Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that happens while you’re taking care of someone else. Stressed caregivers may experience fatigue, anxiety and depression. You can reduce your risk of burnout by participating in respite care, joining a support group or talking with a mental health professional.


Who is a caregiver?

A caregiver is a person who provides physical or psychological care to someone else. Caregivers help others who aren’t able to help themselves fully on their own due to declining health, an illness, injury or an underlying medical condition like:

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but these are the most common conditions caregivers support. In addition, certain professions — like people who work in healthcare or education — may experience caregiver burnout.

The role of a caregiver could include:

  • Helping with a daily routine like toileting, bathing, getting dressed or brushing hair.
  • Preparing meals.
  • Completing housework.
  • Medication management.
  • Managing finances.
  • Transportation.
  • Monitoring health.
  • Advocating and communicating their needs with healthcare providers or agencies.

The main responsibility of a caregiver is to make sure the person within their care is safe and healthy.


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What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that can happen when you dedicate time and energy to manage the health and safety of someone else. Caregivers who experience burnout may feel tired, stressed, withdrawn, anxious and depressed. Caregiver burnout can impact a person in various ways, including physically, psychologically, financially and socially.

Burnout feels like a candle that ran out of a wick — it doesn’t have what it needs to continue to provide light. It can occur when you don't get the help you need personally, as you devote all of your time and energy to helping someone else. It can also happen when you try to do more than you’re able to, emotionally, physically or financially.

Your health and well-being matter just as much as the person you’re caring for. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout so you can get the help you need when you need it most.

How common is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout is very common. Studies show that more than 60% of caregivers experience symptoms of burnout.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout?

The signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to those of stress and depression. They include:

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones.
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless.
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Unable to concentrate.
  • Getting sick more often.
  • Irritability, frustration or anger toward others.

If at any time you feel overwhelmed, you need someone to talk to or you’re thinking about hurting yourself or suicide, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (U.S.). Someone is available to help you 24/7.

If your burnout causes resentment toward the person you’re caring for or you feel like you may be hurting that person, reach out for help immediately. You could contact a friend or family member, a healthcare provider, a social worker or a mental health professional.

What does caregiver burnout feel like?

Everyone’s experience with burnout is different. Caregiver burnout may cause the following feelings:

  • Anxiety or fear: If you do something wrong, it will harm someone within your care.
  • Anger or frustration: The person within your care doesn’t accept, want or appreciate the care you’re providing.
  • Denial: The severity of the person’s condition you’re caring for “isn’t that bad.”
  • Guilt: Spending time taking care of yourself is less important than the person within your care. You might feel bad doing things to care for yourself because they benefit you and not others.
  • Negativity: Your caregiving journey started positively but now feels like a dark cloud is following you. Your feelings toward your responsibility are passive or you don’t have the desire to do your job well.
  • Secluded or alone: You feel like you don’t have support, no one wants to help or asking for help is a sign of weakness.

It’s normal to feel these feelings when you’re burned out. But it’s important not to act on these feelings in a way that could hurt yourself or someone else. Reach out for help when you notice these feelings.


What causes caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout happens when you devote the majority of your time, energy and resources to taking care of others that you neglect, forget or aren’t able to take care of yourself. Not caring for your physical, emotional and mental health can severely impact the way you feel and your ability to complete your personal responsibilities.

In addition, other factors that can contribute to caregiver burnout include:

  • Role confusion: Quickly stepping into a caregiver role can cause confusion. It can be difficult for you to separate your role as a caregiver from your role as a spouse, friend, child or other close relationship. Unclear roles can also emerge when multiple family members are assisting in a loved one’s care, which leads to increased stress for everyone.
  • Varied expectations: Many caregivers believe that their involvement will have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the person within their care and themselves. The reality is that caregiving is challenging. It can be extremely rewarding while also being stressful. It’s difficult to balance these expectations while caregiving.
  • Lack of control: You may feel frustrated or held back by a lack of finances, resources or skills needed to effectively plan, manage and organize your loved one's care.
  • Too many responsibilities: Sometimes, caregiving can feel like you’re juggling too many obligations at once. Many caregivers experience stress because they see their role as their sole responsibility, even if it’s too much for one person to realistically handle. Others, possibly within your or the person within your care’s family may place more, unwanted stress on you as the primary caregiver.
  • Not realizing burnout is happening: Many caregivers can’t recognize when burnout happens. This can impact the quality of care you’re able to provide.

