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Caring for the Caregiver: How to Recognize Burnout 

When we learn that someone is facing an illness or needs extra care, our thoughts immediately go to them. We wonder what we can do for them. We check in on them more frequently. We know they need extra support, all of which are normal reactions. 


What may not be as obvious is taking time to consider the needs of the primary caregiver, especially when that person is you. Being a caregiver is hard work mentally, physically, and emotionally. As the maxim goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. If there’s nothing left in you to give to yourself, it leaves very little to give to someone else, and burnout can set in.


The following are common signs that you, the caregiver, are in need of a break and/or additional support. 


  1. You are not eating or sleeping enough, or you are eating or sleeping too much.

Sometimes the first signs of stress and burnout show up in disrupted sleeping and eating routines. If you notice changes in your sleep patterns or diet, it could mean that your stress has reached a point where you need additional support. 


  1. You feel angry toward the person you are taking care of.

This is not an uncommon feeling, and it does not make you a bad person. It often serves as a reminder that you have entered a space in which you need to prioritize your own needs; use the opportunity as a chance to think about the source of your angry feelings and find ways to get your own needs met.


  1. You feel as though you are the only person capable of caregiving for your family member or friend.

Feeling as if you alone are capable of taking care of the individual is a sign that you are overstressed and need to take a step back. The reality is there will be others who are just as capable of taking over some of your duties while you take care of yourself. 


  1. You are losing touch with the parts of you that do not fall under the identity of “caregiver.”

Caregiving can be all-consuming, but you are more than your caregiver role. Think back on what makes you happy and excites you, and take steps towards adding those back into your life. Reach out to friends and make time to socialize in ways that don’t involve the person you are caring for. 


  1. You have been told by others that you need to slow down and take care of yourself.

When you hear this from loved ones is when it’s most important that you take a break for yourself. Listen to those who truly love you and care about you.


Caregiver burnout is important to monitor and take actions to alleviate and/or prevent. Above all, be kind to yourself if you find yourself in the role of caregiver, and remember there are people who are there to support you. Working with a therapist is a great way to practice self-care if you find that you are facing caregiver burnout. 


"It is never too late to be what you might have been." ~ George Eliot