Caring for an aging family member or friend is a meaningful position. It can also be a lot of work, which can sometimes feel undervalued. It is estimated that one in five Americans act as unpaid family care.1Even though caregiving is rewarding, many caregivers fall into a state of burnout. Caring for a loved one can come with added stress and impact the mental health of caregivers.
Think you may be struggling with caregiver burnout? Here are some signs and what you can do about it.
Signs of Burnout
1. You Are Anxious or Overwhelmed
Caregiving is a lot of work. It is quite common to feel overwhelmed and anxious at times. In fact, caregivers report higher levels of stress than the rest of the population.2 This is not surprising. Managing the health and well-being of another person comes with a lot of responsibility. Feeling immense stress or being overwhelmed is a common sign of burnout for caregivers.
Did You Know: Caring for a loved one is often described as informal or unpaid caregiving. Despite this being a full-time job, 61 percent of American unpaid caregivers also work.3
2. You Are Ignoring Your Own Health
Oftentimes, people with a lot going on can let their health concerns go by the wayside. Caregivers experiencing burnout sometimes feel as though they have no time or energy to address their own health concerns. This is a problem. Not only does ignoring physical and mental health affect caregivers, but also their ability to care for their loved ones. Over half of caregivers report that a decline in their health has affected their ability to care for others.4
3. You Are Having Trouble Sleeping (or Sleeping Too Much)
Sleep issues are seen in people experiencing any kind of burnout. If you are having a hard time sleeping or sleeping too much, this may be a sign of caregiver burnout. These symptoms can impact your own mental and physical health.
4. You Have Lost Interest in Activities That You Previously Enjoyed
Loss of interest is known as a sign of depression. This can and often does tie in with caregiving stress. In an attempt to give the best care to a loved one, caregivers often put aside their own needs. This can leave caregivers exhausted, isolated, and with less time to pursue former hobbies that once brought them joy.
5. You Are Angry
There is sometimes shame that comes with feelings of frustration and anger, but it is very common. It isn't possible to keep your emotions in check 100 percent of the time; after all, you are only human. However, lashing out can be unhealthy and certainly should be recognized. If you are feeling more agitated than normal, you may consider this a sign of burnout.
6. You Feel Isolated
Somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of caregivers experience clinical symptoms of depression.5 Isolation is a common symptom. Caring for a family member or friend can take up a lot of time, leaving less room for social activities. Additionally, caregivers may not have a support system of peers going through this same experience. This can leave caregivers feeling lonely or isolated.
Pro Tip: Support groups are a great way for caregivers to meet others experiencing similar challenges. Consider joining a local support group, or even finding an online community of others in similar roles. You can find a list of organizations offering caregiver support groups through AARP.
7. You Have Gained or Lost Weight
In one study evaluating caregiver stress, 19 percent of people had either gained or lost at least 10 pounds after becoming a caregiver.6 This indicates that weight change can be a sign of caregiver stress and burnout.
Tips for Dealing With Caregiver Burnout
Once you determine you are one of many caregivers who are burned out, you may consider making some changes to improve your own health and well-being. Not only is your burnout affecting you negatively, but it likely affects the patience you have with the loved one you care for. There are many things you can do to curb the symptoms that so many caregivers experience every day.
1. Seek Professional Help
Many symptoms of caregiver burnout are also clinical symptoms of depression. You should meet with a professional to determine your next course of action. Your mental and physical health are in jeopardy when experiencing burnout. Make an appointment with a psychologist so that they can assess your needs and create a treatment plan.
2. Clear Communication
Feeling overwhelmed can come from taking on all aspects of a loved one's life. This is a lot for one person. It's important that you are in clear communication with other family members and friends. Ideally, they can share some responsibility with you. Delegating help with transportation, meals, and health care can make caregiving more manageable.
Pro Tip: Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), unpaid caregivers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave. If you become overwhelmed juggling work and caregiving, this may be a helpful solution.
3. Take a Break
One of the ways other loved ones can help is by giving you the time you need for yourself. If other family members are unable to help out, consider respite care. This care essentially offers substitute caregivers that can provide care inside and outside of the home. Respite can be crucial for many caregivers to get the necessary time needed to take a vacation, spend time with friends, or simply run their household.
Self-care is essential for a caregiver's health and well-being. This can include exercise, hobbies, relaxation, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and anything else that aids in your physical and mental health.
5. Tools and Technology
Many tech gadgets can help a caregiver with peace of mind, and the ability to leave a loved one from time to time. Smartphone apps, medication dispensers, cameras, and medical alert devices can all help in caring for a family member, making the life of a caregiver a little bit easier on a daily basis.
Pro Tip: A medical alert system is an excellent tool for keeping your loved one safe and detecting falls or other health emergencies. Visit our list of the best medical alert systems to learn more.
It is inevitable that caregivers experience burnout at one point or another. Addressing that burnout will ensure the quality of life you and the loved one you care for both deserve.
For more helpful information, check out our guide to caregiving in senior care.