Mental Health Awareness Month: Acknowledging Caregiver Burnout & Fatigue

May 01, 2023

Caring for aging loved ones can be one of the most gratifying experiences in life. However, it can also place considerable physical, emotional and financial demands on you, as caring for a loved one with a disability or chronic illness requires an extreme and ongoing commitment of physical and emotional energy. If you are a caregiver of an aging loved one you may have been feeling more and more overworked. Maintaining mental health is essential for caregivers because they are continuously handling their loved one's care, while taking care of their own responsibilities. 

This Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to draw attention to caregiver mental health, the effects associated with it, and ways to manage your mental health as a caregiver. 

Caregiver mental health:

The physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that nearly every caregiver experiences is referred to as caregiver stress syndrome. It typically results from a person neglecting their own physical and emotional health because they are focused on caring for an ill, injured or disabled loved one. Caregiver stress syndrome is strongly associated with negative health outcomes that can be categorized into multiple different mental health effects. 

Higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health effects are common among family members who care for an older relative or friend. Multiple studies show caregivers who experience chronic stress may be at greater risk for cognitive decline including loss in short-term memory, attention and verbal IQ. Caregivers struggle with many limitations that can cause chronic stress and many other conditions along the line including :

  • managing their time 
  • sleep deprivation
  • financial strain
  • being afraid to ask for help
  • lack of privacy

That’s why it’s inevitable that the psychological health of the family caregiver is negatively affected by providing care. Across the country, 59% of caregivers report high to very high emotional stress due to caregiving and 38% report high to very high physical stress due to caregiving. This only worsens over time, as caregivers reporting fair or poor health increases from 14% within the first year to 20% after 5 years or more of providing care. 

Compassion Fatigue:

You might not be familiar with the term “compassion fatigue,” but you probably recognize the idea behind it: it’s the feeling that you have no more empathy left to give. Compassion fatigue, also known as second-hand shock and secondary stress reaction, describes a type of stress that results from helping or wanting to help those who are traumatized or under significant emotional stress. Compassion fatigue has mostly affected health care workers in many ways, manifesting itself in the following categories:

  • Physically- Stress, anxiety, and depression resulting from the cognitive and emotional distress lead to physical effects like headaches, abdominal pain, and high blood pressure. These symptoms affect an individual’s quality of sleep or ability to maintain a balanced diet/ exercise routine, leading to cognitive or emotional issues 
  • Emotionally- many caregivers experience anger and irritability when dealing with loved ones or clients that have difficult conditions such as dementia. They may often feel a sense of hopelessness that makes performing their duties difficult.
  • Cognitively- caregivers can often have a hard time concentrating, due to juggling multiple needs at once. Those who care for loved ones may often feel as though they are to blame for their situation, which can also cause low self-esteem.
  • Behaviorally- Compassion fatigue also may result in behavioral issues, such as substance abuse, isolation from friends and family, or depressive symptoms like the inability to feel joy. These behavioral signs may be the most severe because they impact not only job performance but personal relationships and safety as well. 


Similar to caregiver stress syndrome, caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able, physically or financially. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones. Caregivers who are "burned out" may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression. 

Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own emotional, physical and spiritual health. The demands on a caregiver's body, mind and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue, hopelessness and ultimately burnout. Other factors that can lead to caregiver burnout include:

  • Role confusion: Many people are confused with the role of caregiver. It can be difficult for people to separate their role as caregivers from their roles as spouses, children, friends or other close relationships.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Many caregivers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the patient. This may be unrealistic for those suffering from a progressive disease, such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.
  • Lack of control: Many caregivers become frustrated by a lack of money, resources and skills to effectively plan, manage, and organize their loved one's care.
  • Unreasonable demands: Some caregivers place unreasonable burdens upon themselves, in part because they see providing care as their exclusive responsibility. Some family members or patients may place unreasonable demands on the caregiver. They also may disregard their own responsibilities and place burdens on the person identified as primary caregiver.

Caregiver burnout can happen to any caregiver at any time. This burnout then leads to symptoms similar to that of stress and depression. If you are already suffering from stress and depression, seek medical attention as these are treatable conditions. 

Protecting caregiver mental health:

Focusing on your loved one can make it hard to realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most resilient person. That's why it's so important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to care for anyone else.

To help manage caregiver stress:

  • Accept help: Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, a friend may offer to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Or a friend or family member may be able to run an errand, pick up your groceries or cook for you.
  • Focus on what you are able to provide: It's normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a "perfect" caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
  • Get connected: Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation, meal delivery or housekeeping may be available.
  • Seek social support: Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it's just a walk with a friend. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships., as they can an provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations
  • Set personal health goals: For example, set goals to establish a good sleep routine, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Visit your doctor regularly and Don't hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have. They can recommend vaccinations and screenings.

Summing it up:

As a caregiver, it's important to avoid burnout or caregiver fatigue by taking a break from caregiving responsibilities, asking for social and emotional support from friends and family members, and taking better care of yourself. However, caregiver burnout can be difficult to recognize. You may not realize that you're experiencing symptoms of caregiver burnout, or you may feel like they're a normal part of the caregiving process. If you notice any of the signs and symptoms discussed in this blog, it's important to seek help right away. Recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout and developing strategies to combat this type of caregiver stress can help caregivers continue to provide care and support for their loved one with less stress. And there's no better time to do that than now, during Mental Health Awareness Month!

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