What are the risk factors for caregiver burnout?

You may be more at risk of caregiver burnout if you:

  • Serve as a caregiver for someone else.
  • Work in an environment where your job is helping others, like a school, medical or dental clinic, or a hospital.
  • Don’t have a support system to relieve you when you’re tired.
  • Feel like you’re the only one who can do your job successfully.

What is the long-term impact of caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout can affect your ability to care for yourself and the person within your care. Caregiving for long periods of time can especially increase the risk of burnout and vulnerability to physical and mental health conditions. You may find yourself delaying preventive check-ups with your healthcare provider, or worse, delaying necessary treatment for a chronic medical condition due to your caregiving responsibilities. If mental health symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, are left untreated, quality of life reduces for both you and your loved one. Your loved one’s well-being can also decline. In rare and severe cases, extreme stress and depression from burnout may be life-threatening to caregivers.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is caregiver burnout assessed?

If you feel burned out, you may choose to visit a healthcare provider or a mental health professional for assessment and treatment options. Comprehensive assessments should include an evaluation of mental and physical health symptom. During this time, be honest and open with your provider. If you underplay or deny the validity of your feelings, your healthcare provider won’t be aware of them or be able to help you fully.

Management and Treatment

How is caregiver burnout treated?

There isn’t one solution to treat caregiver burnout. You’ll likely need to try more than one strategy to feel well again. The following may help you manage caregiver burnout:

  • Talk to a healthcare provider. The amount of stress and emotional weight that comes with being a caregiver can feel overwhelming. It helps to reach out to a healthcare provider, psychologist, social worker or mental health professional to discuss what you’re feeling. Your care team, in addition to friends and family, will be able to support you through your journey.
  • Make time for self-care. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself while you’re taking care of someone else. Don’t skip personal appointments like visiting the dentist. Make sure you eat well-balanced meals throughout the day and get enough sleep. Exercise can improve your mood and you can unwind at the end of each day by meditating or practicing yoga.
  • Ask for help. It isn’t easy to ask for help or to accept it. Sometimes, your support system doesn’t recognize the need unless you ask for it. You may need to practice saying “yes” when someone offers you help or saying “no” when more tasks fall on your plate. Oftentimes, others will be more than willing to help you pick up groceries if they’re out running errands or walking your dog after they get home from work or school.
  • Find local resources. Organizations within your community may offer services and support when you’re in need. This could include in-home care, adult day care centers or community meal programs. Your healthcare provider is a great first resource to point you in the right direction. Support groups can connect you with others who share similarities and can lend a hand when you’re in need.

What is respite care?

Respite care is a temporary break for primary caregivers. You can schedule respite care to give yourself a break from caregiving for a few hours, a few days to several weeks. Respite care for the person within your care can happen at home, in a healthcare facility or an adult care center,

Respite care is extremely beneficial for a primary caregiver. It can help you relax and find a balance between your responsibility as a caregiver and your personal life.

Many community organizations offer respite care services. In addition, you can contact the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center (U.S.) to learn more about what resources are available in your area.


Can caregiver burnout be prevented?

Here are some steps you can take to prevent caregiver burnout:

