Signs of Caregiver Stress, Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Caregiver Stress: Stress arousal is often the first sign that a family caregiver is not getting the physical, emotional and spiritual support that they need.  Caregiver stress has a significant impact on the health and wellness of caregivers.

Caregiver Burnout:  Is a state where highly committed individuals lose their spirit because they are on emotional overload and completely exhausted. Caregiving no longer feels meaningful. It is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.


Compassion Fatigue: The exposure to and preoccupation with the suffering of another person creates high levels of emotional stress, despair and secondary traumatic stress for family caregiver.

The Red Flags in the Caregiver Stress Continuum:

As a caregiver it is important to be aware of the signs that you are stretching thin. It is also very important to take time to know yourself because what is normal for you may not be normal for someone else and vice versa.

Caregiver StressCaregiver BurnoutCompassion Fatigue

•      Becoming more easily irritated or angry than usual

•      Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried

•      Experiencing periods of high blood pressure

•      Changes in sleep patterns

•      Grinding your teeth in your sleep

•      Being forgetful

•      Heart palpitations or unusual heart rhythms (skipped beats)

•      Having trouble concentrating

•      Frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems

•      Feeling increasingly resentful

•      Being intolerant of yourself

•      Drinking more coffee, tea or soda

•      Using substances (drugs, alcohol, prescription medicines, cigarettes) to cope with, manage or suppress painful feelings

•      Undereating, overeating or eating unhealthy foods

•      Experiencing apathy

•      Having much less energy than you once had

•      Thinking cynically

•      Neglecting responsibilities

•      Isolation or withdrawing socially from family and/or friends

•      Procrastinating

•      Ignoring your own health

•      Putting off things you used to enjoy or losing interest in them

•      Having trouble relaxing, even when help is available

•      Experiencing decreased sexual desire

•      Lateness, absenteeism, or preseentism at work

•      Drastic weight gain or weight loss

•      Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and drained

•      Feeling of hopelessness and meaninglessness

•      Weakened sense of empathy for care recipients

•      Uncharacteristic angry outbursts

•      Decreased patience & tolerance

•      Chronic stomach or bowel problems

•      Chronic headaches

•      Getting sick often

•      Desire to “drop out” of society

•      Avoiding and not wanting to be around friends, family or work

•      Thinking of suicide as a means of escape

•      Heightened anxiety

•      Trouble making care decisions

•      Difficulty concentrating and brain fog

Experiencing one of the burnout signs is not an indication that you are in stage two of the stress continuum but, it should make you alert. Any two of the signs of compassion fatigue may signal that you are in the third stage of the stress continuum.

Connecting with what you are going through, self-care, joining support groups, caregiver education, counselling and professional therapy are some ways to get equipped and support to cope with the rigours of family caregiving and to even find fulfilment in your caregiving journey.