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Care for Yourself to Care Well for Others: 8 Tips to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

Erica N. Campbell, MD, is board certified in family medicine and has fellowship training in geriatric medicine. She is a member of Inova Medical Group’s Advanced Illness and Geriatrics section. She has a special interest in senior medicine, senior mental health disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and preventive disease care.


If you’re caring for an aging spouse, parent or other loved one, you’re in good company. According to a 2015 report by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than 34 million Americans provided unpaid care to an older adult in the year prior to the survey.

Providing care and support to someone you love can be a rewarding experience – but there’s no doubt it’s a demanding job. The report also found that a majority of caregivers are called on to help with basic activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing.

Delivering that level of care, day after day, is exhausting. Caregivers are at risk of burnout, which can include depression, anxiety, social isolation and emotional distress. Too often, I see caregivers who don’t take care of themselves and are in poor physical health. Many also suffer financial harm, since they may not be able to hold a job and care for a loved one at the same time.

But burnout isn’t inevitable. These 8 tips will help you care for yourself as you care for your loved one.

  1. Care for you, too. You can’t provide good care to others if you’re ill or burned out. Try to eat nutritious meals, get some physical activity and stay up to date on your own doctor visits.
  1. Ask for help. Is there a family member who can watch your loved one for an hour or two while you take a break? If not, look into options such as hiring caregivers to provide occasional in-home care, or dropping your loved one at an adult day care center to provide some respite.
  1. Find an outlet. Whether it’s doing yoga, taking an evening walk, going to the movies or getting involved with a faith community, identify an activity that reinvigorates you – and make it a priority.
  1. Connect with other caregivers. It often helps to talk with people who are walking in your shoes. Think about joining a caregiver support group, either in person or online. To find groups in your area, visit the Alzheimer’s Association or your local Area Agency on Aging. Many places of worship also offer support groups.
  1. Cut back. Look for areas of your life where you can simplify. If your in-laws are coming for a visit, suggest they stay in a hotel instead of your guest room. If you’re hosting a holiday meal, make it a potluck.
  1. Get organized. Being prepared can help with peace of mind. Make sure important legal documents, such as living wills and powers of attorney, are in order. Organize your care recipient’s medical information so it’s easy to find records, appointment dates and doctor names and addresses.
  1. Pat yourself on the back. Caregiving is tough. It’s a 24-7 job that takes a lot out of you, and it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed at times. That stress isn’t a sign you’re doing something wrong. It’s just a sign that you need a break to be your best self, and the best possible caregiver.
  1. Recognize warning signs. If you’re feeling sad, empty, anxious or irritable; have changes in your sleeping and eating patterns; no longer have interest in things you once enjoyed; or have ongoing feelings of worthlessness or guilt, you may have depression. Depression is a treatable illness, so don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Feeling stuck? Try reaching out to the doctors and social workers on your loved one’s care team. As specialists in treating older adults, we see a lot of caregiver burnout, and can often point you toward resources that can help.

At Inova, we’re committed to helping our older patients and their caregivers at all stages of health and illness. Learn more about Inova ElderCare.

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