August 11, 2023
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Recognizing the Causes and Signs of Caregiver Burnout and Stress


Last week we discussed actionable steps to help your loved ones set up advanced directives. That post can be found here. Helping your loved ones set up advanced directives is just one of the selfless acts the journey of a caregiver is paved with.

But as you know it's also filled with many more challenges that can lead to stress. This is often termed "caregiver burnout." In this post, we will jump into understanding this phenomenon, its causes, and its telltale signs.

When you're the rock for someone else—helping them be strong and fight against illness, disability, or age—it can be easy to lose sight of your own well-being. 

Understanding Caregiver Burnout

symbology for caregiver burnout

What is Caregiver Burnout? Caregiver burnout is an emotional, physical, and mental state of exhaustion. It's not just the everyday stress; it's the kind of overwhelming fatigue that takes over a person when the balance between caring and self-care is disrupted. While stress is a reaction to a short-lived situation, burnout is a chronic state of being.

Causes of Caregiver Burnout

Caregiving is basically dedicating oneself to the welfare of another. This often demands a substantial emotional, physical, and mental investment. 

At the heart of this selfless act, however, lies the humanness of the caregiver. You are like battery constantly being drained but with very little opportunities to recharge. Why might this be the case? There are 4 causes that can lead to burnout:

  • Unrealistic expectations: Many caregivers enter into their roles with the best of intentions, hoping that their care will bring about significant improvements in their loved ones. However, certain diseases, especially progressive ones like dementia or Parkinson's, may not show the desired progress, leading to disappointment.
  • Role Confusion: The sudden transition from familiar roles such as a child, spouse, or friend to that of a primary caregiver can be overwhelming. This abrupt shift often brings about emotional struggles, making caregivers feel as if they're navigating uncharted waters without a direction.
  • Unreasonable demands: Adding to the many challenges or caregiving are the burdensome demands of the caregiving role. These demands, either self-inflicted or imposed by the recipient or family members, create an atmosphere where nothing may ever be good enough. Such an environment, where there's little room for error as in caregiving, can quickly lead to burnout. 
  • Financial Challenges: Emotional and mental challenges may appear first and be easiest to spot, but often the biggest stressor is financial challenges. The monetary costs associated with caregiving—be it medical bills, specialized equipment, time away from work or care services—can pile up quickly. This financial strain, coupled with the emotional and mental challenges, leave caregivers feeling drained and in obvious need of support. 
100 us dollar bill

Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout isn't just a feeling; it manifests in tangible ways. It's essential to recognize these signs in oneself or in caregivers around you:

Emotional signs such as a sense of hopelessness, increased irritability, or feelings of detachment can be clear indicators. The joys and activities once cherished no longer seem worth doing.

Physical signs include disturbed sleep patterns, frequent illnesses, or changes in appetite and weight can be alarming signs of a caregiver's deteriorating health.

Mental signs may present as constant fatigue, feelings of overwhelm, or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities are often the mental manifestations of burnout.

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Identifying Burnout in Oneself

Recognizing burnout within oneself is difficult but a critical step. Especially for caregivers. Self-awareness and self-assessment are the foundation of this recognition. It's crucial for caregivers to take moments of introspection, pausing amidst their hectic routines to evaluate their own well-being.

For instance, an overwhelming sense of perpetual fatigue or a looming dread as each new day approaches could be telling indicators of mounting stress or burnout. 

While introspection is much needed, it's equally important to realize that, sometimes, we're too close to our own experiences to view them objectively.

You need a friend, family member or even a professional to help you see significant changes in demeanor, behavior or attitude. If left to ourselves, minimizing the feelings is most often the path.

So a combination of introspection and insights from trusted individuals can help take a look at the entire emotional and mental landscape. This will promote overall well being.

woman sitting on grey cliff


Caregiving is a journey of unknown length filled with highs and lows. And like every traveler, caregivers too need rest, rejuvenation, and support. Recognizing the onset of caregiver burnout is the first step towards ensuring that the your well-being is not at risk. After all, only a well-nourished soul can nourish others.

Stay tuned for next week's post, where we will jump into actionable strategies to address and reduce caregiver burnout and stress. There's a world of support out there, you just have to figure out where to find it.

That's all for today.

Take care, keep mom safe at home and have a great day!


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