Caregiver Burnout: The Stress of Caring for Others
March 11, 2020 | Published by Adrenal Fatigue Team
Research shows that at some point in time, most Americans will become informal caregivers. According to a 2012 survey, 36% of Americans provided care to another adult with an illness or disability without pay in the last year.1
What is a caregiver?
A caregiver is someone who provides help to another person, such as an ill spouse or partner, aging relative, or disabled child. But as the population ages, more care is being giving to people by individuals who are not healthcare professionals. Approximately one-third of adults in the United States provide care to other adults as informal caregivers.2
Being a caregiver is important and taken seriously by many who assume the role, though it does not come without a cost. Here are some statistics on the effect caregiving has on the provider.3
- 11% of caregivers reported that their role has caused their physical health to decline
- 45% of caregivers reported chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis
- Caregivers have 15% lower levels of antibody responses than non-caregivers and 23% higher levels of stress hormones
- 10% of primary caregivers report that they are under physical stress from the demands of helping their loved one physically
- Women who spend 9 or more hours a week caring for a spouse increase their risk of heart disease twofold
- 72% of caregivers report that they had not gone to the doctor as much as they should have
- 58% of individuals reported that their eating habits are worse than before they assumed the role of caregiver
- Caregivers between ages of 66 and 96 have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age
While there are many benefits to being a caregiver, there is nearly always a certain shift in roles and emotion that can occur. It’s not uncommon to feel exhausted, angry, sad, or alone. This physical and emotional stress, known as caregiver stress, happens frequently.2
Signs of caregiver stress
Individuals that experience caregiver stress may be vulnerable to changes in their health. Some risk factors for caregivers include2:
- Feeling overwhelmed or frequently worried
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Alcohol and drug abuse (including prescription drugs)
- Often feeling exhausted or tired
- Frequent irritation or anger
- Getting too little or too much sleep
- Weight gain or loss
- Having frequent bodily pain, headaches, or other physical problems
When a caregiver neglects their own physical, emotional, and spiritual health, it can lead to caregiver burnout. Symptoms of caregiver burnout are not unlike symptoms of stress and depression and may include3:
- Having far less energy than you used to
- Frequent illness
- Feeling exhausted even after taking a break or sleeping
- Neglecting your own needs due to apathy
- Caregiving takes up all your time and no longer feels satisfying
- Having difficulty relaxing, even when you have downtime
- Becoming increasingly irritable and impatient with the individual you’re caring for
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
While it’s not possible for caring for a loved one to be completely stress-free, following some of these health tips can help eliminate some stressors and avoid caregiver burnout4:
It can be easy to fall into an emotional trap when faced with the situation of dealing with a loved one’s illness or the burden of caregiving. Try to avoid feeling sorry for yourself or searching for someone to blame as it’s possible to spend a tremendous amount of energy dwelling on such things.
Embrace your caregiving choice
Despite any resentments you may feel, acknowledging that you made a conscious choice to provide care of another person can bring positive light on a stressful situation. Focusing on the positive reasons behind your choice, whether they be repaying a parent for help they provided you with while growing up or values and examples you want to set for your children, may help sustain you during difficult times.
Look for the silver lining
Look at the brighter sides of caregiving. It’s possible that these hardships have made you a stronger person or providing care has brought you closer to your loved one.
Don’t let caregiving take over your life
It is much easier to accept a difficult situation when there are rewarding aspects that are occurring in other parts of your life. Instead of letting caregiving take over your whole life, be sure to leave time for things that give you purpose, whether it be family, church gatherings, or hobbies you enjoy.
Focus on the things you can control
Understand that when caring for another, there will always be things beyond your control, whether that be not having enough time in a day or having the amount of help you need. Accept what can’t be controlled and focus how to react to things you can.
Celebrate the small victories
You don’t have to cure someone’s illness to make a difference. Don’t undervalue the importance of the care you’re giving to make them feel more comfortable, safe, and loved.
Taking care of someone else is an extraordinary endeavor but can come with the consequence of neglecting your own health. Make sure your taking adequate care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating properly, and avoiding any additional stressors in your life that may exist.
- Link, G. Caregiver stress. Office of Women’s Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/caregiver-stress
- Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784
- Ingber, R. Caregiver Stress Syndrome. Today’s Caregiver. https://caregiver.com/articles/caregiver-stress-syndrome/
- Smith, M. Caregiver Stress and Burnout. HelpGuide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/caregiver-stress-and-burnout.htm