Are you a working mom who helps an elderly parent? A husband caring for your sick spouse? Do you regularly lend a hand to a neighbor? Caregivers take time from their life to give social, financial, emotional, and physical support to someone who needs help.
Being a caregiver can be a deeply rewarding experience — but it isn’t without its challenges. The good news is there are plenty of resources available to help you manage your time and emotions and avoid caregiver burnout.
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It happens when the stress of taking care of someone else becomes too much to handle. Without a break, your body and mind can get too tired to function.
Signs of caregiver burnout
Take a moment to think about how you’ve been feeling lately. In the past few weeks, have you felt:
- Sick (headaches, stomach problems, back pain, common cold)
- Tired or worn out
- Angry or resentful around your loved one
- Like you have no time to yourself
- Stressed trying to balance work and family
If you’re experiencing one or more of these feelings, you might have caregiver burnout. You may also notice that you’ve:
- Lost sleep
- Been eating too much or not at all
- Been edgy or quick to anger
- Not been able to spend time with friends
If you feel burnt out, you’re not alone
Today, nearly 1 in 5 Americans provide unpaid care for an adult who needs help with their health or everyday needs.1 And many say they feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities. They also report feeling guilty about spending time on themselves.2
But tending to your own needs isn’t selfish. In fact, the healthier you are, the better you can care for others. It becomes easier to focus on the many good things — like how much of a difference you’re making in someone’s life.
Here are 3 important things every caregiver should know to manage stress and help avoid burnout.
How to arrange breaks
Scheduling regular time to rest and recharge is the best way to prevent burnout. Friends and family can sometimes help with caring to give you a break. But many caregivers don’t have that kind of support throughout the year. Thankfully, services exist to help caregivers step away from their duties. This is called respite care.
Respite care options
There are many types of respite care available, including adult day care programs and in-home medical care. Explore where to find help to find an option that works best for your needs. Some community programs can even help with funding.
How to manage difficult emotions
Caring for someone can be emotionally exhausting. And it’s normal to struggle with negative feelings. Finding healthy ways to cope with them will help prevent burnout.
Here are some practical self-care strategies for when you feel stuck in negativity:
- Set boundaries: A boundary is a limit you establish to protect yourself from burning out or getting upset by others. Recognize your limits, and learn to say no.
- Explore meditation: Mindfulness is a type of meditation that’s great for grounding your senses in the present. For a guided experience, try the Calm app.3
- Find an exercise you enjoy: Exercising can help you boost your mood and better handle stress. Even a 10-minute daily walk is a great option.
- Get a good night’s sleep: Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a night.4 If you have trouble winding down, try some gentle stretches before bed.
- Eat well: Eating nutritious, balanced meals will give you more energy to cope with your busy day. Download this healthy plate guide (PDF) to help plan healthy meals.
- Listen to a caregiving podcast: Hearing someone else’s story reminds us that we’re not alone. You can search for caregiving podcasts online and listen to the episodes on your smartphone or computer.
Where to find help
No one can do it all on their own — even if it feels like you must sometimes. There are many programs designed to help caregivers. Some are low-cost or even free if you or your loved one qualify.
Find community resources near you
For help with things like food, housing, and transportation, explore the Kaiser Permanente Community Support Hub to find services in your area.
Need extra help with your search?
To find more information about community services, visit our social health page.
Joining a support group for caregivers is a great way to meet people who understand what you’re going through. You might make friends who can give you practical tips. Or you may find new ways to relieve difficult emotions and stress.
You can find support groups for caregivers through your health care provider, community centers in your area, or online.
Talk to a health care provider
The person you care for may not be fully aware of the care options covered by their health care provider. If you can, talk to their care team to find out what services and help might be available. Ask if there’s a case management program to help you handle care and coverage.
It’s also important to schedule regular checkups for yourself. Tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver, so they can better manage your health. Your doctor may be able to provide you with caregiver support resources or refer you to a community program.
For more helpful articles and information about caregiving, visit our caregiving resource page.