What to know about caregiver burnout
The mental, physical and financial burdens of caregiving create a high risk for caregiver burnout.
Caregiver burnout is physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion — like you have nothing left to give. It’s a feeling of numbness and disconnection from the life you knew before you became a caregiver. Burnout occurs when caregivers don’t get the help or support they need and when the demands on a caregiver’s mind, body and emotions are overwhelming. Once a caregiver begins to feel the effects of burnout, it becomes difficult to care for themselves much less care for their loved one.
Not everyone experiences caregiver burnout the same way, or at the same time.
Common signs of caregiver burnout
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Common causes of caregiver burnout
- Unrealistic expectations of what you are able to do to
- Lack of control (finances, available resources or the skills needed to help your loved one)
- Unreasonable demands from the person you are caring for or from other outside sources, i.e. family members
- Ambiguity of roles (caregiver, spouse, parent, friend, employee)
- Lack of privacy; there is no time to be alone
What to do when you are feeling overwhelmed
How do you care for both yourself and a loved one at the same time? Taking care of you is a full time, conscious, ongoing task. Taking care of a dependent older loved one takes added energy, time and commitment.
Being able to recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated or resentful is key.
Here are a few things you can do right now to help lower your stress and anxiety. These are simple, easy and manageable tasks.
- Turn on your favorite music. Music can have therapeutic effects on a range of mental and physical health conditions. Research suggests music has significant power to help reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain and improve focus.
- Get out for a walk. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Walking promotes the release of brain chemicals called endorphins that stimulate relaxation and improve our mood. Being outdoors is an added plus. Being outside lowers your stress hormone (cortisol) and decreases your heart rate.
- Practice deep breathing. Breathing sends a message to our brain to calm down and relax. When we are stressed or anxious, our breathing tends to be irregular and shallow. Deep breathing (sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing) is a practice that enables more air to flow into our body and can help calm our nerves, reducing stress and anxiety. The 4-7-8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, also known as relaxing breath, involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Do these two or three times and you should notice a difference.
- Write it down. Journaling reduces stress by serving as an escape or emotional release for negative thoughts and feelings. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you gain control of your emotions, reduce stress, deflect anger and develop clarity. This is something personal; you don’t have to share it with anyone. You don’t need to worry about penmanship, grammar or which words you choose. Getting your thoughts down on paper and out of your head will free up your mind to think more clearly about your situation.
- Talk with someone you trust — a friend, a family member, a co-worker or make an appointment to talk with an experienced mental health therapist. UK has options — check out UK Human Resources' Work-life and Well-being Mental Health section.
- Accept your feelings. Having negative feelings, such as resentment, anger or frustration about your added responsibilities or toward the loved one you are caring for is normal. It does not mean you are a bad person or bad caregiver; it just means you you have reached your limit. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
There are no easy solutions or answers in caregiving. Caregiving is a balance between doing what is necessary to care for your loved one and doing what is needed to respect your own needs as a caregiver and as an individual. Taking time out of each day for you, even if it’s just 10 minutes, is a vital part of being a caregiver.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,