10 Signs of Caregiver Burnout: A Guide for Family Caregivers

Caregiver burnout occurs when a carer experience increased stress and exhaustion from the burden of caring for a loved one. Learn more about what is caregiver burnout and how to deal with caregiver burnout.

by Eriko Sakai

Are you experiencing caregiver burnout? Family caregivers are essential for providing care and support to loved ones who are older, disabled or suffering from medical conditions. But caregivers risk burnout from the physical and emotional demands of constant caregiving if they do not remember to take time for themselves. We explore the ten key signs of caregiver burnout and the best ways to avoid it.

What is caregiver burnout, and what causes it? 

Caregiving can be an extremely rewarding task, but it is also emotionally taxing, physically exhausting, and often intense. It is no surprise that many people who take on caregiving responsibilities for a loved one suffer from caregiver burnout.

Caregiver burnout is a state of being exhausted and overwhelmed due to caregiving. It can be characterised by stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Sometimes, it is accompanied by a change in attitude towards caregiving duties or towards the loved one being cared for. Where a person would usually be loving, supportive and compassionate, they can become negative and apathetic when experiencing burnout. This can compromise the level of care they are providing to their loved one who needs assistance.

Caregiver burnout is extremely common, and many people who take on caregiving responsibilities may experience some level of burnout at some stage. This is especially true in situations where one person takes on the majority of or the entirety of caregiving duties.

Causes of burnout

1. Physical demands

The average person is not equipped to provide constant and intensive care. This kind of work can place demands on the body such as from lifting and moving a person who has mobility issues, and being on your feet all day attending to needs of your loved one. This physical strain can build up and cause problems over time.

2. Emotional demands

Caring can also put a lot of pressure on a person emotionally. When a loved one is in pain, suffering from memory loss or cognitive decline, or struggling with their loss of independence, it can be difficult for a caregiver to witness. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the person being cared for to lash out at their caregiver, especially if they are suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or dementia.

3. Stress and anxiety

Many caregivers take on caring responsibilities without any experience or knowledge of what this entails. They may feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped for their new role, and they might become stressed by the thought that they are not doing a good enough job or that they are letting their loved one down.

4. Unrealistic expectations

Sometimes, new caregivers expect that they will be able to improve the wellbeing of their loved one through their involvement in their care. They think that, with plenty of love and compassion, their loved one will feel better, improve in their health, or not suffer from the same levels of memory loss or confusion. Sadly, this is not the case. Many diseases experienced by older people who require care are progressive, and even the very best care cannot prevent a patient from becoming worse. It can be very disheartening for a caregiver to watch their loved one decline, despite their best efforts.

5. Disagreements with other loved ones

When a family decides to take on caregiving themselves, it can sometimes cause tension and disagreements between siblings, parents, spouses and more. If a patient’s loved ones are not aligned in the best way to provide care, this can cause burnout for the person who is taking on caregiving responsibilities. Sometimes other family members will neglect their own duties, putting all the pressure on one person, or sometimes everyone will want to be involved, leading to disputes about the best direction to take.

6. Lack of self-care

Additionally, caregivers often find it hard to make time for their own self-care. Caregiving duties can feel constant and all encompassing, particularly when taken on alone. Caregivers frequently neglect their own needs in favour of caring for their loved one. Over time, this can lead to fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, and eventually burnout.

10 signs you may have caregiver burnout

Caregiver burnout is usually characterised by a range of physical and emotional symptoms. It is important that anyone who takes on caregiving responsibilities is aware of these key signs and monitors for them to ensure they avoid developing caregiver burnout and can continue to provide the best care for both their loved one and themselves. 

1. Fatigue and exhaustion

Amongst caregivers, feeling persistently tired is a common complaint. Caregiving duties are often constant, with little time for rest and relaxation. To compound this issue, many caregivers feel guilty if they do take the time to rest while their loved one needs support and assistance. This can lead to extreme levels of fatigue and exhaustion.

2. Lack of energy

A lack of energy is often experienced by caregivers who have been providing care for some time. They might notice their energy levels are not as high as they used to be, or they find some tasks more difficult than before. This lack of energy can affect their ability to complete caregiving tasks, as well as diminish the likelihood they will engage in self-care activities.

3. Aches and pains

Physical pain in different areas of the body – including the back, legs, arms and shoulders – is very common. Headaches are also often experienced by caregivers with burnout. This is due to the combination of the physical labour, like lifting, moving and pushing, that is required from a carer, and the stress and emotional toll of caregiving.

4. Sleeping problems

Despite fatigue being a common problem for caregivers, they may also often suffer from insomnia and trouble sleeping. This is usually due to high levels of worry about their loved one. It can be exacerbated if the caregiver is required to provide support overnight or if they live with their loved one who is receiving care. Often people find it hard to go to sleep when they know they could be called upon to help with toileting or other activities during the night.

5. Frequent sickness and infections

When the body and mind are under stress, the immune system is weakened and more prone to sickness and infection. Caregivers who are experiencing burnout can become more susceptible to cold and flu, stomach bugs, and other sicknesses. This is especially problematic if they are caring for someone who is older or immunocompromised, as carers do not want to be passing infection on to their loved one.

6. Irritability, impatience and negativity

If a carer finds they are more easily angered or annoyed at the person they are providing care for, it is usually a sign of burnout. The constant requirements of caregiving combined with the associated stresses can cause a person to become more negative and irritable. This can be heightened if the caregiver had unrealistic expectations about their loved one’s chances for recovery or for improved health.

