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How Do You Know When It’s Time to Stop Caregiving? The Signs to Look For

How do you know when it’s time to stop caregiving? 

Almost 30% of the US population provides some form of unpaid care to a loved one, like their parents, grandparents, or spouse. (Source) As a family caregiver, in many ways, you have the weight of another human’s life on your shoulders. That’s a lot of weight to carry, so it should come as no surprise that it takes a toll on your own mental and physical health. 


The average family caregiver provides care to a loved one 24 hours a week for sometimes years and years. Many caregivers provide round the clock, 24/7 care with little to no support (Source). This means the fatigue and overwhelm may sneak in over time and even be hard to detect after a while. So how do you know when it’s time to stop caregiving? 


In this article, we’ll point out the signs to look for that indicate it may be time to let it go – how to know that you just can’t do it anymore. Let’s dive in.


When to Start Setting Boundaries

Was caregiving borne of a sudden injury, illness, or diagnosis? If you became a caregiver under duress, you may have become a caregiver just to fulfill a temporary need – doing what it took to make sure your loved one was stable and comfortable. But once that acute need passes, that’s a natural reflection point. It’s important to use this moment to reflect on your limits and boundaries.


If caregiving was a slow progression of doing more and more for your loved one, maybe as their condition worsened or age progressed, the first sign of fatigue is the time to evaluate your workload. 


Signs it’s Time to Stop Caregiving

The “fatigue” mentioned above can take many forms, including:


  • Anger

  • Irritability/frustration after something small

  • Avoiding the loved one

  • Physical fatigue

  • Restlessness

  • Worsening health

  • Hopelessness (feeling like the end will never come)

  • Resentment


There are also more subtle questions to ask yourself that may indicate it’s time to stop caregiving that include:


Feeling Trapped

If your situation feels permanent and unavoidable (in other words, you feel stuck or trapped by caregiving), you may find yourself venting about your loved one, your responsibilities, and your lack of free time to anyone who will listen. These relationships are often impacted by caregiving, and caregiving can become very isolating because of the impact on relationships and as this happens, it’s difficult to find someone to talk to and support you as they may not know what to do or say, and you may feel like a burden by sharing.This can be an important sign that you may need to stop caregiving.


Feeling Like Your Life Revolves Around Care

It may feel as though your entire life now revolves around care – doing tasks to aid your loved one that you don’t enjoy doing, leaving you without time for the things you do enjoy. You deserve to have joy and life outside of care too. If you feel as though you’re losing touch with yourself and who you are, giving up hobbies and relationships that matter to you, or dreading the start of each day, it may be time to stop caregiving.


Feeling Like There’s No Way to Change the Situation

You may feel like no one could do what you’re doing for your loved one, or that your loved one wouldn’t accept someone else in your place. But you do have choices. There are people who can help you with these tasks on either a temporary or permanent basis.


If you notice any of these signs, now is the time to consider a break or letting go of caregiving altogether.


Steps to Take: How to Stop Caregiving

If you feel in your heart that it’s time to stop caregiving, know that it’s ok to step away. You may not be the best person to care for your loved one at this point, and that’s perfectly normal. For the sake of both your health and your loved one’s, it’s a strong and compassionate realization. 


So if you’ve made the decision to step away, how should you approach it? Let’s talk about it.


Step 1: Admit it to yourself

The first step is the one we’ve focused on so far through this article. It’s important to recognize that you may need help or that it’s time to stop caregiving altogether. It can be hard to notice initially, but once you have, you need to be honest with yourself.


Step 2: Recognize you can be a good caregiver without being the primary caregiver

There’s nothing wrong with giving tasks to someone better equipped to handle them, or delegating tasks where possible. The most important thing is that your loved one’s needs are met, not who meets them.


Step 3: Communication with your loved one

The first step is to let your loved one know how you’re feeling thoughtfully and carefully. You can tell them that you need to set boundaries without making them feel guilty for what you’ve done so far. Be mindful while having these conversations, and understand that if your loved one is cognitively impaired, these conversations may not be possible.


You can use this framework to help guide your thinking on this conversation: 


“I can no longer handle ‘X’ because of ‘Y’. I understand that this will be a change for you. I think we look into ‘Z’ to fill the gap.”


With this statement, you’ve made it clear that you have set a boundary, understand that it will affect your loved one, and have offered an alternative. All without making them feel guilty. 


Note: To use this framework effectively, ensure ‘Y’ is rooted in something objective instead of emotional, like “I no longer can take time off work,” “I am concerned for your (and/or my) safety,” or “I believe there’s a better solution,” instead of something emotional like, “I’m exhausted and can’t take it anymore.”


Step 4: Secure the Solution

Now it’s time to verify the chosen solution meets your loved one's needs the way you thought it would. Check in and keep an open line of communication with them as well as any professional caregivers, respite caregivers, adult daycare providers, medical staff, or family members.


Closing Thoughts

It’s important to recognize your limits as a family caregiver. This is to protect both your health and your loved one’s. 


The California Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County is here to provide assistance and guidance to help you do that. Check out our library of resources to help you navigate this experience. Together, we can navigate the healthcare landscape and help you provide the best possible care for your loved one(s).


Further Reading: Navigating Resentment as a Caregiver

Caregiver resentment is a common emotional challenge that family caregivers face, way more often than they may admit (so you’re not alone in this even if it feels like it). Your resentment is natural, but it doesn't have to define your caregiving experience. In the end, finding balance and support is the key to a sustainable and fulfilling caregiving journey. So let’s talk about it: dive in here.


Podcast Spotlight: Pamela D. Wilson Podcast

Check out the podcast episode by Pamela D. Wilson for more information about determining your breaking point as a family caregiver. She takes time to walk through scenarios and questions that will be helpful for anyone considering calling it quits. Check it out here.

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