Unrelieved Stress Can Lead to Burnout for Caregivers

Two women sitting on couch holding coffee mugs

Stress is the way our body reacts to things happening around us, and the demands those issues place upon us. When we experience stress, it has a huge impact on our physical and mental well-being.

As anyone who has or is caregiving for a loved one with cancer will know, the role of a caregiver can be quite stressful, especially when the patient has an incurable cancer like mesothelioma. You are dealing with a situation beyond your control.

Trying to balance caregiving responsibilities with everyday household chores, plus attending to the needs of other family members, can be overwhelming for caregivers. Sadly, this often results in them neglecting their own needs.

Caregivers become increasingly more stressed and their own health suffers as a result, often causing a burnout.

Stress Leads to Burnout

Burnout is a term given to a serious and debilitating health condition caused by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that has built up over a long period of time.

People who have this condition have little or no energy to do what needs to be done and begin to feel incapable of doing anything. This makes them feel hopeless, and they may even feel resentful about the position they are in, wishing to detach themselves from it completely.

Because burnout builds over a long period of time, the warning signs associated with the onset of this condition are often not acknowledged by the caregiver. Most mistakenly believe their feelings of stress are an immediate reaction to something happening to them or around them at that particular moment in time.

It is only when they become debilitated that they are aware of the real pressures of stress.

Though burnout can happen to anyone, it is possible to prevent it from happening to you.

Warning signs you need to be aware of, include:

  • Frequent feelings of irritability
  • Lack of experiencing a good day
  • Feelings of anger about everything
  • Frequent sensations of ill-health
  • Little or no energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of motivation
  • Self-doubt
  • Feelings of being a failure
  • Detachment
  • Believing life is not worth living
  • Anger toward those trying to help you
  • Using alcohol as a coping mechanism

If you are experiencing one or more of those signs, your body is sending you a warning that your health is suffering, and letting you know that it is time you did something about it.

Caregivers Must Alleviate Their Stress

The best way to prevent burnout is to be aware of and acknowledge any stress that you are feeling, and do something to alleviate it before it is too late.

Through my own caregiving experience, I understand that it would be impossible to care for a loved one with a terminal illness without experiencing stress on some level. However, there are ways to alleviate stress and every caregiver will need to find their own way of achieving this.

During my caregiving journey, I found stress relief by writing my feelings down into my journal. I found that acknowledging my feelings this way helped put a lot of worry from my mind. It alleviated my stress, allowed for me to better cope with the situation, and I was able to do the things that needed to be done.

Writing in a journal, however, will not necessarily work for everyone who needs to relieve their stress.

Here are other options that may be helpful:

  • Force yourself to take a rest every single day
  • Find ways to express your concerns so that you can stop worrying about them
  • Reach out for support from family members, friends and public organizations
  • Delegate some of your caregiving duties to other family members or friends
  • Limit your housekeeping activities to the bare essentials
  • Share your feelings with your loved ones, don’t try to hold everything in
  • Talk to your doctor about how you are feeling
  • Eat healthy, and try some gentle exercise each day

The very best advice I can give to prevent burnout is to listen to your body and be aware of what it’s telling you.

When you learn to listen to and trust your inner voice, you will instinctively know what is needed to ensure that your body is getting the proper attention to remain healthy.

Only when we take care of our own health, can we continue to care for others.


Lorraine Kember is the author of "Lean on Me," an inspirational personal account of her husband's courageous battle with mesothelioma. She is an accomplished public speaker in Australia and is passionate about sharing her journey with cancer. Her website can be found at www.lean-on-me.net

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