Critter Corner: Red Flags that You Need a Break from Caregiving

Dear Commander Bun Bun,

I am a caregiver for my mother, Ellen, who had a stroke last year. She is very demanding at times, and I may be approaching burnout. I rarely take time for myself, and my emotions range between feeling fulfilled and thankful that I can help my mother, and feeling stressed out about my situation. The dentist told me that he can tell that I have been grinding my teeth at night, and my primary care physician is concerned about my blood pressure. Is this normal for caregivers to experience? Do you know about the red flags caregivers should be aware of, that signify that they need a break from caregiving?


Anita Brayk


Dear Anita,

As you know, caring for a loved one can be rewarding, but it can also be stressful, at times. For many, it’s easy to get burned out and feel stressed, and not even realize it.

Besides the health issues that you described, here are some red flags that indicate you need a break from caregiving.

1. Getting easily irritated: You may find yourself yelling or snapping at people, including the person you are caring for. You may want to hit or throw things. You may feel like it is becoming increasingly difficult to handle obstacles or challenges when they arise.

2. Inability to control your emotional response: You cry unexpectedly or more often than usual, and may experience feelings of desperation. You may have dramatic mood swings, where you feel okay one minute, and the next, you’re in the depths of despair.

3. Trouble sleeping: Chronic sleep deficiency is serious, and increases your risk for many other health problems, including memory loss, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. In addition, if you cannot sleep at night or get quality sleep, you will likely feel extremely tired throughout the day, and unable to help your mother when she needs you.

4. Getting sick too often: Many people get a minor virus once or twice a year, but if you are catching every new bug that comes around, something is off in your immune system, a sure sign you are under too much stress.

5. Increase in physical ailments: You may experience new health issues, such as chronic headaches, muscle or joint aches, stomach aches or other digestive symptoms; or something you had before becoming a caregiver may become worse. If a condition such as blood pressure that formerly was under control becomes worse, that’s a sure sign you’re under too much stress.

6. Becoming argumentative: You may argue too much with siblings or other family members about the level and quality of care you provide. You may not even be able to listen to what they have to say.

7. Social isolation: Whole days could go by without your seeing another adult, besides the loved one you are caring for. You don’t have the energy to get together with friends, and you even get tired even thinking about it. You may have dropped out of activities you used to enjoy, because you feel you’re the only one who can take care of your loved one. You can’t relax and you don’t want to accept help when it’s offered.

If you see yourself in some of these situations, you may be approaching burnout. Remember, you have to take good care of yourself in order to take good care of someone else. Be sure to take advantage of respite services that are available, find someone to talk to about your issues, and pay attention to your own health and well-being, as best as you can.

Hop this is helpful,

Commander Bun Bun

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