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How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Caregivers play an important role in helping a person with bipolar disorder stay healthy. But caregivers also must learn to take care of themselves.1

When you fly, the preflight instructions tell you to take care of your own oxygen mask before helping others in the event of an emergency. The same idea applies when you are caring for someone with bipolar disorder. You cannot take care of your loved one if you are exhausted or resentful and need to recharge.1

Taking care of yourself physically and mentally leaves you better able to support your loved one through the many ups and downs of bipolar disorder.1

Arm yourself with knowledge

Learning about bipolar disorder can help you learn to anticipate the issues that may arise with mania and depression. In turn, knowing what to expect can relieve some of the stress you may feel about dealing with the unknown.2

Knowledge also helps you support your loved one in making well-informed decisions about their treatment. Together, you can navigate the process of living with bipolar disorder.2

Stay on top of needs

Helping your loved one stay healthy will also support your well-being. Ways to do this include the following.1-4

  • Encourage that your loved one is taking their medicines every day.
  • Help them attend therapy and doctor appointments. This may involve dropping them off or attending the appointments with them.
  • If you have permission, alert their doctor to changes in symptoms.
  • Encourage them to avoid substance use, which can make their symptoms worse.

Recognize signs of stress

Stress does funny things to the human body. Knowing your personal signs of stress can help you stop and recharge when you need it. Some common physical signs of stress are:2

  • Headaches, muscle aches, and pains
  • Lack of energy or extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, or nausea

If you recognize that you are stressed, it is time to take some time for yourself. Even a few minutes a day can help. Some things to try include meditation or structured breathing, taking a quick walk or an exercise class, or cooking a healthy meal. Protecting your physical health makes it possible for you to care for your loved one.2

Take care of yourself

The good news is that there are many ways to care for yourself while offering support. The first step is to accept your loved one’s diagnosis and their ongoing need for treatment. This can help your loved one accept their own diagnosis, make informed decisions about treatment, and stick to their treatment plan.1-4

Also, let go of any guilt and self-judgment you may feel. Thinking you should feel a certain way is unproductive and causes stress. Your positive attitude and support can be a great asset for your loved one.1-4

Try not to take bipolar symptoms personally. During a manic or depressed episode, your loved one may say or do hurtful or embarrassing things. Try to remember that these actions are the result of their illness, not selfishness, meanness, or immaturity. Be patient with yourself and your loved one. Encourage open communication about how you and your loved one are feeling.1-4

Other proactive ways to take care of yourself include:1-4

  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep, healthy meals, and regular exercise. Setting this example helps your loved one do the same.
  • Join a support group and attend family/individual therapy. The strength and ideas you gather from others who are facing the same challenges are valuable.
  • Stay connected to your community. Have dinner with friends, go to the library, or take an art class.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Make time every day to notice at least 1 positive thing that happened that day. Over time, practicing positivity can change how you view your life.

Remember, being a caregiver is a part of who you are, but it should not be your whole story. By accepting your own limits and setting healthy boundaries, you can better provide support and understanding.

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