How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout


Caregiving is hugely rewarding, but it can also be immensely stressful. Of the 40 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S., around half report experiencing stress as a result of looking after a loved one or family member. At its worst, caregiver stress can result in burnout, a condition that’s as bad for care recipients as it is for caregivers.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at what caregiver burnout is and some of the ways stressed caregivers can manage the physical and emotional stresses to prevent burnout.

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Burnout is both mental and emotional exhaustion. Most people can handle intermittent stress or even long periods of stress if it is not overwhelming. But everyone has a breaking point. Too much stress, with too little relief, for too long will eventually exhaust even the most resilient individual.

It’s important to distinguish between stress and burnout. Stress is usually defined as physical and emotional tension. A stressed person is dealing with a situation that requires them to work at the limits of their capabilities, whether emotional, mental, or physical.

Burnout is the result of excessive stress over a long period. If you feel that you are constantly operating beyond your capabilities, that the situation you are in demands more of you than you are capable of giving, you are at risk of burning out. Typical symptoms of burnout include:

  • Long-term anxiety or depression.
  • Fatigue and lack of motivation. You struggle to complete tasks that at one time you would have taken in your stride.
  • You may begin to resent the person you care for and your family and friends.
  • You may feel numb or that your emotional reactions are out-of-character.
  • People suffering from caregiver burnout often feel guilty about their negative emotions.

Caregiver burnout is a critical situation because it can incapacitate a caregiver and lead to neglect or substandard care.

How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

People react to stress in many different ways, but it is essential to recognize the symptoms of excess stress and react to minimize the potential harm, both to yourself as a caregiver and to the person you care for.

Ask For Help

As a caregiver, you will be faced with stressful situations from time to time. But, if you feel that you are struggling to cope, ask for help from a family member, friend, or care professional.

Caregivers are often resistant to asking for help. They feel it is their duty to cope or that by asking for help they are letting people down. These feelings are understandable, but there could be serious consequences to your mental and physical wellbeing if you don’t find help when you need it.

Take Time to Care for Yourself

It is much easier to say “take time for self-care” than to actually do it, but you cannot care for someone else if you neglect to care for yourself.

Practical tips for self-care include:

  • Setting aside time for social activities with friends. Lack of social interaction is a major cause of stress in caregivers, who often drift apart from their social circles.
  • Ensure that you are getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep exacerbates stress and makes it even more difficult to cope.
  • Set aside time each day for an activity you enjoy, even if it’s just 30 minutes in the morning or evening to read a book or watch Netflix.

Establish Boundaries

If you feel that you are being overstretched, learn to say “no”. It can be challenging to say no to the person you care for, especially when they are completely reliant on you. However, it’s more important to avoid burnout than it is to avoid confrontation or disappointment.

This is an area where other members of your family may be able to help. Caregivers often become stressed when other family members fail to do their part. They may be entirely unaware that you need help unless you tell them, and expressing your feelings while firmly explaining your boundaries may motivate them to play a greater role.

Connect with People in Similar Circumstances

There may not be anyone in your immediate family or friend group who understands what you are going through. You may not want to discuss your stress with those close to you even if they could understand. But there are millions of unpaid caregivers in the U.S., many of whom play an active role in support groups.

Talking, sharing, and venting to people outside of your social circle, whether online or in-person, can be a huge relief. Support groups can also provide practical support and advice about caregiving, further helping to reduce the stresses and strains that eventually culminate in burnout.

Google is a great place to start your search for caregiver support groups, and Facebook hosts many private support groups focused on caring for people with specific conditions. You may also find valuable contacts at the Family Caregiver Alliance, Caregivers Connect, and Dementia Care Central.

If you feel overwhelmed by caregiving or that you cannot cope with the stress, don’t hesitate to reach out for help and support. Everyone has limits, and it’s vital to address sources of stress before they become unbearable.


Infographic provided by HCT Healthcare, healthcare executive recruiters

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