Dealing with Caregiver Burnout

Dealing with caregiver burnout means identifying ways to respond to a feeling of loss of control over daily life. Responding to ongoing care situations that become more demanding over time can be physically and emotionally wearing.

Many caregivers feel that they can’t speak honestly about their true feelings. Pretending that everything is okay, when it’s not, will lead to an eventual melt-down confrontation with the person for whom you care. Instead of going down the path of no return, tips to identify and deal with caregiver burnout before relationships are strained are here.

How do you know if you are feeling burned out or resentful? How do you know if caring for elderly parents is stressing you out? Ask yourself these questions.

  • Do you feel burned out, frustrated or angry?
  • Do you feel unappreciated?
  • Do upsetting situations replay in your mind?
  • Is the thought of visiting mom or dad dreadful?
  • Has avoiding telephone calls from family members become a habit?
  • Are you trying to invent excuses for why you can’t do something instead of saying “I don’t’ want to be a caregiver anymore?”
  • Do you dream of a single 24-hour period to yourself where you can sleep, eat potato chips in bed, or watch television?

When life seems out of control, thoughts of changing a caregiving situation may feel impossible. Change is possible if you can mentally distance yourself from a caregiving experience long enough to identify a path forward. By assessing stress levels you can change from thinking emotionally to creating a solid plan to reduce burnout.

How Did Caregiving Become So Out of Control?

Looking back there were no thoughts that being a caregiver would last so long or become so burdensome. There may have been a point of realization of the challenges of being able to keep up the pace between being a family caregiver and holding down a full-time job, but you thought you could handle it.

Today you’re wondering what you were thinking. You are the person at work who takes the extra shifts and pitches in whenever help is needed without a complaint. When the family needs help, you step in.

Whether you are a caregiver at home or a caring type at work who is dealing with caregiver burnout, is it time to look at how your commitment to caring is having a negative effect on your physical and mental health? Are you interested in change but aren’t sure how to get there?

Dealing with Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver Burnout ResultsThe effects of caregiver burnout are significant. If you are not already experiencing changes in mood and health both may be in your future if you do nothing.

Today is the time to deal with caregiver burnout before apathy, exhaustion, and a lack of motivation become your daily experience. Research documents that being a caregiver results in chronic disease and poor health.

Out of a sense of duty, caregivers take on too much responsibility and work. Few spouses or adult children caregivers realize the extent of dealing with caregiver burnout until caregiving responsibility continues to grow. When caregivers find themselves looking for places in public to sit or rest for a few minutes, dealing with caregiver burnout has become reality.

Working Caregiver Burnout

In the workplace, do you feel that you are the only one who is able to complete certain tasks or projects?  Have you been the “go-to” person so much that today, co-workers depend on you to rescue them?

While being the problem-solver may boost your self-esteem, after a period of time it can be exhausting if you are not helping co-workers learn to solve problems without relying on you. Being the “go-to” person is not a sustainable role long term.

Duty, Dedication, and Good Intentions

Caregiving begins innocently and with good intentions. Dealing with caregiver burnout results from a sense of duty and dedication. The caregiving experience proceeds to the primary caregiver or the caring type at work wanting to control the circumstances of a person or project.

As the work-load builds, a feeling of a loss of control grows. The caregiver feels that other family members, caregivers, or co-workers are not carrying their weight. Impatience results in pushing others away, who say they will help but who don’t show up, leaving the caregiver feeling isolated, depressed, and lonely.

A similar loss of control in the workplace results in frustration that others are not doing their job. Over time feelings turn to anger.

The Indispensable Caregiver

Indispensable caregiverDealing with burnout is a result of wanting control and the desire to do it all. Caregivers say, “no one cares as much as me. No one will do for my loved one the things I will do,” as if these are positive statements.

Statements of “no one else, but for me” are toxic thoughts leading to an eventual loss of control and exhaustion. Thoughts that one person can or should meet all the needs of any single person are unrealistic. Doing more and more is not a long-term solution, constant activity without rest is the cause of burnout.

How do you know when life is out of control? Are you the person at work who everyone takes advantage of because you’ve been too helpful? Has wanting to please everyone resulted in feelings of stress and an inability to keep up? There is a point where a busy person can only do so much without asking for help.

Loss of Control

Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely. Caring for a loved one can shorten the lifespan by as much as ten years. (1)

Elderly spousal caregivers with a chronic illness are 63% more likely to die than their non-caregiving peers. (2)  Being the hero negatively affects your life, if not now, later when you are in the place of the person for whom you’re providing care.

