Caregiver Burnout

Watch Out For Caregiver Burnout

Join us in thanking family caregivers this November by sharing resources and vital information with them. Your Turn To Care is happy to welcome guest columnists, Estee Bienstock RN, Chaplain Jim Johnston, and Gerontologist Mary Winners to share their personal and professional insights and advice for caregivers and their families.

As a caregiver you are compassionate. You care about how others feel, their comfort, and dignity of life. You give beyond the ordinary and are to be commended for your selfless work. But a danger lurks beneath the floorboards of every caregiver, it's called Caregiver Burnout.

Whether hospice worker, nurse, CNA, Social worker, chaplain, or family member caring for a loved one, burnout is a danger. Whether in the field or office burnout can catch any of us and wear us down to exhaustion or tears. What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of exhaustion that saps emotions, mental capacities, and physical strength, and is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It builds up slowly and seeps into your system like poison.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout.

  • Feeling disillusioned, helpless, and worn out.
  • Problems seem like mountains.
  • Low motivation.
  • Everyday looks bad.
  • Life looks bleak.
  • Energy is hard to find.
  • Unhappy.
  • Detached

If you feel any of the above symptoms, consider that you may be under burnout and take steps to refresh and replenish your energy and joy. First, admit that burnout is happening to you. It is not a sin, just a sign that you are working too hard. Secondly, give yourself permission to do self-care. You are worth the care and need to replenish your reserves so you can help others, but most of all, help yourself. Thirdly, set up a step by step process to take action. Here are a few prevention tips.

The most difficult step for treating burnout is allowing yourself permission to practice self-care. You give much and deserve the time for rest and relaxation.

Pick a few hours where you will do what you wish with no time limits. Putter around the house, garden, shop, watch a movie. If you care-give at home, get a volunteer and grab "me" time away from home.

Especially for non-professionals, care-giving is an unexpected job that demands much. Welcome help where you usually would say no. Allow friends to do specific tasks like shop, sort mail, etc.

Avoid over extension. Set a list of what needs to be done and limit yourself to that list, and leave room for the unexpected. Learn to say no to outside requests that sap your time. And don't feel guilty.

You are worth a new article of clothing, special food, book, lunch out with a friend, or day away. Whether pedicure or hair done, do it.

completely disconnect from technology when possible and throw in the news, too. Put down the iphone, stop texting, tweeting, and turn off the TV.

Projects, a hobby and other creative outlets can banish burnout.

Practice prayer, meditation, reading, exercise or writing a journal as day starters.

See if something about your work is troubling you deep down. Maybe you are thinking about your mortality, your health, or missing people who died prior. Get help to talk out these deeper issues and find relief.

Find a support system of friends, co-workers or professionals to help you stabilize your life.

Humans need hope to pull them through life. Set little, medium, and large hopes to pull you through. A movie on Friday night, a trip to an amusement park, or a planned vacation are examples of hope to help you out. You need time off and it will only happen when you schedule it.

Burnout is a matter of exceeding your limitations while still pressing on. Grant yourself permission to recognize limitations, not feel guilty, and to take care of yourself raising your quality of life.


If you care for a loved one on hospice or the beginning stages of illness, I commend your compassion and care. You have a job for which you did not apply, did not interview, and get no wages. Your struggle will be with guilt for not doing enough, little thanks, and feeling like the burden is all on your shoulders.

The fact that you are doing what you do speaks much of your character, so please reject guilt. It is not what more you could do that counts, but that you are doing that is making a difference. In every family it seems one care-giver rises to the task. That is you. You may not get thanks because it is tough for people to identify with what you do. Know that your loved one thanks you even if he/she cannot express it. You may feel alone and the weight of it all. Please make extra efforts to practice self-care and the steps above.

Remember that what you do concerns life-giving care and in a very real sense your efforts will live forever.

Jim JohnstonJim Johnston has been a pastor in the Pasadena area for over 30 years. He is a chaplain for Sanctuary Hospice in Glendale, CA. helping hospice patients and their families cope with end of life issues. He also holds bereavement sessions for those who have lost loved ones. He and his wife Laura are pre-marriage and relationship coaches helping couples strengthen their marriages. He is the father of four and has been married to Laura for 27 years.

Top Photo By Matthew Kenwrick used under a Creative Commons License.

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