How to recognize the signs of caregiver burnout

When you’re caring for an aging or sick loved one, you naturally want to take care of everything yourself. But trying to do it all without help can quickly cause you to burn out — which isn’t good for you or your loved one.

Millions of adults in the United States count themselves as caregivers. According to the AARP, more than 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to a family member in the last year.

It’s becoming increasingly common for caregivers to be in the so-called “sandwich generation,” meaning they’re both caring for children and caring for an aging parent.

So, it’s no wonder that caregiver burnout is very real and very common. When you’re devoting time and effort to caring for a loved one, it can be all too easy to forget about your own needs. But if you were experiencing burnout, would you know it?

Let’s take a look at some common signs of caregiver burnout — and how to prevent it in the first place.

The signs of caregiver burnout

Most people experience some level of stress. But stress is more common and often more severe among those providing care for others. In fact, according to the AARP, as many as one in three caregivers report feeling high levels of stress.

Stress has a significant impact on all facets of a person’s health, both physically and mentally. And stress isn’t the only sign of caregiver burnout. Caregivers who experience burnout may:

  • Feel anxious, depressed or irritable
  • Feel extremely fatigued the majority of the time, even after getting plenty of sleep
  • Have difficulty relaxing or sleeping
  • Neglect their physical and mental health needs
  • Get sick more often due to a decreased immune system
  • Experience changes in appetite
  • Experience a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Withdraw from loved ones

How to avoid caregiver burnout

Burnout occurs for many reasons, all of which result in too much demand on a caregiver’s body and mind. Caregivers often neglect their own health while caring for their loved ones. In addition, unrealistic expectations of themselves, unreasonable demands from others and even a lack of control over the loved one’s care can all result in burnout.

So, what can be done to prevent it? The most important thing you can do as a caregiver is to take care of yourself first. You’ve heard the adage on an airplane — “put your oxygen mask on first before trying to help someone else…”

Well, the same is true for your health and well-being. In order to care for someone else, you must first take optimal care of yourself.

That means getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, not smoking, moderating your alcohol consumption and limiting stress as much as possible. It’s also important to make sure you’re getting plenty of quality sleep, which can help restore your energy, moderate your moods and keep your immune system strong.

You also want to prioritize your health care. Be sure to schedule — and keep — appointments for wellness checkups and age-appropriate screenings. Your doctor can help you determine if you’re dedicating enough time for yourself, or if burnout might be on the horizon.

But maybe the most important thing you can do as a caregiver is to ask for help.

No matter how much you want to do it all yourself, you simply can’t. Work with other family members and friends to set up regular, consistent times where you can have a break from your caregiving responsibilities. You can also seek help from outside resources, like home health providers or the local senior center, to provide you with some time away.

Feeling overwhelmed as a caregiver and not sure where to turn? Talk with your doctor about steps you can take to lower your stress and take the best care of yourself. Find a doctor here.