Learn to recognize the signs of caregiver stress, common symptoms, & strategies to manage & prevent burnout
When you’re juggling all your personal responsibilities and looking after a loved one, the signs of caregiver stress can creep up fast. Before you know it, it can seem like you have no time or energy to do anything for yourself.
But when you know how to spot the signs and symptoms, you can minimize the impact of burnout and prevent it from happening in the future. If you’re struggling with the stress of caregiving, follow along as we cover common signs, symptoms, and healthy ways to heal and protect your well-being moving forward.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
- Too Much or Not Enough Sleep: Depending on how you respond to stress, you may either have trouble catching enough Z’s or end up catching way too many. Either way, these can be signs of caregiver stress, which may contribute to some of the symptoms in the following section.
- Constant Anxiety: Worrying about your loved one is totally natural, but if you’re in a perpetual state of concern and anxiety, it may be a sign that the stress of caregiving has become a problem.
- Short Temper, Mood Swings: Irritability, sadness, numbness, anger—if you find yourself bouncing around between these feelings like an emotional pinball, snapping at friends or loved ones, stress may be the culprit.
- Little or No Time for Yourself: If you’re worried the stress of caregiving has become too much, take a look at how much time you have left for yourself at the end of the day. If there’s little to none, it might be time to re-evaluate how you manage your time.
- Lingering or Growing Resentment: Many people don’t like being taken care of because they see it as a sign of weakness or helplessness. Unfortunately, this is why some caregivers may not hear many “thank yous” or receive appreciation for their hard work.
Naturally, this can lead to resentment from the caregiver, which is completely normal. But if you notice that this resentment never subsides and instead continues to grow, you may be overwhelmed and in need of a break.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
Physical & Emotional Exhaustion
Caregiving isn’t just mentally taxing. It also often requires lifting and supporting loved ones with mobility issues. If you’re feeling constantly fatigued—both physically and mentally—like you’re drained of energy even after simple tasks, you may be experiencing caregiver burnout.
Lack of Focus, Forgetfulness
When you’re constantly stressed, tired, and experiencing dramatic mood shifts, it can be hard to focus on even simple things. If you notice yourself frequently forgetting things or making mistakes when caring for your loved one, the stress of caregiving may be taking its toll.
Isolation or Withdrawal
We all respond to stress differently, but one of the most common ways is to isolate or avoid social interactions or activities. Especially for those who don’t have a support system that includes fellow caregivers, the stress of caregiving can lead to feelings of loneliness and helplessness, causing them to close themselves off.
Lack of Interest in Things You Enjoyed
If your role as a caregiver leaves you with little to no energy, you may find it hard to enjoy the hobbies and personal activities you once did. If this is the case for you, there’s a good chance you may need some time off.
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Have you noticed that you’re drinking much more than usual, or overeating to relieve the stress of caregiving? These and other unhealthy coping methods are common symptoms of burnout that may contribute to the other items on this list.
If you’re chronically overwhelmed by the stress of caregiving, it’s not unusual for it to bleed into your physical health. An aggravation of existing conditions or an increase in ailments like the cold or flu are well-known symptoms of caregiver burnout that mean it’s time for a change.
Share the Load – Let go of the idea that you can or have to do it all yourself. Even trained professionals struggle with the responsibilities of caregiving. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member for help—even for something as simple as getting groceries. Delegating tasks like this can relieve some of the pressure and give you space to breathe.
Give Yourself a Break, Whether Big or Small – With something as complicated as caregiving, even the smallest of breaks can restore your patience, increase your resilience, and benefit your mental and physical health. Even if it’s just a ten-minute coffee break or a walk around the neighborhood, you deserve to take a step back and recharge.
If you’re the only caregiver and can’t step away, respite care can be a game-changer. Respite care allows you to hire professionals to step in for several hours a day so you can get the space you need.
You can hire them for a single day, multiple days in a row, or even weeks if you like. It’s incredibly helpful in situations where the care recipient can’t be left alone for long periods, and is absolutely worth looking into if you feel overwhelmed.
Build Your Support System – One of the best ways to manage the stress of caregiving is to find a community of people who know your struggles. Connecting with fellow caregivers provides a level of comfort that’s hard to get from those who aren’t familiar with the responsibility. If you need someone to talk to, search online for local in-person support groups, caregiver forums, and helpful resources to build yourself a strong support network.
Don’t Wait. Communicate – When you notice one or more of the signs of caregiver stress, don’t ignore it. Reach out to a friend or loved one who’s willing to help and let them know you need a break. The sooner you address these issues, the easier it is to manage and prevent them from growing worse.
Consider Seeing a Therapist – As a caregiver, the benefits you can experience from seeking professional help can’t be overstated. Working with someone trained to help people in your situation—someone outside your network of family and friends—will provide a comfortable setting where you can open up and learn the healthy coping skills you need to put your best foot forward.
When you face the stress of caregiving head-on, addressing the signs and symptoms as they arise, you empower yourself to live a healthier, more balanced life and provide your loved one with the care they deserve.