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Family Caregiver Burnout: How to Cope with the Stress

Family caregivers are important for supporting and caring for loved ones and other older adults with health challenges. Family caregiver burnout can occur despite the rewarding nature of the responsibility. This article discusses caregiver burnout signs, contributing factors, and coping strategies for family caregivers.

A caregiver assists with medical and personal needs. Caregivers have a close relationship with the patient, unlike paid healthcare workers. A chronically ill family member or friend, a disabled adult, or an older adult who can’t care for themselves is usually cared for. Assisting a loved one can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be exhausting and frustrating. Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion are common. Mood swings, social isolation, and financial issues can result.

When the stress and burden from these negative effects overwhelm you, caregiver burnout affects your life and health.

What Is the Role of a Caregiver?

Caregiver responsibilities are unique. They change based on your loved one’s needs and medical condition. Tasks can be time-consuming and tiring.

Alzheimer’s caregivers responsibilities include:

  • Grocery shopping and cooking.
  • Cleaning
  • Paying bills
  • Medicating
  • Assisting loved one with eating
  • Assisting with bathing and dressing a loved one.
  • Emotional support
  • Coordinating care, scheduling appointments, accompanying patients, taking notes, and transporting
  • … and much, much more!

Caregivers are often on call 24/7, providing the highest quality of care for dementia patients, leaving little time for themselves and their own needs. Caring for a loved one can be tough on your well-being. Look out for signs of caregiver stress and address it promptly.

Family dynamics can change. Some family members may feel guilty and become critical, thinking they are being helpful. Each situation is unique. Tell the family member that their criticism isn’t helpful. Ask for practical help like sharing responsibilities, more visits, regular breaks, or financial contributions for hiring help.

What is Caregiver Burnout?

Caring for a loved one with memory loss is a rewarding experience, but it can also be stressful. Being a caregiver is a challenge that lasts for a long time, and the emotional impact can continue to grow over time. You may have many years of caregiving. Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and as the primary caregiver, seeing a loved one’s condition worsen can be disheartening.

Unchecked caregiving stress can harm health, relationships, and mental state, leading to burnout. Both of you suffer when you reach that point.

Self-care is essential, not a luxury. Self-care is as important as taking care of your family’s health, even for non-dementia caregivers. A systematic review of your own condition should take place periodically.

Unlike burnout, which is characterized by persistent exhaustion, stress can be overwhelming. Burnout leads to saying “I’m done” instead of “I have too much on my plate.”

Caregiver Stress and Burnout Symptoms

Knowing the signs of caregiver stress and burnout allows you to act quickly to improve the situation for you and the person receiving your care.

Common Caregiver Stress Symptoms

  • Depression, anxiety, irritability.
  • Weary and exhausted.
  • Having trouble sleeping.
  • Overreacting to minor issues.
  • Increasing health issues.
  • Concentration issues.
  • Growing resentful.
  • Drinking, smoking, or eating more.
  • Ignoring duties.
  • Reducing leisure.

Common Caregiver Burnout Symptoms

  • Energy is much lower now.
  • You seem to catch every cold or flu.
  • Even after sleeping or resting, you’re exhausted.
  • You either don’t care about your needs or you are too busy to pay attention to them.
  • Your life is devoted to providing care, but it is not fulfilling.
  • Relaxation is difficult, even with help.
  • You become impatient and irritable with your care recipient.
  • Feel hopeless and helpless.

How to Cope

It is never easy to provide care for a loved one, but the following advice can assist you in managing the stress, preventing caregiver burnout, finding a balance in your life, and responding to the demands of caregiving.

Embrace Empowerment to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

Powerlessness leads to burnout and depression. If you feel stuck or helpless, caregivers can easily fall into a trap. You have power in any situation. This applies to your mindset. You may not always be able to obtain additional time, money, or assistance; however, you can always obtain additional happiness and hope.

Practice Acceptance

When dealing with a loved one’s illness or caregiving, we often ask, “Why?” Don’t waste energy on unchangeable things with no clear answers. You won’t feel better. Avoid self-pity or blaming others.

Accept Your Caregiving Role

Accept that you chose to care, despite any resentments or burdens. Put your attention on the positive aspects of your decision. You could provide care for your parents as a way to repay them for their care. It might be the values that you hold dear or the example that you want to set for your children. You can get through challenging times with the help of these profound and significant motivations.

Take an Organized Approach

It is possible that you will be required to organize medical and legal documents, medications, and appointments in your role as a caregiver. Losing things or mixing up dates can make you feel powerless. Binders are used to organize both physical documents and digital marketing data stored in computer folders. Visits to the doctor and refills of prescriptions can be brought to your attention by using a calendar or planner.

Look for the Silver Lining

Think about the ways in which providing care has helped you become more resilient. Plus, how caregiving has brought you closer to the person you are caring for or other members of your family.

Don’t Let Caregiving Consume You

It’s important not to let caregiving responsibilities consume your life because it’s easier to accept a difficult situation when you have other rewarding activities. Engage in meaningful activities like family, church, hobbies, and work. Especially for unpaid caregivers, higher levels of stress need to be addressed with a higher level of social support.

