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Carer Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Post by Ruth Samer
October 31, 2022

Carers are people who look after loved ones that are elderly or live with an illness or disability. They come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and there are many of them in Australia. In fact, the 2020 census reported over 2.65 million informal (that is, non-professional) carers in the country, and the number is growing every year. Unfortunately, carer burnout is also on the rise.

Carer burnout refers to a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion experienced by a caregiver, and more than half of all Australian carers will experience burnout at some point in their care journey. In this article, we uncover the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of caregiver burnout to help you better take care of yourself and the loved one you care for.

What is carer burnout, and why are caregivers more at risk of burnout?

Any carer can experience what we call ‘carer burnout’ and, unfortunately, most carers will at some point. Carer burnout refers to the exhaustion (both physical and emotional) of someone who cares for a loved one, and is characterised by feelings of stress, fatigue, financial strain, or a shift in attitude of the caregiver.

It’s important to know that carer burnout is not only extremely common, but is not the fault of the caregiver. Anyone can (and most likely will) experience carer burnout, when caring for a loved one over the long term. Carers are more at risk of burnout than other people for many reasons, including:

  • Informal carers often have a lot on their plate including caring, family commitments, and work.
  • Carers are not as well supported as they should be, although the Australian Government and carer support organisations are trying to change this.
  • Caring for a loved one can be physically, mentally, and financially draining.
  • Caregiving can put financial pressure on the whole household.
  • Taking care of other dependents, such as children, can add to carer burnout.
  • Being a caregiver can mean that other commitments are sacrificed or avoided.
  • Caring for someone can be a full-time job.
  • Caregivers are often under-prepared, untrained, and not well-equipped for the duties of caring for a loved one.
  • Taking care of someone else, especially full-time, can mean your own needs take a back seat.
  • Self-care and time to rest and recover can be very hard to come by as a carer.


As a family carer, taking good care of your loved one – whether an elderly parent, a child living with a disability, or another loved one who needs your support – is a challenging undertaking. No matter who you are or how well you cope with stress, caring for someone has the potential to cause carer burnout. Being prepared with the facts about what causes carer burnout, the symptoms, treatment, and prevention can best equip you to avoid caregiver burnout; allowing you to take the best care of your loved one as well as yourself.


What causes carer burnout?

Having read why caregivers are more likely to experience burnout than others, it is easy to understand the kinds of things that may cause carer burnout. Even so, it can be easy to miss the signs of carer burnout. Here are some of the things that can cause carer burnout that you might not have considered:

  • Loss of control: Whether or not you consider yourself a control freak, caregivers can often feel a sense of a loss of control when caring for a loved one. When someone you love is experiencing a disability or illness, you might have very little control over how it impacts them or how it impacts your household and the lives of you, your family, and friends. This can be overwhelming for anyone.

  • Role confusion: Informal carers often experience confusion around their role and it can be difficult to separate the role of carer from spouse, parent, child, or friend. This can cause tension for you, for other family members and friends, and for the loved one you care for.

  • Unrealistic expectations: Many carers put unrealistic demands and expectations onto themselves. Some are unrealistic about the positive impact their caregiving should have on the condition of their loved one, some don’t understand why those they care for don’t seem more grateful, and some tend to beat themselves up for not being ‘better’ at juggling caring with other commitments.

Many of the things that cause carer burnout involve a lack of understanding, support, and preparedness both for the caregiving role and for the illness or disability affecting the loved one receiving care. However, with the right support, carers can be better prepared and equipped. More on that later.


Carer burnout symptoms: What does caregiver burnout look like?

Carer burnout, just like any other type of burnout, can look different for everyone. But some common symptoms apply to most people who find themselves suffering from caregiver burnout. These include:

  • Heightened levels of stress
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability
  • A sudden change in disposition or attitude
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Sudden changes in appetite or unexpected weight gain/loss
  • Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleeping habits
  • Being more prone to illness
  • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns
  • Temptation to self-harm
  • Difficulty keeping up with other responsibilities
  • Forgetfulness or absent-mindedness
  • Missing appointments
  • Overlooking or ignoring personal health

These symptoms, perhaps unsurprisingly, are similar to those experienced by people suffering from depression and anxiety. The physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by carer burnout can be quite serious if not addressed in time. That’s why it’s so important to understand the symptoms of caregiver burnout, and how to prevent and treat them.


Carer burnout treatment

Thankfully, carer burnout treatment is possible and can make a big difference to both you and the loved one whom you’re caring for. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Seek help from a professional: If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, it is important to seek help from someone like a doctor, a counsellor, or a psychologist. These are serious mental health concerns and should not be ignored.

  • Turn to family and friends: Sometimes all it takes to ease caregiver burnout symptoms is to talk to family or friends with a sympathetic ear. Being heard and understood can do wonders for those feeling burnt out. If you can ask friends or family for help with practical caring responsibilities, or with sharing the load around the household (from taking the kids to school, to helping with the washing, to spending some time with the loved one you’re caring for), this can also be an incredible relief. Don’t be afraid to reach out when you need a helping hand.

  • Get extra support: Even the most well-intentioned family and friends can only do so much to support you and the loved one you’re caring for. For many carers, a vital lifeline for avoiding carer burnout is turning to dedicated support services such as Care For Family. From a few hours a week here and there to help around the house, to overnight care, to 24-hour support, care services from trained professionals can make an enormous difference to your life and that of your loved one needing care.


Carer burnout prevention: How to avoid caregiver burnout

Prevention is always better than cure! Although most carers will experience carer burnout at some point, this is largely because of a lack of awareness around caregiver burnout prevention. There are a few things you can do to prevent carer burnout:

  • Be informed: Knowing as much as you can about your loved one’s condition and what to expect will help you to be better prepared when it comes to their care. Consult not only with doctors but with the relevant support groups. A quick Google search can help you find nearby support groups, or even online communities if there’s nothing in your area.

  • Set realistic goals: By knowing as much as you can about caring for your loved one, you can set more realistic goals for giving care – and this can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding carer burnout. Be realistic about the amount of care you can provide, the other commitments that are important to you, and how much help you might need.

  • Get extra support, such as respite care: Taking care of a loved one is a big job, and it’s not something you should expect to be able to do entirely alone. Even without other commitments such as taking care of young children or working full-time, caring for someone is demanding and challenging. And that means you will occasionally need some time off. Respite care can provide relief care in times of need, to give you a break whilst ensuring your loved one still receives the very best care from a professional. Read more about Care For Family’s respite care services here.

  • Prioritise taking care of yourself: The best prevention for physical and emotional exhaustion is to make your own wellbeing a priority. That means taking care of your health, getting enough sleep and eating well, taking time to relax, making self-care a priority, and doing things that help you feel good. Having appropriate support in the form of respite care, some help from a care team every week, or support from family and friends can all help you to take time for yourself.


Unfortunately, carer burnout is a fact of life for many caregivers. But it doesn’t need to be that way! By understanding carer burnout causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention, you can be better prepared for taking care of both your loved one and yourself.

Care For Family is the most trusted in-home care service provider in Sydney and surrounds. We provide flexible care, tailored to your needs and those of your loved one, your budget, and your circumstances. From weekly care from a dedicated care team, to respite care, emergency care, and more, our team is ready to support you and your loved one, no matter your needs.

Get in touch today to find out more about how we can support you to avoid carer burnout.