Avoiding Burnout

When To Call For Help

You know it when it hits. You’ve lost your zen. You don’t smile. You want to run away. Life’s lost it’s pleasure and every time you start to do something for yourself, the not well spouse, parent, or child suddenly needs even more. 

It happens. You get to a point where you are just too tired to even think about how to get help. Or you’ve tried to enlist friends or family, and all you get are platitudes. Or they are too far away to do anything. 

Burnout is a serious thing. It’s not an overnight deal. It’s not like work burnout where a vacation helps because you always have to come back. I’ve dealt with job burn out before — usually it was a sign that it was time to move one. I’d go on a vacation, and return either knowing it was time or getting laid off. Either way – it wasn’t the vacation, it was the reality of me needing to move forward. 

With caregiver burnout, the road is not so clear. You don’t want to leave your loved one. Often, you can’t anyway. And more often, what you really need is 2 to 3 days a week where you get your own time.  And at best, you are getting an hour or two a week plus any time your loved one is asleep. You start to feel like you are trapped and there’s no way out. 


It is my hope that most people never reach this point. Enlist your family or your children. Don’t hide the problem. Don’t be a martyr.  In my case, I’ve been a caregiver too long. Without children and without family around, its all been on me. I know well how this creeped up. It started after a surgery. Then it was occasionally taking time off work to help. As this chronic illness progressed, my life disintegrated into caregiving chores, driving, medical navigation, insurance management, and more chores.  

Reaching out for help to no avail, I keep finding ways to move forward, make daily decisions as to what is important, and what to let go. Today, the house can stay dirty. tomorrow, it has to be prepped for sale. Oh my God!

Ten Tips to Help Recover From Burn Out

1) Decide what chores you are no longer willing to do. Outsource all the chores you can. 

2.) Decide how they will get done – hire someone, seek local support services, look for volunteer organizations, ask a church or temple organization, neighbor kid, your kid… 

3.) Pick 2 days a week where you  get the day off — and TAKE IT. If something comes up for your loved one, help them find a way to do whatever it is without you. Empowerment whenever possible! Too often, I’ve designated time for me to have time off, and then never get it. Make a plan, set an appointment, find something interesting, playful, or just serene that you alone are going to do.  YES ALONE.  You must avoid the temptation to bring your charge along. And you don’t want to get sucked into a conversation about the situation because that never recharges you. You need 2 days a week off, just like any employee would get, and you need to really get away. 

4.) Once you make your pick, then seek help to fill in the gaps. For me, it took  a long time to figure it out. I thought that if I hire someone and the ill spouse was well enough it would be wasted money. I thought if I hired someone to drive him around on a day when he couldn’t get out of bed, it would be wasted money.  WRONG — hiring someone else to sit and wait gave me time to take care of me. 

5.) Consider Adult Day Care — if your charge really can’t care for himself, or can’t be left alone, seek out places where adults can hang out for a couple hours or a day. Most are designed for seniors, but they are popping up all over the place. The local senior centers usually have lunches, classes, and card games through out the week. And many community centers offer daily enrichment activities. 

6.) Have someone come in a couple afternoons a week to help – maybe a neighbor kid for cheap can come in and just help with some odd chores. 

7.) Find a happy place – a park, a beach, a pretty road — somewhere reasonably close to your home where you can go for short burst to just be in the moment. I go to a park 5 minutes from the house and just sit. Or I’ll drive to a park near a lake, and just gaze at the light reflecting off the water. Just go to this place and be. Enjoy thinking, dreaming, visualizing what makes you feel alive. 

8.) Engage your heart / mind by joining a group: Find a support group, join a yoga class, crafts group, book club, take a class, go back to school — get creative but find something that takes you outside the home and gives back to you. Fill your cup with things that give you a lift. 

9) Declutter and get rid of stuff you don’t really use, or don’t need any more. Sell, give away, or throw away all the stuff that is collecting dust. If you haven’t used it in 2 years, just get rid of it. You aren’t getting pleasure out of it. Clean house, have a garage sale, give stuff away…. just make space. Doing so gives you a ton of energy as if all the energy was stuck in these old things that are no longer used.  Ask a friend to come and help – or hire someone to help if you want, but do it. You’ll be amazed! 

10) Downsize  to a manageable home. If you are the one suddenly doing everything, you know it’s too much. Home ownership is a responsibility – and a luxury. Downsizing to a manageable size and well chosen location gives you more time. And if your charge has energy and mobility issues, downsizing might mean he/she can actually have more energy to live life. 

Banish the guilt. Your loved one knows you are burnt out – they just fear you leave them alone. They didn’t’ ask to be sick, but you didn’t ask to lose your life doing for them what they used to do for themselves.  Stop feeling guilty and go live a bit. You deserve it. 

Banish the worry. You didn’t cause it and you can’t cure it. If you fail to care for yourself by doing things that bring joy, happiness, and a sense of being alive, you will eventually have your own problems to deal with. If you stopped working to care for your charge, are you able to handle it financially? If not, you need to get back to work and hire someone to help. Period.