A loss of control can result in stress and grief associated with watching the decline in the health of an elderly parent or a spouse. These feelings are valid.

One day you were the son, the daughter, the husband or wife. The next day you are the caregiver dealing with the change in responsibilities and feeling burdened by caregiving. In the workplace, you started out as an equal. Now you feel like the doormat that everyone walks over. But, you are too exhausted to make any changes.

Finding Perspective

Dealing With Caregiver BurnoutIn life it is the little things that catch us—that twist us up when we lose perspective of the bigger picture. Focusing only on the care of an elderly parent or spouse and shutting out the rest of the world may seem like the best way to cope with caregiving responsibilities.

Realistically, having a single-minded focus may be the only way to get through a difficult situation. The issue is that one difficult situation leads to the next and the next challenge. Dealing with caregiver burnout becomes an ongoing concern. You may feel that there is no way out but you continue to make excuses or believe that things will change for the better.

Without you creating change, it’s likely you will find yourself in the same situation 1 month and 12 months from today. While change can be uncomfortable it can also be freeing.

Creating Change

When a caregiver acknowledges that the present is an unsustainable situation change can begin. Remove yourself from caregiving for an afternoon, a day, or a week.

Think realistically about how your actions led to the present experience. Ask who else is involved in the care situation. How can others begin contributing? Write down specific steps to help you gain control and end dealing with caregiver burnout. What does an ideal situation look like?

Talk to a caregiving expert or a counselor if you feel at a loss about the next steps. Be open-minded and willing to listen. You may hear suggestions and ideas that you are not ready to hear if our experience is one where you have become dependent on the approval of others.

Family and Society Beliefs Result in Caregiver Burnout

Family and society stress the responsibility of caring for a loved one. Yet very little discussion occurs about spreading out the responsibility. In most situations, a single person, the primary caregiver, does all the work with others standing by and watching.

Loss of controlThis results in unbalanced care situations and a loss of control for the primary caregiver. You may feel responsible that a spouse or an elderly parent is refusing care, not taking medications, or not following doctor’s orders.

There is only so much one person can do. Caregivers can feel that they are responsible for the actions of others. No one is totally responsible for the actions of another person. We all make choices.

While you may have contributed to a spouse or eldelry parent becoming dependent on you, this situation can change. At a minimum, you can say that by being a caregiver you have saved a spouse or an elderly parent the financial expense of paying for care for a period of time. Caregivers represent an invaluable economic value to society. (3)

Act Before Giving Up Becomes a Pattern

Burnout builds up over time. Caregivers begin by withdrawing from friends, social activities, and sometimes the workplace when they quit a job to care for elderly parents.

As caregiving progresses, a wait and see attitude may prevail. Thoughts of “let’s see how this goes,” can be replaced by “I imagined this could happen.” Caregivers may find themselves in a vulnerable position of being financially dependent on an eldelry parent.

The best outcomes result from caregivers who act before dealing with caregiver burnout becomes a daily challenge. The issue is that because caregiving is a new experience, caregivers don’t know that help exists. Online caregiving courses, online caregiver groups, and many resources exist for caregivers.

If you are reading this article, you have discovered a substantial source of reliable information for caregivers and aging adults on this website. Take action. Read the articles, listen to the podcasts, and begin acting.

Participate in Daily Physical and Mental Activity

The best way to implement change in all parts of life is through activity, both physical and mental. Create habits that avoid the feelings of dealing with caregiver burnout and wanting to give up.

Set daily goals to think differently and to create paths to change your daily routine. Refuse to allow “this is the way it is” thinking to dominate your life. Find others who inspire and motivate you through feeling a loss of control. You are in the driver’s seat. Help and support are here. The rest is up to you.

Looking for More Caregiver Support? Listen to The Caring Generation Radio Show. 


(1) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Informal Caregiving: Compassion in Action. Washington, DC: 1998, and National Family Caregivers Association, Random Sample Survey of Family Caregivers, Summer 2000, Unpublished)

(2) Drs. Janice-Kiecolt Glaser and Ronald Glaser, “Chronic stress and age-related increases in the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 30, 2003.

(3) Source: Arno, Peter S., “Economic Value of Informal Caregiving,” presented at the Care Coordination and the Caregiving Forum, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, NIH, Bethesda, MD, January 25-27, 2006.

© 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2020 Pamela D. Wilson.  All Rights Reserved.


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