Preventing Caregiver Burnout

In this article...
  • If you're caring for a loved one with an illness or disability, you're at risk of caregiver burnout. Find out how to manage your stress and stay healthy.

Growing numbers of Americans are taking on the role of informal caregivers, looking after loved ones who have a chronic illness or disability. However, many family caregivers also experience high levels of stress, anxiety and depression that can lead to caregiver burnout.

Caregiver burnout is considered a public health priority by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 23% of informal caregivers find it challenging to look after their own health, and a similar number believe caregiving has affected their overall well-being, according to a new study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.

If you’re devoting regular time to caring for a loved one, be sure to take steps to look after your own physical and mental health, whether you’re just starting your caregiving journey or have been doing it for years.

Caregiver Responsibilities

An informal caregiver is someone who regularly provides care to a family member or friend who has a chronic condition, illness or disability. More than 1 in 5 American adults are taking on this role, whether it’s short term or as a primary caregiver.

About 14% of family caregivers look after adults over the age of 50 who have:

  • Long-term physical conditions (63%)
  • Emotional or mental health issues (27%)
  • Memory problems, Alzheimer’s or dementia (26%)

Many have more than one need, for example, a chronic illness combined with depression, making care requirements more complex.

Informal caregivers take on a range of tasks. They help provide basic self-care such as bathing, dressing, grooming, eating and mobility. They may also assist administer medication, perform nursing tasks, attend doctor’s appointments, help manage finances, cook, shop and clean.

What Leads to Caregiver Burnout?

It’s hard to see loved ones become less independent as they age or struggle with illness. Many family caregivers also have unrealistic expectations about their role and feel they must shoulder the burden of being exclusively responsible for their loved one's health and well-being.

Caregiving can also make significant demands on your time. While some caregivers may support their loved ones full time, on average, informal caregivers spend 24 hours per week caring for a family member. Approximately 60% have jobs on top of their caregiving commitments, according to the recent study Caregiving in the U.S. This creates additional stress and financial consequences for those who must go to work late, leave early or take time off to care for their family.

Be sure to watch for signs of stress in your life. Your caregiving role may be causing strain if you're feeling:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Worthless
  • Sad, angry or irritated
  • Uninterested in socializing or performing activities you once enjoyed
  • Exhausted from not getting enough rest
  • Guilty because you feel you can't make your loved one healthy and happy

Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

According to Cleveland Clinic, caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It affects your ability to take care of your loved one and has lasting effects on your own health.

An article in Frontiers in Psychology suggests burnout is a response to continued stress and has three components:

  • Emotional exhaustion: Feeling emotionally drained and unable to continue caregiving.

  • Depersonalization: Having compassion fatigue and feeling detached from the person you're caring for. You may shift from feeling caring to indifference.

  • Lack of personal accomplishment: You no longer find purpose in caregiving or a sense of fulfillment.

Why You Need to Take Care of Yourself

It's hard to take care of your own health when so much of your energies are focused on your family member, but if you don’t watch for signs of caregiver burnout, you may encounter much bigger problems.

According to the CDC, caregiver burnout has long-lasting effects such as deteriorating health, a weakened immune system and even early death.

Tips to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

It's important that you take care of your health so you have the mental and physical strength to handle the complex demands of caregiving.

  • Get enough rest. It’s recommended that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. If you’re not getting enough, look into your sleep habits.

  • Eat nutritious foods. Follow recommended dietary guidelines for optimal health and ensure you’re consuming the right nutrients to stay strong and feel your best.

  • Exercise regularly. Ask someone to care for your loved one so you can participate in enough physical activity and strength training to keep fit.

  • Manage your stress. Meditate, practice yoga or take a few minutes out of your day to sit quietly and practice breathing.

  • Pursue a hobby. Read a book, plant some flowers or spend time doing something you love. Make sure to set aside time for yourself.

  • Socialize. Catch up with someone you haven't seen for a while.

  • Ask for help. Look into a nursing home, respite care, in-home health support or assisted living if you feel you can't take care of your loved one on your own. Get support from other family members, friends and community organizations. If you need to, seek professional help from a doctor or therapist.

  • Look into caregiver support groups. Connect with others who are facing the same challenges as you.

Additional Resources

Caregiving may have its difficult moments, but you don't have to do it alone. There are many resources that can make the journey a little easier for you, so you can focus on enjoying and spending time with your loved one.

  • Family Care Navigator connects you to public, private and nonprofit services.

  • Eldercare Locator brings together resources related to housing, transportation, home health care and more. There’s also a toll-free phone line for individual support.

  • National Respite Care Locator helps you find caregiving support so you can take a break on a short-term basis, even if it's just for a few hours.

  • Home Health Compare provides information on choosing an agency to provide in-home assistance.