Caregiver Burnout: How to Recognize Symptoms of Burnout


This one is for the caregivers. The parents, grandparents, children, spouses and other family members caring for loved ones. The partners, friends, foster parents and families of choice. The home health aides, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and other professional caregivers. The emergency workers, international aid workers, and community outreach workers. You. The ones who are caring for someone who needs help.

Caregivers are doing the work in a variety of circumstances and for a variety of reasons. But ultimately those reasons boil down to caring, whether you’re getting paid or are doing it just because you see a need and want to help. And there are a lot of you out there. According to Caregiving and AARP in 2009, there were 16.8 million families caring for a child with special needs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41.3 million Americans are giving unpaid care to elderly people. There are almost 3 million registered nurses in the US.

Some of you are working 12-hour shifts, some of you are working nights, and some of you are spending 30 unpaid hours a week providing for a child’s special needs. All of that work can put a strain on families or lead to burnout in caregivers.


What’s burnout? According to WebMD, burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. The strain on family caregivers is influenced by a combination of stressors, resources (or lack of), and perceptions about their roles. These factors can lead caregivers to feel exhausted, overwhelmed and isolated. And caregivers typically don’t want to burden their loved one, which often causes them to internalize their feelings. The combinations of strain and internalized emotions can lead to health problems of their own in caregivers.

According to the Self-Healing Through Reflection Workbook, professional caregivers experience burnout as job stress that accumulates over time as physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion (Bush & Boyle). This experience is affected by workload, resources, personal coping skills, leadership and workplace support. The previously mentioned workbook is an excellent resource for nurses.

Symptoms include:

  • Withdrawal from patients, friends and family
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless
  • Feeling “numb” or apathetic
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or both
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Getting sick more often
  • Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Excessive use of alcohol and/or sleep medications
  • Irritability

Professional Caregiver? Click here to get the self-assessment to see if you are experiencing burnout.

Family/unpaid caregiver? Take this self-assessment to see if you may be experiencing burnout.

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