Most caregivers don’t worry about their own health- they’re solely focused on the person for whom they’re caring. But those who provide care to an older or disabled loved one tend to live with high chronic stress and skimp on self-care — factors that raise the risk for negative emotional and physical health outcomes.
Not surprisingly, caregivers report higher levels of psychological stress compared to non-caregivers, according to a 2019 report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The numbers are staggering: of study participants, 19% of caregivers had burnout and 22.6% were at risk of developing caregiver burnout syndrome. And the CDC has reported that 53% of caregivers experience a decline in their own health, making them more likely than the general public to have a chronic illness (82% versus 61%).
“Caregivers tend to be a special personality type: big-hearted, sensitive, responsible, well-intentioned — people who are motivated by and take a deep satisfaction in doing right by their loved one,” says geriatric psychiatrist Ken Robbins of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But that’s often to the exclusion of taking care of themselves.” Adding to health risks: Most caregivers are at midlife or beyond themselves, ages when their own illness and physical challenges tend to surface.
But if you’re used to putting others first, how can you shift to not putting your own self last? “Making the connection between your well-being and your ability to continue providing care is often the ‘ah-ha’ realization for caregivers whose own health is suffering,” Robbins says. “Only then do many make their own healthcare a priority.”
In this guide, we’ll provide more detail on caregiver burnout to help you identify if you may be at risk. We’ll also provide some ways to manage stress and offer coping strategies for caregiver burnout so that you can continue to care for your loved one and care for yourself.