How to Know if You’re Experiencing Caregiver Burnout

  • Have you noticed a decline in your mental or physical health?  Increased anxiety, irritability, insomnia, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness?
  • Are you experiencing relationship problems that you didn’t have before – in your marriage, at work, or with other family members?
  • Has anyone suggested you should slow down, take time off, or take better care of yourself?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be at high risk for caregiver burnout.

There are many definitions of caregiver burnout, but let’s agree to use the following as a working definition: Caregiver burnout is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by the act of caregiving over a prolonged period of time.

As a therapist for over twenty years, many have asked me how caregiver burnout is different from depression. Specific diagnoses will be for your health professional to distinguish and determine, but I will say that the symptoms of caregiver burnout and depression are very similar, with the main difference being the cause. In other words, depression can be caused by many factors, whereas caregiver burnout is primarily caused by the chronic stress involved in caregiving roles and responsibilities.

So how do you know if you’re just tired, or if you’re experiencing burnout?

The Conscious Caregiving Guide provides a self-assessment quiz to help determine where caregivers are at in terms of their stress level, but here are a few quick and easy tips:

  1. If you are questioning whether you are burnt out, you may already be, or at least heading in that direction. Otherwise you wouldn’t even be asking the question.
  2. If you’re waking up in the morning just as exhausted as you were when you flopped into bed the night before… it’s not a good sign.
  3. If the people who love and care about you are telling you to slow down, take time off, talk to someone, or take better care yourself, trust them. They have a more objective perspective and can see where you’re at better than you can.

Another good way to know if you’re experiencing caregiver burnout is to take a break from your caregiving responsibilities, or as much as possible. If you feel rejuvenated after taking a break, or if your symptoms quickly resolve after making positive adjustments to your caregiving situation, you’re probably just tired and in need of a change of pace. With burnout, your symptoms will continue and possibly worsen even after you’ve taken a good break, made significant changes to improve your caregiving situation, or even once your caregiving experience has ended.

Many scoff at the suggestion of taking a break, but as much as you may think you’re the only one who can take care of your loved one, it does beg the question of who will take over their care if you are burnt out and can’t do it anymore. I learned the importance of self-care the hard way and it took a long time to recover from caregiver burnout after my own caregiving experience, but it is my hope that you will not wait until it’s too late before making yourself a priority and putting your own needs first. True self-care is about making sure you get your own oxygen mask on before helping someone else with theirs.

When your loved one sees you prioritizing your own health and your own needs, it may ease their mind and their guilt about being a burden on you. So many times we think we have to sacrifice ourselves for our loved ones, but what if we can continue living our lives to the fullest while still finding creative ways to meet their care needs?

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