Caregiver burnout is real, but manaageable

By Robbie Sherman

Contributing writer

Seeing the physical and emotional health of a loved one regress can be difficult to watch. If you are now in the role of providing for a loved one’s care, you have taken on the tremendous, uncompensated task of supporting another adult. Being a caregiver brings new responsibilities that can impact your time, health, emotions and even finances.

Caregivers often feel unprepared or overwhelmed by the role: “I just don’t know what’s best for her,”or “I feel guilty that I am not there all of the time,” or “I worry that we’ll run out of money to support their health – where will they go?”

Caregiver burnout is real. It is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that occurs when caregivers don’t get the help they need. Caregivers are often so busy caring for their loved one that they don’t recognize their own burnout symptoms.

What does caregiver burnout look like?

If you or a close friend or family notices these symptoms, it may be time to seek support or guidance.

  • Self-care or attention to personal hygiene have decreased
  • Social isolation
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Relationship strain
  • Anxiety
  • Intense feelings of guilt or fear

How to Prevent and Manage Caregiver Burnout

If you are feeling depressed or anxious, or find yourself thinking about your role as a caregiver more hours of the day than any other responsibility in your life, seek medical attention from your primary care physician or behavioral health specialist.

In addition, there are many local and national organizations providing support resources for caregivers.

Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Servicesprovides support resources specifically for unpaid family caregivers. Their Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP) can align a caregiver with trained staff to assist with support groups, caregiving training, or even break if you need downtime.

FCSP offers the Personal Caregiver Survey, a self-evaluation tool that asks about your situation. Reviewing the survey, along with a FCSP staff member, can help you develop ways manage caregiving responsibilities and get the support you need.

Avoid Shoulds and Shouldn’ts

Caregiving can bring up a lot of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.”

It can feel like you should spend all of your time providing care or helping their situation. It can feel like you shouldn’t take time to meet a friend for coffee or that you shouldn’t go to the gym because it’s selfish.

“No one can do this kind of work 24 hours a day; it’s important to get help,” says Dr. Robert Cassmaninternal medicine physician at The Polyclinic’s Madison Center.

In fact, asking and receiving help may even mean better care for your loved one. Strategic breaksgive you the strength, energy and focus to function better. “It’s hard to admit we need help – we can feel shame and guilt even thinking that we can’t do it all alone,” says Jennie Crooks, MSW Candidate and staff member in The Polyclinic’s Behavioral Health Department. “But the research shows that asking for help allows you to provide your loved one with the best care possible.”

The Modern Caregiver

Caregiving can vary based on your loved one and your circumstance. Learn more about four emerging caregiver roles.

  • Long Distance – managing a loved one’s finances, medical care and personal needs from another city, state or country
  • Sandwich Generation:caring for both an elderly parent and their own young children
  • Spousal: providing care for your life partner
  • Working: working full time and caring for an elderly loved one

The Power of Delegation

Delegating tasks will actually provide family members and friends an opportunity to meaningfully connect to your loved one, and to you. Finding people or services to cover basic tasks can create space for spending more quality time instead of task-based time. Try these delegation strategies:

  • Determine what components of care you’re best at providing. Keep these core roles. As you’re doing these things, do your best to be in the moment and enjoy the time you get to spend caring for this person you love.
  • Determine which tasks you don’t enjoy as much, or that take you longer to do. Provide these as specific asks for friends, family members, and professional staff for these needs.Try saying this: “I’m doing my best to take care of myself and recognize that I could use a little help. Would you be able to (Pick up the laundry? Go to the grocery store? Wash the car?)? I would really appreciate it.” Trust that the people you ask to help you will put just as much heart into being a caregiver as you.

Caregivers can face a wide range of tasks. Consider using this list as a starting point for activities to own or delegate.

  • Preparing meals
  • Quick check-ins
  • Visits to the library or park
  • Grocery shopping
  • Laundry
  • Picking up the mail
  • Going for walks
  • Driving to doctor visits or appointments
  • Dispensing medication
  • Toileting and Bathing
  • Attending church, social events
  • Applying makeup
  • Assisting with dressing
  • Feeding
  • Paying bills


Dr. Robbie Sherman is the director of patient experience at The Polyclinic, a multi-specialty clinic with 12 locations in the Seattle-Puget Sound area.