Causes and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

Failing to practice self-care habits contributes to the stress caregivers feel and the problems they may experience with their own physical, mental and emotional health. The likely outcome or consequence for a caregiver who is not taking care of him- or herself is burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional exhaustion that results from failing, wearing out, or feeling totally used up due to too many demands on one’s energy, strength, or resources.

Causes of caregiver burnout may include:

  • Emotional demands resulting from the care receivers’ condition. An extreme degree of physical and emotional care is needed. There is just no way for you make him or her “well.”
  • Conflicting demands. The care receiver has needs, spouses have needs, children have needs, employers and co-workers have needs. You have needs. Trying to meet the needs of everyone creates conflict and stress.
  • Ambiguity of roles. Sometimes caregivers do not know exactly what their roles and responsibilities are in relation to others around them.
  • Work load. There’s just too much to do.
  • Conflicting policies and procedures. These can prevent professional caregivers from doing what they believe is appropriate and family caregivers from receiving services they want and need.
  • Lack of privacy. There is no time to be alone. There may be many people in and out of your home or your life assisting with some facet of the caregiving all the time.

These factors may contribute to feelings of:

  • Lack of mastery. Feeling that you have no control, or that you don’t have adequate skills or knowledge in this area.
  • Lack of autonomy. Feeling that you don’t have independence or “say so” in your life.
  • Failure to achieve goals. Feeling you can’t succeed, or that you’re a failure.

When burnout reaches a critical level, it begins to be very evident in a caregiver’s life. Burnout can manifest itself in various ways, including:

  • Depression
  • Withdrawal
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Negative emotions
  • Physical fatigue
  • Sleep deprivation or sleep disorders
  • Abuse of care receiver(s)
  • Neglect of care receiver(s)
  • Personal health problems
  • Lowered self-esteem