12 Signs You’re An Overwhelmed Caregiver

The term caregiver can mean many things. It could mean that you are caring for a newborn baby, or that you are caring for an aging or ill loved one. Sometimes the role of caregiver is temporary, because children grow up and older adults may get sick for a short period of time. But what if you are assisting an aging or ill loved one with a permanent condition?

In that case, your caregiving will be ongoing and the likelihood is strong that it will become more challenging as your loved one’s condition continues to decline. As such, it is well worth your while to learn how to avoid burning out. Let’s look at the signs of caregiver burnout and what you can do to prevent it.

What is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiving can take a lot of work, time, patience and emotional fortitude, and without adequate self-care, burnout is not uncommon. So what is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout is generally characterized by a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Caregivers may experience a change in attitude about the care they provide, and may also feel guilty, anxious or depressed about feeling overwhelmed.[1] Because caregiving can be so demanding, there are many reasons that someone providing care can get overwhelmed.

Causes of caregiver burnout can include:[1][2]

  • Excessive demands: Caregivers may expect too much of themselves and take on too much, or others may make unrealistic demands of the caregiver.
  • Insufficient resources: Lacking resources to afford professional caregiving help, or for the caregiver to stop working in order to provide care. Additionally, lacking the skills, knowledge or time to provide the kind of care expected can cause burnout.
  • Lack of coping skills: Without the ability to cope with a difficult situation in a healthy way, stress can build up.
  • Serving in multiple roles: Caring for a parent or a spouse can make it challenging to separate the two roles, making the caregiving relationship complex.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Caregivers may expect the care they provide to make a more substantial difference in the patient’s well-being than is possible.

How Caregiving Impacts the Lives of Caregivers

Caregiver with a family member

Despite intentions to do the best for our loved ones, we still need to care for ourselves. After all, how can you help someone if you are not well yourself? The statistics related to caregiver stress are sobering and indicate that there can be health issues, financial impacts and a decrease in the productivity of the caregiver’s work. Statistics also show caregivers may have to leave their jobs to care for a family member, which means a loss of income and often health insurance benefits.

Caregiving can make caregivers’ lives more complicated. More than 1 in 6 Americans providing care to a loved one is also working full or part-time. However, 61% of caregivers experience at least one change in their employment due to caregiving.[3] As a result, 38% of family caregivers rate their caregiving situation as highly stressful. Additionally, 17% of caregivers feel their health has gotten worse because of caregiving duties and 40-70% of family caregivers have symptoms of depression.[4]

Caregiving can have a serious impact on the caregiver’s life and overall well-being. As time goes on, these effects can lead to caregiver burnout, which can be harmful to all involved.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

In order to help avoid caregiver burnout, it is important to know what you should look out for. The signs of caregiver burnout can sneak up on you, so being aware of what to watch out for is critical.

Caregiver Burnout Symptoms:[1][2]

  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in weight
  • Becoming easily aggravated
  • Frequent fatigue
  • Frequent headaches or body pains
  • Getting sick more frequently
  • Increased use of alcohol or other substances
  • Lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Regularly feeling anxious, hopeless, overwhelmed or sad
  • Thinking about hurting yourself or the person you’re caring for
  • Withdrawal from friends and loved ones

The signs of caregiver burnout are similar to those of anxiety, depression and stress. You may feel physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, mental symptoms or all of the above. If you notice any of these caregiver burnout symptoms, seek help and support right away. Caregiver burnout not only impacts your own health, but it can ultimately impact the care you provide.

How to Prevent and Manage Caregiver Burnout Symptoms

Caregiver burnout is a serious concern and should be addressed quickly, and with care. Ideally, you should do what you can to avoid caregiver burnout in the first place. However, since it may occur regardless, you should have some strategies in place to help you manage it, too.

What is caregiver burnout prevention going to look like for you?

Prevent caregiver burnout by:[1]

  • Delegating responsibilities: Let another person, like a neighbor, friend, relative or a hired caregiver, take something off of your plate or provide respite care.
  • Getting educated: Learn about your loved one’s condition and how to properly care for them.
  • Setting realistic goals: Be realistic about the care you can provide and the reality of your loved one’s health.
  • Taking care of yourself: Take breaks when you need them, exercise regularly, eat well, stay hydrated and get enough rest and relaxation.
  • Talking to someone: Consider a friend, relative, therapist or support group related to the condition the person you care for has.
  • Understanding that caretaking is difficult: It’s okay to have negative and complex feelings sometimes.

You may find that no matter what you do, you get overwhelmed and burned out anyway. If that happens, it is equally important to know what to do.

Manage caregiver burnout by:[2]

  • Accepting help: If someone offers help or support, take it.
  • Changing your habits: You may need to make time while caretaking so that you get a chance to rest, or change an unhealthy coping mechanism.
  • Prioritizing your own physical health: You may need to go to bed earlier, change your diet, or get more exercise. Check in with your doctor if something feels off.
  • Taking care of your mental health: Mental health is just as essential as physical health. See a therapist, spend more time with friends or incorporate more activities that bring you joy.

It’s also helpful to be prepared for someone else to take over at some point, whether temporarily, or full-time. Home health care or a care facility may become a necessity.

Many caregivers make a promise to their loved ones that they will not put them in a nursing home or other care facility. However, if care giving becomes too difficult for you, you may need to make that difficult choice anyways. You may need to switch from being the primary caregiver back to being the child or spouse. This can take a tremendous amount of stress off your shoulders. At the end of the day, your best choice may turn out to be that you need to resume the role of being a loving family member.

What stress have you encountered as a caregiver? How did you balance the role between care giving and being a loving family member?


Author: Cheryl A. Acres RN, CCM

Sources cited:
[1] “Caregiver Burnout; Causes, Symptoms & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, 13 Jan. 2019, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9225-caregiver-burnout.
[2] “Practical Solutions for Caregiver Stress.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Dec. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784.
[3] “Caregiver Statistics: Work and Caregiving.” Family Caregiver Alliance, Family Caregiver Alliance, 2016, www.caregiver.org/resource/caregiver-statistics-work-and-caregiving/.
[4] “Caregiver Statistics: Health, Technology, and Caregiving Resources.” Family Caregiver Alliance, Family Caregiver Alliance, 2016, www.caregiver.org/resource/caregiver-statistics-health-technology-and-caregiving-resources/.


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