Focus on Things You Can Control

You cannot request more time or ask your brother to help. Focus on your response to problems instead of worrying about what you can’t control.

Divide Large Tasks into Manageable Pieces

You may feel overwhelmed or unsure where to start with all the caregiving tasks you need to complete this week. A daily to-do list should be created instead, and each item should be tackled one at a time. Establishing at least a loosely structured daily routine can help your provide the best care possible.

Celebrate the Small Victories

Always keep in mind that your efforts through the hours of care you provide are important, even if you feel discouraged. It is not necessary for you to heal your loved one in order to be of assistance. Do not underestimate the significance of ensuring that the person you care about is experiencing feelings of safety, comfort, and love. Your goal is to help them have the lowest emotional stress levels possible.

Caregiver Appreciation
Courtesy Unsplash

Appreciation You Need

Appreciation helps people accept stress and enjoy life. Both health professionals and informal caregivers who feel appreciated are physically and emotionally healthier, research shows. Despite its challenges, caring for someone makes them happier and healthier. What if the person you care for can’t thank you for your time? The mental health of caregivers can be improved by remembering these important topics:

Imagine How a Healthy Loved One Would React

What would your loved one think of your love and care if they weren’t sick, disabled, or had cognitive impairment? If they could, the person would be grateful.

Applaud Your Own Efforts

Find ways to reward yourself if you’re not getting external validation. Remember how much you help. Consider making a list of all the ways in which the caregiving you are providing is assisting you. When you’re down, refer to it.

Consult a Caring Relative or Friend

It is not necessary for the person you are caring for to be the source of providing positive reinforcement. You should seek out friends and family members who will listen to you and acknowledge your efforts when you are experiencing feelings of being unappreciated. These strong support systems can help boost you through those many hours of unpaid care.

Ask for Caregiving Help

Providing around the clock care without breaks or help leads to burnout. Don’t do it alone.

Consider Respite Care

Ask nearby friends and family for help with errands, meals, or watching the patient to give yourself a break.  The provision of in-home services can be done on an occasional or regular basis by either paid help or volunteers. Consider adult day care centers, nursing homes, and other service providers for respite care.

Speak Up

Don’t assume others know your needs or feelings. If you are caring for someone, it is important to be honest with them about your situation. Share your concerns and thoughts, even if you’re unsure of the response. Begin a conversation.

Share Responsibility

Involve as many members of the family as you possibly can. Distance doesn’t matter; anyone can help. Consider dividing caregiving tasks. Using an online care team calendar it a great tool! One person can handle medical duties, another can manage finances, and another can take care of groceries and errands.

Plan Family Meetings

Teamwork is crucial for effective caregiving. In a meeting, discuss expense coverage and availability for specific days or weeks. All of the members of the family experience less tension and confusion as a result of this as it helps everyone plan their personal time.

Schedule Check-ins

Ask someone to call you regularly. This individual is able to assist with providing status updates and coordinating with members of the family.

Say “yes” when offered help. Accept help. Bring a sense of satisfaction to those who are supporting you. You should make a list of the minor responsibilities that you are able to perform for other people, such as picking up groceries or driving loved ones to appointments.

Be Open to Giving up Control

Having complete control over every facet of care is not the same thing as delegating. Micromanaging, giving orders, and insisting on your way reduces the likelihood regular help will come your way.

Use Technology

When you are unable to delegate responsibilities, you can lighten your load by using various devices. For example, pressure mats can alert you to someone with  Alzheimer’s disease who may be about to wander off. It is possible to make emergency calls and track the location of the medical alert system.

Give Yourself a Break

The concept of leisure time may appear to be unattainable for caregivers who are constantly on the go. Making a note of it on your calendar is something that you owe not only to yourself but also to the individual that you are providing care for. Allow yourself to rest and enjoy daily activities. It will improve your caregiving.

Becoming productive is different from being busy. You won’t get as much done if you don’t provide yourself with time to unwind and refresh yourself. Your energy and focus should return after a break, so you can quickly make up for your downtime.

Maintain Personal Connections

In the process of providing care, do not let your friendships suffer. You will be sustained and lifted up by these relationships. Invite your friends over for a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, or dinner if you find it difficult to leave the house.

Express Your Feelings

Simply expressing your feelings can be liberating. You won’t put undue stress on other people if you talk about your emotions with your family or friends. You will strengthen your relationship with the majority of people if you confide in them, which will be a flattering experience for them.

Prioritize Fun Activities

Schedule time for hobbies you enjoy, such as reading, gardening, workshop work, knitting, dog play, or watching the game. These don’t need to be long periods of time, but they need to happen frequently.

Treat Yourself

Small luxuries can reduce stress and boost mood. Candlelight and long baths. Request a backrub from your partner. Manicure. Buy fresh house flowers. What makes you special.

Humor Yourself

Little laughter goes a long way to reduce stress. Watch a comedy, read a funny book, or call a funny friend. Find humor in everyday situations whenever possible.

