and JD with a concentration in Health Policy & Law. Ashley has done legal work for two state protection and advocacy agencies for people with disabilities. She is passionate about disability justice, aging justice, health equity, and aging in place. Ashley blogs at themillennialmatriarch.com, and her goal is to empower families to keep their aging loved ones at home by sharing her story and practical knowledge. Ashley lives in Oregon with her wife and mom, and when she’s not writing or caregiving she loves to travel, garden, and hike with her dogs.

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