Best Ways to Avoid and Manage Caregiver Burnout

woman caring for a loved one

Because you can’t care for anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself.

It’s a story that we’ve heard many times before. You tell yourself everything is fine. If you can just make it through the day, it will all be fine.

But then (once again), you find the fresh gallon of milk you bought the day before in the pantry, spoiled from sitting out all night. And you know it’s not her fault. The memory loss has gotten so bad… and at least it’s better than the time you found rancid, raw chicken in the cupboard above the washing machine. But still. Not again.

And you lose it. The venom leaks out as you shout unthinkable things in her direction. Cursing, screaming, you feel out of control.

But then the angry fog lifts just enough, and you see her scared, confused eyes staring back at you. And it all feels like too much. Way too much. Tears start to burn in your eyes as you whisper a quick apology – “Sorry, Mom” – before rushing into the other room, where you allow the sobs to take over.

And you realize that maybe you aren’t as “fine” as you thought.

What is Caregiver Burnout?

As anyone who has taken on the role of family caregiver knows well, frequent moments of high stress can become extremely overwhelming if not managed properly. In a recent 2023 study, AARP found that more than half of all caregivers struggled to take care of their mental health while caregiving. Additionally, 40% of caregivers cited the emotional stress of juggling caregiving responsibilities as their biggest challenge.[1]

Caregiver burnout is a state of severe physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion that often happens when taking over the responsibility of managing the health, well-being, and safety of another person.

Burnout isn’t a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, but most often, sufferers complain of feelings of intense exhaustion, stress, irritability, loneliness, an inability to concentrate, and depression, among other challenges. Caregiver burnout can impact a person in various ways, from physically and psychologically to financially and socially.

In worst-case scenarios, burnout can cause caregivers to make mistakes, like mismanaging medication, that put their loved ones at risk.

Avoiding and Treating Burnout: Self-Care is Not Selfish.

The number one thing any caregiver can do to prevent and manage burnout – whether you’re a professional trauma nurse or the child of an elderly parent – is to recognize the importance of self-care.

No matter how difficult it might seem to carve out time in the day to take care of yourself, it is an imperative piece of the puzzle – both to prevent burnout and to be the best caregiver that you can be. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

That being said, we know “prioritizing self-care” can sometimes feel like an overwhelmingly ambiguous instruction. So we’ve outlined five easy and actionable steps you can take to combat caregiver burnout:

Tip 1 ~ Trim Your Schedule

    • Identify and Eliminate Non-Essential Tasks: Focus on essential commitments like your job and caregiving duties. Avoid taking on new projects and consider pausing current volunteer roles.

    • Delegate and Automate: Have groceries and supplies delivered, and lean on friends or family for help with errands.

    • Disconnect: Set boundaries with your phone and email, especially in the evenings.

Tip 2 ~ Make Time for Yourself

    • Schedule “Me-Time”: Aim for at least 1-2 hours each week dedicated solely to activities you enjoy, such as reading, watching a show, walking, or taking an exercise class.

    • Practice Mindfulness: Incorporate meditation or mindfulness practices to stay present and manage stress. Even a five-minute meditation can be beneficial.

Tip 3 ~ Talk to Someone

    • Seek Support: Join support groups or engage in therapy to relieve stress and manage your mental health. Your doctor can refer you to a therapist who specializes in caregiver support.

    • Resources: Joining support groups and participating in therapy are helpful ways to relieve stress, vent in a safe setting, and manage your mental health. If you don’t know where to start, talk to your doctor for a therapist referral who specializes in caregiver support. Additional resources, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Psychology Today's Find a Therapist, the APA's Psychologist Locator, or the ZenCare therapist database are all available online.

Tip 4 ~ Explore Respite Care Options

    • Temporary Relief: Respite care provides a break from caregiving duties, available for a few hours to several weeks, either at home or in a facility.

    • Community Resources: Check with local organizations or visit ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center to find respite care services in your area.

Tip 5 ~ Be Kind to Yourself

    • Self-Compassion: Acknowledge that you are doing your best, even when things don’t go as planned. Avoid self-blame and recognize your efforts.

    • Positive Affirmations: Remind yourself daily of your strengths and achievements as a caregiver.


When caring for a loved one, it’s too easy to blame yourself when things go wrong or their health declines. But it’s so important to remind yourself that, no matter what, you are doing your best, and that is more than enough.

You are not perfect, and that is perfectly okay. And even on the worst days, when you find old chicken in the laundry room and spoiled milk in the pantry, you deserve the same love, kindness, and grace that you work so hard to give your loved one.

 

Whether you’re feeling caregiver stress or struggling with burnout, we hope these tips can help. Visit the Caregiving Essentials Page for additional resources and product recommendations or call (800) 563-0161.

 

[1] https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2019/caregiver-stress-burnout.html

 

 

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Thank you so much for reading our blogs!

NorthShore recognizes the importance of self-care for caregivers. If you're looking for additional support or have any questions about products that can make caring for your loved one easier, our customer care team is here to help.

Remember, you're not alone in this. NorthShore is here to support you on your caregiving journey. Let's work together to help you care for yourself and your loved ones.
 
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