7 Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Mon May 10 2021.

7 Signs of Caregiver Burnout

It isn’t easy to talk about, but many people who provide care for a family member experience caregiver burnout or caregiver stress. A 2020 survey conducted by the National Caregiving Alliance and AARP Public Policy Institute found that 40% of caregivers feel emotionally stressed and another 20% feel physically strained. Learn how to read the signs and manage caregiver burnout.

If you regularly find yourself trying to power through feelings of exhaustion, it’s important to take note. The caretaking you do plays a critical role in the health and well-being of your care recipient, but if you burn out, you’ll have nothing left to give.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, there’s no better time to discuss the topic. The more you know about caregiver burnout, its signs, and what you can do to minimize their effects, the easier it will be to invest in self-care and thrive.

This article answers the following questions:

What is caregiver burnout?

This occurs when you become too physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted to handle your daily caregiving responsibilities. It’s a condition that takes months or even years to develop, but without intervention and treatment only gets worse.

Almost every caregiver experiences burnout at one time or another. It’s a completely normal response to overexertion. Even so, you need to be able to identify the signs. Without taking steps to correct the issue, burnout can affect the quality of care you provide and trigger physical or mental health problems.

What are the signs?

Caregiver burnout affects everyone differently. Some of the symptoms are emotional; others are physical. A few of the most common warning signs to look out for include:

1. Feelings of depression or anxiety

Many caregivers feel isolated and underappreciated. Providing round-the-clock care for family members infiltrates all aspects of life, making it difficult to exercise, prepare healthy meals, or invest in self-care. Without any way to relieve the stress of daily life, many caregivers end up feeling depressed and anxious. These ailments affect the way you perceive and interact with the outside world, but they can also result in physical symptoms like an upset stomach, headaches, or back pain.

2. Increased irritability or frustration

These feelings of agitation occur due to a buildup of stress. When you’re irritable, you’re more likely to become angry or upset, which can cause you to lash out and say or do things you don’t mean. Factors that increase the risk include lack of sleep, low blood sugar, and poor nutrition.

3. Lack of energy

The physical demands of caregiving are great, especially if your loved one is wheelchair-bound or bedridden. Daily responsibilities like preparing meals, assisting with bathing, and frequent diaper changes can take a toll on your muscles and joints. At the same time, mental tasks like remembering medications and doctor’s appointments can leave your brain feeling overworked or “fried.” 

4. Neglecting your own personal needs

If you’re too wrapped up in the daily grind, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. But if you aren’t willing to watch out for yourself, who will? If you’ve stopped regularly bathing, rarely drink water, and eat a diet that primarily consists of junk food, it’s time to take a step back. Continuing these patterns can negatively affect your health and the care you provide.

5. Insomnia or difficulty sleeping

Did you know that 90% of dementia caregivers don’t get enough sleep? If you regularly find yourself tossing and turning, or waking up multiple times throughout the night, it may indicate burnout. That’s especially true if your symptoms persist for several weeks or fail to respond to good sleep hygiene. 

6. Reliance on substances

Many caregivers rely on stimulants to push through exhaustion and minimize uncomfortable feelings like anxiety or depression. There’s nothing wrong with having a cup of coffee or tea, but substances like tobacco and alcohol can have long-term health effects. What’s more, they won’t necessarily help you feel better. You might be energized for an hour or two, only to crash back down later. 

7. Losing interest in your favorite activities

Over time, burnout affects your desire to spend time with others or participate in hobbies you enjoy. Because it saps your energy and goodwill, you might even find yourself feeling cynical or resentful. Though these emotions are common, they too can affect the quality of care you provide.

How can I minimize the risk?

Now that you know how to spot the warning signs, let’s take a closer look at some steps you can take to prevent the issue from occurring in the first place. 

There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Try a few of the options listed below and make adjustments that align with your lifestyle and needs.

Talk with your employer

Many family caregivers avoid discussing their caregiving responsibilities with their employers. Some fear it might impact their job security, and others feel more comfortable handling things on their own. No matter your reasoning, don’t be afraid to speak with your manager. They may be able to adjust your schedule to ease some of the burden. Some companies even offer caregiving-related programs for employees.

Join a support group

There are millions of caregivers out there who are experiencing the very same feelings as you. An online or in-person support group provides a place to discuss your fears and concerns, learn new caregiving tips and tricks, and build friendships with others who can relate. Unsure where to begin? Try AgingCare’s Caregiving ForumCaregivers Connect, or the Family Caregiving Alliance.  

Consider respite care

Even the most energetic caregivers need to take time away to recharge and refuel. Companies like Joshin make it easy to find experienced, background-checked, and qualified caregivers who can provide at-home care for your loved one. Some senior care facilities even offer short-term respite care programs (for up to five days), which can provide peace of mind while you get away for a much-needed break. 

Stay in touch with friends and family

Caregiving is a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect your personal relationships. It’s good to get out and do something at least once a week, whether that’s grabbing a cup of coffee, going to see a movie, or having a Zoom conference with friends.

Live as healthily as possible

If you want to provide high-quality care for others, it’s important to take good care of yourself. Drink plenty of water, eat a nutritious diet, focus on your own healthcare, exercise regularlymeditate when possible, and get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. By incorporating these practices into your routine, you’ll have more energy and be better equipped to handle life’s challenges.

Contact Our Friendly Care Team

Here at Carewell, we’re committed to supporting (and educating) family caregivers. If you need help finding the right product to meet your loved one’s needs, feel free to reach out at any time.

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Our friendly and knowledgeable Care Team has extensive knowledge and training to help you make the right decision. You can call them during normal business hours at (855) 855-1666 or send a message to support@carewell.com.

We hope you’ve found this information helpful. Now that you know how to spot the signs of caregiver burnout, you can recognize and even prevent them before they interfere with your responsibilities. Hang in there, and good luck!

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.