7. Lack of motivation

At the beginning of a person’s journey into caregiving, they are often energised and motivated to provide the best quality of care and to do everything right. But overtime, this enthusiasm can wane. A lack of motivation and a slipping into doing the bare minimum is a clear sign of burnout and can affect the level of care being received by a loved one.

8. Loss of interest in personal and social life

It is important that caregivers maintain a life outside of caregiving, but this can be difficult when their duties feel all-encompassing and they are suffering from fatigue and other symptoms of burnout. Many caregivers will lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, or feel they simply can’t justify engaging in leisure when their loved one needs them.

9. Inability to concentrate

If a caregiver is becoming increasingly forgetful, struggling to complete simple tasks, or finding it difficult to concentrate, this is a sign of burnout. When the mind is stressed and overloaded, we often lose the ability to process information or to stay on task. This is a sign of burnout and it can badly affect a caregivers ability to provide good care.

10. Anxiety and depression

Sadly, many caregivers will report experiencing anxiety and depression. These are serious mental health conditions that require attention. Feelings of hopelessness, stress about their loved one, and guilt about not doing enough combine to make a person feel anxious, depressed, and negative about their future.

Management and prevention strategies 

Although caregiver burnout is very common, there are ways to prevent it and to manage the symptoms when they do arise. It is critical that caregivers know the best ways to prevent burnout so they can continue to be the best caregivers possible while taking proper care of themselves too.

1. Take some time for yourself

Caregivers often feel they need to always be putting their loved one first. But taking some time out for self-care can actually make you a better carer in the long term. Make sure you have some time that is just for you, when you allow yourself to turn off your ‘caregiver brain’ and focus on doing things that make you feel good. Some examples of self-care activities that can make a carer feel more relaxed and rejuvenated include:

  • Relaxation activities, such as yoga or meditation
  • Spending time in nature, such as bushwalking or cycling
  • Exercise, such as a fitness class or going for a run
  • Leisure activities, such as going to see a movie or an art exhibition
  • Pampering activities, such as getting a massage or your nails done.

 2. Keep organised

Many caregivers report feeling overwhelmed and stressed by everything that caring entails. To mitigate this, make sure you stay on top of tasks and important dates with the help of tools such as daily activity lists and reminders. Planning ahead for medical appointments and similar events can help you feel organised.

3. Stay connected to friends

Your own network of friends and family is important to maintaining your mental health and keeping you connected to the wider world outside of your caregiver responsibilities. Make sure you’re not neglecting your friendships; make time to catch up with people, even if it’s only for a quick coffee and a chat.

4. Join a support group

Support groups for caregivers exist in many local communities. See if there is one near you that you can get involved in. It can be very beneficial to meet other carers, exchange stories and advice, and learn how to best manage your caregiving responsibilities and the risk of burnout.

5. Manage your expectations

Be realistic about what is achievable with your loved one. Even the greatest carer cannot slow the progression of conditions like Alzheimer’s. Accepting the limitations of your loved one, and the fact that they will have bad days, can prevent you feeling hopeless and despairing when this happens.

6. Ask for assistance

Remember that you don’t need to do it all yourself. Accept the help of other people in your family or friends when they offer it. Ask someone to take over your caregiving duties for a short period of time so you can do a social activity or take some time out for yourself. Full time caregiving is almost impossible on your own; make sure you are finding other people and options to give you a break.

Caregiver Burnout Quiz

Do you think you may be suffering from caregiver burnout? The American Medical Association have developed a simple self assessment questionnaire to help caregivers identify burnout and develop ways to mitigate it. 

You can access the Caregiver Self Assessment Questionnaire on their website. Note that this self assessment quiz is intended as a guide only – if you suspect that you are suffering from burnout, including any physical or mental symptoms, you should speak with your healthcare professional.

Access professional caregiving assistance

If you are suffering from caregiver burnout or you’re finding it difficult to keep up with the demands of providing care, Homage can help. Home care is a safe, reliable and convenient option, providing a compassionate and experienced Care Pro that will assist you to care for your loved one so you can take some time out from caregiving duties.

 Homage’s trained caregivers can help to reduce your workload and levels of stress and anxiety around caregiving, granting you the time you need to take care of yourself and be the best caregiver possible. Care Pros help to lighten the load so that you can maintain a healthy balance between caregiving duties and your regular family and social life. With local support workers and licensed nurses available, and care packages charged by the hour, you can easily find a care solution that suits the needs of you and your loved one.

Find out more about Homage’s home care services, as well as government and private funding options, on our website. You can even request an obligation free chat with our friendly team. 

Caregiver burnout is a serious issue that affects many people with caring responsibilities. If you are suffering from the signs of burnout, such as fatigue, negativity, physical pain, loss of energy and motivation, and anxiety and depression, you need to take the time to care for yourself. By preventing burnout, caregivers can continue to offer a compassionate and supportive service to their loved one, while utilising external assistance to ease the load of caregiving.

  1. Care, F. R. (2020, August 27). What is caregiver burnout and how to prevent it. Finley Regional Care. https://www.finleyregionalcare.com.au/what-is-caregiver-burnout-and-how-to-prevent-it/
  2. Caregiver Burnout; Causes, Symptoms & Prevention. (2020). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9225-caregiver-burnout
  3. Caregiver Self Assessment Questionnaire. (2019). Health In Aging. https://www.healthinaging.org/tools-and-tips/caregiver-self-assessment-questionnaire
  4. Epstein-Lubow, G., Gaudiano, BA, Hinckley, M., Salloway, S., Miller, & I.W. (2010). Evidence for the validity of the American Medical Association’s Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire as a screening measure for depression. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 58(2), 387-388.
About the Writer
Eriko Sakai
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