Recognize the Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

1. A Short Fuse

Losing your temper easily or feeling angry toward friends, family members or even the person you’re caring for is one obvious sign of caregiver stress. Frustration may particularly increase when obstacles or challenges come up, whether major or minor.

2. Emotional Outbursts

If you find yourself crying or feeling despair unexpectedly or more often, that could be another warning sign. Of course, if you’re caring for a loved one with a declining condition, it’s natural to grieve, and caregiving can stir up a range of complicated emotions. But if you’re increasingly emotional or feeling emotionally fragile, there may be something more going on. Depression is a real risk for caregivers. Even if you’re not clinically depressed, emotional outbursts can be an unconscious outlet for feelings of being overwhelmed.

3. Sleep Problems

If you’re having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up tired, that could be another warning sign. Caregiving — especially full-time caregiving — requires tremendous physical effort, but the emotions involved can lead to sleepless nights. Sometimes the issues your care recipient may be suffering from, like wandering or waking up in the middle of the night in pain, can cost you opportunities to rest on top of the tiring work you do all day. It can be a vicious cycle too, as trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep can also be caused by stress, anxiety, and depression.

4. Significant Weight Change

Suddenly gaining or losing weight can be another warning sign. For some people, stress can result in weight loss when they can’t seem to find time to eat adequately or nutritiously. Anxiety often lowers the appetite as well. For others, feeling stressed or guilty leads to weight gain from mindless or emotionally triggered eating, frequent snacking, or quick but unhealthy food choices.

Changes in eating and sleeping habits can also indicate depression. If your weight has changed by more than five or ten pounds since you began caregiving, your body may be sending you a signal that you need help.

5. Physical Ailments

If you find yourself getting headaches more often or feeling like you just catch one cold after another, that could be another warning sign. Or if you’re getting chronic back or neck aches or developed high blood pressure. Mental and emotional stress can cause physical disorders. For example, stress can lead to headaches that are more frequent, more persistent, or stronger than you’re used to. You’ll also lack the time or inclination to properly take care of yourself, setting the stage for more stress. Stress lowers immunity, which is part of the reason caregivers have nearly double the risk of chronic illnesses compared to non-caregivers.

6. Social Isolation

If you find yourself going entire days while seeing no one but your care recipient or are dropping out of your usual activities to care for someone, that can lead to burnout as well. Getting out can simply be hard if you’re responsible for providing care. You may feel you lack the time for your former pursuits. Your care recipient’s changes in behavior may also make you feel embarrassed or make going out in public too onerous to attempt. Whether intentionally or not, you may become withdrawn. Unfortunately, social isolation itself contributes to stress, whereas being with others and taking time for yourself are both replenishing.

7. Complaints from Family

If you’re getting complaints from family, or getting in more arguments with them, that could be a sign of burnout. It’s a common caregiver temptation — and mistake — to take on the entire burden of care. It’s also easy to make ourselves think that we have everything under control or that things aren’t so bad. Denial is a powerful emotion. When you’re in the thick of things, it can be hard to see other ways of doing it. Listening to an outsider can be healthy, even if you don’t agree. What may sound like a criticism or complaint may have a nugget of truth that relates to your emotional well-being.

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