Signs of caregiver burnout and how to manage it

By Chaplain Molly Garnett, M.A., BCC, Spiritual care manager, Pardee UNC Health Care


Caring for a loved one who is ill or unable to take care of themselves can be physically and emotionally demanding. You may experience stress, exhaustion and fear on a daily basis. When caregivers have too much stress, they can develop what’s called caregiver burnout.

What causes caregiver burnout?

When a caregiver becomes physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, that’s called caregiver burnout. Burnout is so common among caregivers because the responsibilities can be relentless and 24/7.

In addition, caregivers may have other responsibilities like childcare, work and managing the household. Caregivers also may lack the time, knowledge and finances to plan and manage their loved one’s care. Lack of privacy, feeling guilty for not doing enough or being spread too thin can also lead to burnout.

Signs you may have caregiver burnout

Caregiver burnout can have similar symptoms to anxiety, depression and stress. Here are some signs you may have caregiver burnout:

  • Physical or emotional exhaustion
  • Feeling hopeless, irritable, sad and helpless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Getting sick more frequently
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Wanting to hurt yourself or the person you care for

How caregivers can reduce or avoid burnout

While it may feel impossible to take care of yourself when you’re in a season of caregiving, it’s essential to maintain your health and well-being. Here are some tips to lighten your load and reduce your stress:

  • Share your feelings with others. Talk to a friend, coworker or neighbor, or seek professional support from a counselor, social worker, health care provider or faith leader.
  • Be realistic in your expectations. If your loved one has a life-limiting or degenerative illness, such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease or cancer, their symptoms can continue to worsen, no matter how much you do for them. While this can be painful to manage, remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can to love and support them.
  • Seek respite services. Utilizing a respite care service can give you time to yourself to rest, run errands, spend time with others or do something you enjoy. Home health services, adult day care, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, national organizations for your loved one’s condition, your local AARP chapter and the Agency on Aging can all be good resources.
  • Join a support group. Spending time with other caregivers can provide you with helpful resources and validate your feelings about the caregiving experience.
  • Simplify communication with others. Instead of calling or texting multiple people with updates on your loved one, designate another family member or friend to share updates. Or you can utilize social media or an online service like CaringBridge, MyLifeLine and PostHope to provide updates to many people at once.
  • Ask for help. Ask a friend, family member or neighbor to regularly help with caregiving so you can take much-needed time to yourself.
  • Prioritize your health. When you can, prioritize sleep, exercise, healthy eating and stress management techniques like your favorite hobby, reading, journaling, yoga, time in nature and meditation. This isn’t selfish; prioritizing your health and wellness will help you stay healthy and make you a better caregiver.

If you’re experiencing caregiver burnout, talk to your loved one’s health care provider or your primary care provider for resources and support. Find a provider near you.  

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