The 7 Signs of Caregiver Burnout

No matter how much paid caregivers love their jobs or unpaid family caregivers enjoy, and take pride in, providing care for a loved one, everyone in a ‘carer role’ reaches a point where burnout is a very real and unavoidable potential problem that requires them to take a break.  Caregiving is a stressful experience that is especially emotionally, and sometimes physically, taxing with its often long hours and intense tasks requiring lots of mental effort and even more emotional effort. Burnout is the term used to describe a psychological condition that is brought on by intense and unending stress.
   Caregiver burnout is serious enough to put a person’s short-term and long-term health at risk, both mentally and physically.  That is why recognizing the signs of it is critical for any person that is in a caregiver role.

Listed below are the 7 top signs of caregiver burnout – if you are experiencing any of them, depending on the degree, it may be time to seek help, take a break or speak with your doctor.

1.       Lethargy and/or extreme physical fatigue: If a caregiver is increasingly feeling extremely physically exhausted or lethargic to the point of struggling to chop vegetables or even getting up out of bed in the morning, this is a certain sign that your body needs a rest and a full break to recover.

2.       Feeling as though caregiving is your entire life: If you’re doing nothing else, thinking about nothing else, and feeling nothing else, other than caregiving (whether this is actually the case, or just you perception of it), it means that it is consuming too much of your life and you need to take a step back in order to keep perspective.
3.       Feeling ill all the time: This could be simply feeling under the weather or physically getting sick on a regular basis . A stressed and overworked immune system is a poorly-functioning one, after all.

4.       Being hateful or negative toward your charge: You may love the person you are caring for more than anything in the world -- most do -- but if you are finding your thoughts and perspective turning hateful and/or negative, or if you feel frustrated regularly, you’re spending too much time caring for that individual without a break.

5.       Extreme stress about normal daily life: If something as simple as choosing between two types of apples at the grocery store gives you a near panic attack, or you now dread driving in rush hour (more than usual) to the point of avoidance, it is a sign that your stress and anxiety is higher than normal, giving you no reserve for those normal, daily minor stresses in life.

6.       Lack of appetite: This could be a smaller appetite or just an entire lack of interest in food completely.  If even your favourite meal doesn’t appetize you past a bite or two, you need a mental and emotional break to recharge.

7.       Feeling hopeless about your future: It could be feeling as though this job/your responsibility for your loved one is going to go on forever, or that your future itself has no purpose or meaning, or some blend of the two.  If you feel bleak and miserable about what the future may bring, perspective is going to be an important thing to find!

Being a caregiver is especially challenging and is often seen as thankless, whether that be literally or more figuratively speaking.  Proper recognition and appreciation for burnout and its very real dangers is incredibly important if you have taken on this role.  These common signs will help do just that. If you are feeling any of them, we encourage you to seek out support and take a break. Remember, to be a good and present caregiver, you need to look after yourself as much as your loved one!

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59 other articles by Esther Goldstein, B.Sc., B.S.W., RSW