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Caregiving Burnout: Causes and Prevention Tools

Caregiver burnout can feel like hitting a wall. It is a severe state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion–an ultimate result of a prolonged state of stress. There are several steps you can take to avoid caregiver burnout once you understand what it is and what causes it. If you feel you may be teetering on the edge of burnout, this article will help you identify it and reverse the course.

Note: If you feel you may be experiencing burnout, you may find additional relief by seeking professional help to diagnose and treat it.

What is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a state of severe physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It can affect your mood, sleep, focus, energy, relationships, quality of care, quality of life, and more. Burnout can be avoided if it is recognized and dealt with head-on. In this article, we will explore what causes caregiver burnout and offer some tips to prevent it.

What Causes Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout can be caused by:

  • Unrealistic expectations and their emotional impact. For most conditions, there is nothing you can do that will heal your loved one. You cannot make them well. All you can do is support them and help them to maintain independence in the home. Caregivers who expect that they should be able to heal their loved one(s) in any way are more prone to caregiver burnout because of these unrealistic expectations they’ve set for themselves.

  • Role ambiguity. If you share your care responsibilities with others in your family, your role may feel uncertain. If you are the only caregiver, you may not know exactly what to do or what is needed from you. This ambiguity can cause stress and confusion, which can contribute to burnout. You should discuss any ambiguity in your role with the doctor and others in your care team to tie up any loose ends.

  • Workload. You may feel that there is simply too much to do. You may need to balance care with other obligations, such as work, children, your spouse, your friends, and your own needs. It may feel as though there simply isn’t enough time to get it all done, leading to anxious thoughts, stress, and potentially caregiver burnout.

  • Isolation. Caregivers commonly feel isolated by their role. Maybe you are alone in caring for your loved one, or you may just feel that no one really understands what you’re going through. Regardless of the cause, feelings of isolation can contribute to burnout.

  • Lack of Privacy. On the other hand, a lack of privacy can also contribute to burnout. Between all the responsibilities of your day-to-day life, you may just feel you have no time to relax, be alone, and recharge.

What are the Symptoms of Burnout for Caregivers?

The symptoms of burnout mirror anxiety and depression, which makes it hard for you to diagnose yourself. This is why seeking a professional opinion if you feel you may be struggling with burnout is important. The signs and symptoms of burnout include:

  • “Withdrawal from friends, family, and other loved ones.

  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.

  • Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless.

  • Changes in appetite, weight, or both.

  • Changes in sleep patterns.

  • Getting sick more often.

  • Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring.

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.

  • Irritability.”

How to Prevent Burnout

The good news about burnout is that there are a lot of ways to prevent it and reverse the course before it escalates. Here are some of our favorite tips:

  • Respite care. Whether you ask a friend to step in for an afternoon or hire a professional to take over for a few days, respite care is a great option to have in your back pocket.

  • Support groups. Finding a local support group of people who understand what you’re going through and empathize without judgment can significantly help with your mental clarity and happiness.

  • Set realistic goals and boundaries. Learn to recognize your limits, accept that you may need help, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or to accept it when it’s offered.

  • Talk to a professional. There are many therapists and social workers who will be happy to help you through this. A professional can help you untangle the lingering messes in your mind and see things from a new perspective.

  • Take care of yourself. Many caregivers experience guilt when they (even minimally) prioritize themselves. Learn to accept that you need a break from time to time and make the time in your schedule to prioritize your health. It’s important that you eat right, get exercise, prioritize sleep, attend your own doctor appointments, get outside, go see a friend, read a book, etc. Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish, it’s necessary to avoid burnout and maintain the quality of care your loved one deserves.

Closing Thoughts

We’ve said it before and will say it again: taking time for yourself isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. Your loved one deserves quality care—the quality of care you can only provide when you show up healthy, rested, and recharged. Prioritize your physical, mental, and emotional health to avoid caregiver burnout.

If you are a family caregiver, the California Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County is here for you. ​​We invite you to check out our free resources for family caregivers by clicking here or give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you.


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