The role of a caregiver can take many forms. From driving to appointments, cooking meals, providing emotional support, and everything in between, it may feel as if the list of responsibilities is never-ending. Considering the level of commitment required for these tasks, the term “caregiver fatigue” has been coined to describe the unique feelings that many caregivers experience when the role begins to impact their physical or mental health. For caregivers and those around them, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of caregiver fatigue and learn more about management techniques so they can continue to provide support for themselves and those who depend on their care.
What is caregiver fatigue?
Caregiver fatigue is a feeling of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion that can be experienced by those who provide care to others. Similar to burnout, this feeling of fatigue can be caused by the demanding nature of the role and the expectations that come from family, medical providers, the community, or themselves.
Although caregiving is often seen as a selfless task, many caregivers find themselves overwhelmed by the number of responsibilities and a sense of guilt that can manifest from feeling they are doing too much or too little. When the feelings of exhaustion build, caregivers run the risk of increased feelings of isolation or depression, leading to consequences for both the caregiver and those around them.
Signs and symptoms of fatigue in caregivers
The first indicators of caregiver fatigue traditionally manifest in signs that are similar to stress or anxiety. While symptoms can be impacted by a number of factors including time spent on caregiving, the age of the caregiver, and more, certain signs are familiar markers that caregiver fatigue may be present. Common signals can include:
- Neglecting self-care in favor of the needs and wants of others
- Physical symptoms such as joint pain, headaches, or tiredness
- Loss of interest in activities or personal hobbies that were once enjoyable
- Feelings of irritability, frustration, anger, or depression
- Difficulty concentrating, challenges in making decisions, or “brain fog”
Strategies for managing caregiver fatigue
If the signs of caregiver fatigue seem familiar, it may be time to seek support for yourself or the caregiver in your life. Once you have recognized that help is needed, you can begin the process of managing symptoms by focusing on positive coping mechanisms that support physical and emotional well-being. Managing caregiver fatigue requires a comprehensive approach that focuses primarily on self-care and seeking support. Helpful strategies can include:
- Seeking guidance from professionals and personal allies: Build a support network that includes medical professionals, family members, and caregiver support groups that can help you on your caregiving journey. In addition to giving material support, allies can also help reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or isolation.
- Prioritizing personal needs and self-care: It is important to take time to focus on your own self-care as you care for others. Self-care [Note: link to Caregiver self-care tips blog] includes managing your personal well-being and can include activities like exercise, reading, or participating in personal hobbies that bring joy.
- Learning more about effective caregiving strategies: Preparation and knowledge can help combat the challenges associated with the caregiving process. Reaching out to medical professionals, organizations, social workers, or therapists who specialize in treating caregivers can help you manage the fears of the unknown and tackle additional trials with greater confidence.
- Scheduling regular breaks or taking advantage of respite care: Caregiving requires time to refuel, and that may include taking time for yourself or employing the use of respite care, also known as short-term institutional care. Although the job may feel like a 24/7 commitment, acknowledging that you need time off is an important part of self-advocacy and finding a healthy balance.
For additional resources that support caregivers and their network, please visit uhc.com/caregiving.