Sustainability: 5 Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

When we hear the word “sustainability”, we tend to associate it with environmental impact, eco-friendly options, and renewable energy sources; however, the concept is central to caregiving. It highlights the importance of not just enduring, but remaining productive, and not being completely used up or destroyed by the task at hand, or in other words, becoming "burnt out". The family caregiver is under incredible amounts of stress from a variety of points. Finances, housing, careers, family, and caregiving all compete for the same 24 hours that we all have. Our bodies, minds, and emotions become vulnerable to overload, especially when caregiving extends for long periods of time.

Impact of Caregiving by the Numbers

In a study of caregiving in the U.S. done by the National Alliance for Caregiving, it was reported in 2012 that 65.7 million caregivers, 29% of the U.S. adult population, are providing care to someone who is ill, disabled, or aged. A snapshot of the average caregiver would be a 48 year old female who has left her job to care for an aging loved one and may be balancing care of more than one person. The majority of caregivers (55%) in a Gallup study reported they had been doing so for three years or more. Between lost wages and a variety of physical, emotional, and logistical burdens, stress can become a real health risk. According to an AARP public policy institute report, “while researchers have long known that caregiving can have deleterious mental health effects for caregivers, research shows that caregiving can have serious health consequences as well. 17% of caregivers feel their health in general has gotten worse as a result of caregiving responsibilities.” What is more, 40-60% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with about a quarter to half of these caregivers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression, according to an assessment of family caregivers done by the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Renewable Resource: 5 Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

As family caregivers under pressure, it is helpful to remind ourselves that we are renewable resources, meaning that we can replenish ourselves over time. It is also good to remind ourselves that if the rate at which we are consumed exceeds the rate at which we are renewed, then our work is not sustainable and we are on a path towards burnout. As part of stress awareness month, here are 5 tips to help family caregivers manage the stress and find ways to renew:

No. 1 Create an S.O.S. Plan (Strategy for Overcoming Stress)

Stress is an inevitable part of life and a common occurrence for caregivers, but as the old quote by Lena Horne says, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” By creating an “S.O.S plan”, (strategy for overcoming stress), you can be prepared to respond to stress instead of reacting to it negatively. Make a list of self-care items and divide them into categories that address mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. When stress is overwhelming follow the suggested activities that you’ve made for yourself in advance to holistically care for yourself.

No. 2 Know Thyself

We all have triggers that send us over the edge. It is important to anticipate what types of situations or tasks affect us the most so we can respond with compassionate attention to ourselves. According to WebMD, there can be emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms to stress that we can watch for, such as difficult quieting the mind, insomnia, inability to focus, and changes in appetite or nervous behaviors. Be aware of changes in yourself that may be a sign of stress.

No. 3 Schedule In Self-Care

Caring for a loved one can be very reactionary, and it can feel like you no longer have control over your schedule. From working around grocery trips and doctor’s appointments it is common to put your own needs at the bottom of the list, which you just may not get to. It is important to remember that we cannot take good care of others, if we don’t take good care of ourselves. It is not just ourselves that benefit from our own well-being. Nourishing your body with good healthy food and taking time to be physically activity will make a huge impact in reducing your stress and the risk for developing chronic diseases yourself.

No. 4 Permission Granted

It has happened to all of us: you sit down on the couch for a moment and close your eyes and the guilt of doing “nothing” sets in. If you are looking for permission to take moments like this, permission granted. The human brain and body need moments of pause and rest and it can be an important discipline to learn how to quiet the million thoughts in your mind even for just a moment. If tasks float into your mind, consider keeping a list or journal by you or in your nightstand. Write down the thought or task that comes up so you can get them out of your head and get back to your moment of peace.

No. 5 Remember to R.E.N.E.W.
Are you a visual learner? Check out or video on managing caregiver stress on our YouTube Channel

As you give away your energy caring for others, it is important to remember to replenish and renew your energy along the way. This little acronym will help you remember how to build a renewal routine into your caregiving responsibilities:

  • R is for Release Old Baggage: Let go of yesterday’s emotional baggage to make today lighter.
  • E is for Engage in Personal Time: Don’t let your life be solely defined by caregiving. Make sure you stay close to the activities, and people that give you energy and identity.
  • N is for Network: Reach out to other caregivers, support groups, blogs, books, and professionals. It is crucial that you are not alone in this process as caregiving can be extremely isolating.
  • E is for Equip Yourself: Get the respite care, education, and resources that you need. There is a steep learning curve to caregiving and you simply cannot do and know it all and that is okay. Build a support system of professionals and resources that can help you do the very best that you can do.
  • W is for Work your Mind and Body: You are in overdrive. Be sure to maintain an exercise and self-care routine. We pay special attention to our cars before long trips and we should do the same for our bodies.  

If you are looking for elder care coaching, respite care, or further resources, you have Sound Options. Our blog and eNewsletter are full of free articles from the experts with how-to tips and information for eldercare planning. We also provide professional eldercare coaching from RN and MSW Geriatric Care Managers. As experts in the care of older adults, they are able to guide families through the healthcare maze, act as a neutral third party, make recommendations for care, and provide crisis management. Our in-home caregivers are another great option for backup and respite care when planning a vacation, time off when sick, or just taking a much needed break.  We’re here when you need us. More information at or give us a call at 800.628.7649.   

Published on September 1, 2018.