Leave the House

To take a break from caregiving, ask friends, family, and respite care providers. Caregivers experience burnout when there simply isn’t any separation from daily stresses. Simply getting out of the house for a while can help.

Take Responsibility for Your Own Health

There are many things you can do to consistently deliver high levels of care. However, all the helpful information in the world won’t matter if you don’t take care of yourself. The good news? With some planning, it is entirely possible! The following steps will help:

Try to Picture Your Body as a Vehicle

Proper fuel and maintenance will keep it running smoothly. Issues are going to arise as a consequence of the lack of appropriate maintenance practices. Avoidable health issues shouldn’t add to caregiving stress.

Visit Your Doctor Regularly

When caring for a loved one, it’s easy to neglect your own health. Avoid missed medical appointments. Care for a family member requires good health. These visits can help identify the physical effects of chronic stress.


Exercise is the last thing you want to do when stressed and tired. However, it can make you feel better! Exercise significantly reduces stress and improves mood. Most days, you should aim for thirty minutes; if necessary, you can break it up into three sessions of ten minutes each. Regular exercise boosts energy and fights fatigue.

Practice Relaxation

Practicing meditation or relaxation techniques on a daily basis can help reduce stress and increase happiness. Participate in activities such as yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or mindfulness meditation. Taking a few minutes to calm down during a stressful day can help.

Eat Well

The diet that you consume ought to consist of fresh produce, lean protein, and healthy fats like fish, nuts, and olive oil, among other components. These foods provide sustained energy, unlike sugar and caffeine, which give a quick boost and a quick crash.

Don’t Sleep Less

If you want to get more done, reducing the amount of time you spend in bed is counterproductive. As a general rule, people require eight hours of sleep, but this is not enough. Your mood, energy, productivity, and stress management suffer when you get less.

When assistance is required, seek it from a professional. Consider how you handle stress. Stressed out and losing weight or having insomnia? Do you self-medicate with alcohol or drugs? Therapy may help you manage stress if coping mechanisms are failing or harmful.

Join Support Group for Caregivers

Caregiver support groups help you connect with others facing similar challenges. Join online groups if you can’t leave home.

Support groups involve discussing and listening to others’ problems, offering and receiving help. You’re not alone. It can be beneficial to have the knowledge of other people who are going through the same thing, particularly if they are caring for someone who has the same illness as your loved one.

Local Support Groups for Caregivers versus Online Support Groups

Each of these formats are valuable, but of course, they are different.

People live near each other and meet in a given place each week or month. People are from all over the world and have similar problems.
Meetings provide you with face-to-face contact and a chance to make new friends who live near you. You meet online, through email lists, websites, message boards, or social media
The meetings get you out of the house, get you moving, provide a social outlet, and reduce the feelings of isolation. You can get support without leaving your house, which is good for people with limited mobility or transportation problems.
Meetings are at a set time. You will need to attend them regularly to get the full benefit of the group. You can access the group whenever it’s convenient for you or when you most need help.
Since the people in the support group are from your area, they’ll be more familiar with local resources and issues. If you problem is very unusual, a rare disease, for example, there may not be enough people for a local group. However, there will always be enough people online.

Check the yellow pages, ask your doctor or hospital, or call a local health organization for your loved one’s support group. Visit relevant organizations’ websites to find online support groups.

Taking Charge of Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is a serious issue that needs attention and coping strategies. Family caregivers can navigate caregiving challenges by recognizing signs, understanding factors, and implementing coping mechanisms while prioritizing their well-being.

To thrive as family caregivers, it’s important to have a strong support system, communicate openly, and seek professional help when needed. Caregiver burnout is an important topic for caregivers and the whole family’s well-being.

References: Hazzan, A. A., Dauenhauer, J., Follansbee, P., Hazzan, J. O., Allen, K., & Omobepade, I. (2022, January 31). Family caregiver quality of life and the care provided to older people living with dementia: Qualitative analyses of caregiver interviews – BMC Geriatrics. BioMed Central. 

References: How to deal with burnout in caring for a mentally ill loved one. Jackson House. (n.d.).

About the Author

Lindsey Lee

Lindsey Lee on Memory Cafe Directory
Lindsey Lee

Lindsey Lee is a highly accomplished healthcare professional with over 9 years of experience in healthcare administration, medical billing and coding, and compliance. She holds several AAPC specialty certifications and has a bachelor’s degree in Health Administration.

She worked previously at a large multi-physician family care and occupational health practice with two locations in northwestern PA and now works for Medcare MSO in the ICD-10 Editorial Department to write articles about medical billing services.

She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience as a certified PMCC instructor. She has authored many articles for healthcare publications and has been a featured speaker at workshops and coding conferences across the country.

Medcare MSO is a medical billing services provider located in New Mexico that healthcare organizations can engage to improve their revenue cycle management. The leading responsibility of Medcare MSO is to provide problem-solving solutions through skilled and professional medical billers and coders. These services include ASC medical billing, cardiology medical billing, physician medical billing, Urology medical billing services, and many others.

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