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What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Living with a chronic condition can be exhausting. Caring for others also can be draining. People with chronic disease and their healthcare teams often experience burnout. Other caregivers, like family members and friends, experience it too. This is called caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue.1-3

Burnout is a state of mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion – many times, all three at once. It may be a feeling of being worn out or weary due to taking care of someone else. Burnout is often the result of long-term stress.2,3

Causes of caregiver burnout

While being a caregiver for a loved one may be necessary and can be rewarding, burnout is common. Causes of burnout may include:2,4,5

  • Balancing multiple roles at once, like being a parent, child, and friend along with caregiving
  • Not seeing an obvious positive impact, especially when caring for someone with a chronic, progressive illness
  • Dealing with limited resources, like time, money, or transportation needs
  • Lacking the skill needed to care for someone with complex issues
  • Feeling a lack of control or privacy
  • Not being able to prioritize other tasks, like work or hobbies that bring you joy
  • Feeling guilty when trying to take care of yourself instead of others

These are not the only possible causes of caregiver burnout. Each situation is unique. Anything that brings you stress for a long period of time can increase your risk of burnout.3,6

Some people are at a higher risk of burnout than others. These groups include:3,6

  • Women
  • Live-in caregivers
  • People with depression
  • People who have money problems

Signs of caregiver burnout

The symptoms of caregiver burnout can be different in every case. Some of the most common signs include:2,4,6,7

  • Feeling tired or having low energy (fatigue)
  • Feeling down, hopeless, or helpless
  • Constantly worrying or feeling irritable
  • Having changes to appetite or sleep patterns
  • Losing interest in hobbies and joyful activities
  • Getting sick often
  • Not taking care of your own needs or health conditions
  • Wanting to harm yourself or others

How severe these symptoms are can vary greatly. If you experience thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek help right away. You can reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline any time by calling 9-8-8 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

How to deal with caregiver burnout

Although it can feel overwhelming, it is possible to fight caregiver fatigue. Common ways to do this center around finding support and balance. Some ways include:2,6

Talk it out

Reaching out to a loved one or a therapist can help relieve feelings of being alone and overwhelmed. Whether they are in person or online, counseling sessions can help you make a plan for keeping you and your loved one cared for.

Find a support group

There are in person and online support groups for caregivers. These groups can help you think of ideas for coping with fatigue or suggest resources for extra help. They are also a great way to find community.

Do research and set realistic goals

Learn as much as possible about the illness you are caring for. This may help you predict what to expect or plan what questions to ask. Having an understanding of what might come next can help you set realistic expectations and goals.

Grant yourself grace

Being a caregiver is hard on everyone. It is okay to feel overwhelmed or to feel like you cannot solve everything. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.

Think about your needs

It is easy to feel guilty in the moments you take care of yourself instead of caring for someone else. However, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Taking time to exercise, eat healthy, enjoy hobbies, and address your own health concerns will help you feel at your best. Then, you can provide strong support to your loved one.

Check in with the care team

If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out to your loved one’s healthcare team. They can recommend additional care options like in-home health. The care team may also be able to recommend support groups or activities you and your loved one can do together.

Caregiving is not an easy task. It is normal and okay to feel lonely, overwhelmed, or frustrated. But you are never alone. Try to recognize when you are feeling burned out, and take steps to rebalance your mind. This can help both you and your loved one moving forward.

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