  • Find someone you trust. It helps to talk about your feelings and frustrations with someone else, whether it be a friend, family member, mental health professional or social worker. Local organizations may host support groups for caregivers or family members of those with conditions like cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Set realistic goals. It’s important to accept that you may need assistance with caregiving, especially if you’re trying to balance other responsibilities with work and family. You may not be able to assume all the caregiving responsibilities singlehandedly. Others might be able to help you with some tasks. If your workload gets overwhelming, reach out for help. Set a routine, know your limits and be honest with yourself about your situation. Recognize and assess your risk for burnout.
  • Learn more. You may feel more comfortable providing care when you have the knowledge and understanding of the illness or condition that affects the person you’re caring for. Be realistic about your loved one’s condition, especially if it’s a progressive disease like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. Acknowledge that there may come a time when they require nursing services or assisted living outside the family home.
  • Take care of yourself. While you’re taking care of someone else, make sure your needs are met first. It’s the same concept that you hear in airline safety demonstrations: Put your oxygen mask on before helping others. Set aside time for yourself, even if it’s just an hour or two. Remember, taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury. It’s an absolute necessity for caregivers.
  • Eat well. It’s easy to forget to eat three complete meals each day when you’re providing for someone else. Eating healthy foods keeps your energy up so you perform at your best.
  • Accept your feelings. Having negative feelings — like frustration or anger about your responsibilities or the person you care for — is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a bad caregiver. If your feelings are overwhelming, reach out for help.

Outlook / Prognosis

How do you recover from caregiver burnout?

Recovery from caregiver burnout takes time and patience. Each person who experiences caregiver burnout has a different experience based on how it affects them. You may need to try several different things before you find one or a few that help you feel better. Many people participate in a form of group or talk therapy in addition to self-care techniques like meditation and respite care. It can be difficult to find time for yourself to eat well, exercise and rest. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Resources are available in your area.

How long does it take to get over caregiver burnout?

There isn’t a set amount of time as to when burnout will go away or get better. It can take several days to weeks to months before you’re well again. Each caregiving situation is different. You can reduce your stress sooner by taking care of yourself, like asking for help so you have time to dedicate to yourself. Burnout doesn’t go away overnight.

Living With

How do I get help for caregiver burnout?

If you experience severe stress and depression, seek medical attention. Stress and depression are treatable conditions that can get worse when you have caregiver burnout.

Reach out to the following resources for help with caregiving:

  • Home health services: These agencies provide home health aides and nurses for short-term care if your loved one is ill. Some agencies provide short-term respite care.
  • Adult day care: These programs offer a place for adults over age 65 to socialize, engage in a variety of activities, and receive needed medical care and other services.
  • Nursing homes or assisted living facilities: These institutions sometimes offer short-term respite stays to provide caregivers a break from their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Private care aides: These are professionals who specialize in assessing current needs and coordinating care and services.
  • Caregiver support services: These include support groups and other programs that can help caregivers recharge their batteries, meet others coping with similar situations, find more information about certain health conditions and locate additional resources.
  • Agency of Aging: Contact your local Agency on Aging or your local chapter of the AARP for services (such as adult day care services, caregiver support groups and respite care) that are available in your area.
  • National organizations: Look in a phone directory or search online for local agencies or chapters of national organizations that assist caregivers and people diagnosed with certain conditions like cancer or Parkinson’s disease, for example. These organizations can provide resources and information about subjects including respite care and support groups.

When should I see a healthcare provider?

Visit a healthcare provider, social worker or mental health professional if you experience signs or symptoms of caregiver burnout. They can help you take the first step toward feeling better so you can provide the best care for yourself and your loved ones.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

  • How do I minimize stress?
  • How can I better manage my emotions and expectations in my caregiving situation?
  • Is there a way to reduce the amount of guilt I feel when I take care of myself?
  • Can you recommend community resources or organizations for caregivers?
  • Are there financial resources available for caregivers?
  • Who do I reach out to for help with caregiving if my friends and family can’t help me?

Additional Common Questions

Caregiver burnout vs. compassion fatigue: What’s the difference?

Both caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue impact a caregiver.

Caregiver burnout is a feeling of deep exhaustion and stress after caring for another person.

Compassion fatigue occurs when a caregiver takes on the emotional stress and trauma of a person within their care. It causes a lack of empathy (understanding the feelings and situations of someone else) or a lack of care for the person within your care.

Compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout can happen at the same time.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Caregiving is a rewarding and challenging experience. And it’s easy to push your feelings and personal needs aside to give your full attention to the person within your care. As a result, caregiver burnout is extremely common. It can impact your mental and physical health and your ability to provide the best care. One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver is to make time for yourself. It can be difficult to ask for help, too, but remember that you’re not alone. Resources are available to help you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/16/2023.

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