Caregiver Fatigue: Why You Need a Break and How to Take One

March 12, 2018


Caregiver fatigue is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that may or may not be paired with a change of attitude toward yourself or the person you’re caring for. The Cleveland Clinic notes that caregivers can become frustrated due to unrealistic expectations, unreasonable demands, or a feeling of losing control.

Signs and symptoms

There are numerous signs that indicate caregiver fatigue, many of which mirror stress and depression. These include:

  • Irritability
  • Changes in health
  • Insomnia
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased sickness
  • Complete exhaustion

Without respite, caregivers suffering with this type of burnout may experience feelings of wanting to hurt themselves or the person for whom they provide care.

How to cope

While providing care for an aging parent or relative is a labor of love, it is a labor nonetheless. Caregivers must incorporate certain self-wellness behaviors into their daily routine in order to prevent negative long-term side effects. A few ways to do this are:

  • Maintaining social relationships. Caregivers often feel as though they must devote 100 percent of their time to cooking, cleaning, and providing hands-on attention to others. But caregivers must also maintain their non-care-related relationships with friends and family.
  • Prioritizing quick mental health boosts. Many individuals find that dealing with stress and fatigue is easier when they are exposed to things they love in small doses throughout their day. Behavioral Wellness & Recovery notes a few ways to reduce stress each day, including keeping a beloved book on hand, getting outside into nature, and spending time with your favorite pet.
  • Eating right. While everyone can benefit from a balanced diet, those tasked with the care of others must pay special attention to their dietary habits. Providing care for another human being takes a toll on the body. Between physical exhaustion, emotional turmoil, and lack of sleep, the body needs all the nutrients it can get. Caregivers should prioritize breakfast, lunch, dinner, and healthy snacks and eat whenever they provide a meal for their patient.
  • Taking a timeout. As a caregiver, it can be difficult to find the time to spend away from obligations. But that is perhaps one of the best things that overworked and overwhelmed care providers can do for themselves. Taking a timeout alone provides perspective and may be just the reset needed to prevent caregiver burnout and fatigue.
  • Being grateful for time together. Caregivers can make it through the most difficult of days by remembering that, as stated by Humana, “life is precious and caring for a loved one is a gift.” One of the worst feelings is regret, so caregivers should always live in the moment, express their love, and appreciate time spent with their loved one.

Studies have found that caregivers may have increased risk of a number of health problems including substance abuse, diabetes, obesity, depression, and heart disease, the latter of which is the top cause of death for women, who also happen to make up the bulk of caregivers. Heart health is of the utmost importance, and caregivers can keep themselves healthy by visiting their doctor once each year for a physical, quitting smoking, and managing stress.

Providing care for others is not easy. It is a labor-intensive and emotionally exhausting life choice that is only made by those with the biggest hearts. But it is precisely these hearts that must be protected, and caregivers are advised to find ways to mitigate stress even on their worst days. A balanced diet, timeouts for self-care, and a positive perspective go a long way toward achieving a balance.

Lydia Chan,

Image via Pixabay

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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Share your thoughts


  1. Oh Donna , bless you. If I was anywhere close to you , I would give you a break.❤️

  2. Break…no help.

  3. I care for my newly diagnosed disabled daughter who is only 19. I am sure that she will outlive me. She requires 24/7 care and has declined to the mind of an elementary student—at best. She has MI on board too along with physical and medical issues. She was diagnosed with rare genetic disorder after no answer for two years Undiagnosed. It is truly gut wrenching to say goodbye to what you had hoped. To know we had 13-12 normal years of life til she left the track. Now we miss her and she is here. I wanted to live long enough to enjoy my grandchildren, my older life and now I fear I won’t live long enough to help her…and I guess I have to give up the idea of enjoying my grandchildren …almost my other children. I would do anything to help her get better and I am not sure it ever will. Sorry…just hurts..minute by minute.

  4. No Help makes it impossible to get a Real Break…8 years of caretaking and ONLY ONE NIGHT OFF…!!! I volunteer and get small amounts of time here and there to be away from the house…but AN ENTIRE WEEKEND WOULD BE EPIC..!!

  5. Easier said than done. I told myself that I would go get myself a massage once month and that would be my “thing”. It’s been 2 years and I only did it once. Actually I would love to be able to travel with my fiancé but there are no in-home services available for the type of care my mom requires without putting her in a center.

  6. Some of us caregivers can’t take a break.

  7. So many true and valuable comments. I cared for both of my parents for 8 years at the end of their lives. I used writing as a source of stress management and now teach caregivers to use a journal. It’s inexpensive and does not require much time.
    Love and blessings to each of you who commented because it is hard to do and hard to find PRACTICAL solutions !
    I give free prompts on my FB Page Care Partners Resource and Consulting if you want to check it out.

  8. Its a fine line between needing a break and when its time that a nursing home may be a better option. So you just keep on doing what your doing ☹

  9. No dollars no help…caregiver fatality is never discussed 36 percent of caregivers pass before those they are caring for! By 2019 they expect that figures to be over 40%

  10. hahaha, need a break and how to take one. Not when the parent does not want any strangers in the house.

  11. Moved Mom into an Adult Family Home six months ago after over 13 years of caregiving in my home. I am still trying to heal physically and emotionally. I wish I would have read this many years ago.

    • I’m a caregiver for my Father and have been trying to avoid putting him in a home but am coming to a conclusion that maybe it’s time to. It hurts my heart to think @ it but at this point I do not know what else to do.

    • You know when it is time….then you go further than you should and know that it is time. Then you break yourself trying and decide it is truly time. I am 3 years out and still healing. Take your time. Pick your battles..shun the rest, if necessary. You know what you feel like. It’s your journey alone! They know we love them. We lost ourselves proving it! Take care of you now. Heal at your own pace. Trust your journey and never give up! Stay strong, warriors! <3 ((hugs))

  12. Unfortionly not everyone can afford “breaks” and a 30 minute bath isn’t really a break.


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