Tag Archive for: burnout

How Can Care Partners Combat Burnout?

How Can Care Partners Combat Burnout? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Care partners Diahanna, Sherea, and Patricia discuss how they have learned to overcome burnout. Often times when caring for a loved one, we don’t even realize the burnout until after the fact. As care partners, you have to know when to step away and take time for yourself, so you can effectively care for and support your loved one. 



Hello, we’re going to talk about care partner burnout. So the question I would like to pose is, how would you describe caregiver burnout? And how do you feel it coming on? And how can you counteract it? And Patricia or Sherea, either one of you can answer those questions, it would be great to hear from you.


Let me just start with, I have been a caregiver. Although I am right now experiencing multiple myeloma, my father had multiple myeloma and passed in 1990 and I was his caregiver. At that time, a very young person. So, he actually had to have part of his breast bone removed and they left the wound open, and it had to be pack everyday, twice a day with gauze and an iodine thing. And so, my mom could just not do it and my though was, well she can’t, I have to. So every morning before work, I would go and take care of him in that way. Every evening when I came home from work, before he went to bed, I would go over and do the same thing. And that went on for several months. Because I was young and because I really did not have any understanding of what as going on with my father. I mean multiple myeloma, what is that? Not like today. Today there is information. You know you go online, you can find the information. It worked out anyway that I was able to take care of him. I didn’t know that I even had a burnout cause I just continued to do what I was doing. I worked everyday, I had three kids, you jut do what you have to do and I think that’s what most caregivers get to a point of saying to themselves, “I’ll do what I have to do”. And whether they know they have burnout or not, they just do it.


You know, I think that is very interesting, Patricia, because I think women have a tendency to do that more so than man because we are already maternal. We’re caregivers.




And we, if someone else drops the ball, and you know we are used to being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, vacation or not. And so, we do always step in and tack up the slack and put ourselves on the back burner. A lot of the time we don’t realize we’re burnout until after the fact.


Way after.


And we have no more energy. We have nothing else to give ourselves. So Sherea, how would you describe it? How would you look at this?


I would describe…I was a caregiver for my father, now I’m doing some caregiving for my mother who is having some memory issues. And what I can tell you about the feeling is, the feeling of being overwhelmed, the feeling of pressure, and what I notice with is that I have a short fuse. When I’m feeling burnout, things that normally would just not be a problem become an issue. And so, what I try to do is recognize that I’m having a moment and that I’m going to need to step away for a little bit and get recentered. And I do understand that yes, as women, we just do what we have to do, but there does come a point where you have just had it. You’re at the end of the rope. And I’m starting to recognize that more. So it is a feeling of pressure and just being overwhelmed. And the moment I start feeling it, it used to be I kind of just keep pushing, but now the moment I start feeling it, ok let’s work on that now so it doesn’t become an issue later.


Mhmm. I can appreciate that. When I was taking care of my husband, I probably put myself in a position where I was taking care of him at times when he didn’t need to be taken care of. It was that thing as I felt I could do better or more for him that he probably didn’t know about or I thought he didn’t know about. And I was mistaken on that. It got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping, there was a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress, I wasn’t eating well, and I was getting colds all the time, which I normally wouldn’t get. So my immune system, everything, was messed up as a result of what I was doing. And I remember coming home from work thinking I can’t do this anymore. If I’m going to be a partner to him, I have to step aside. And I called because I was going to every appointment, I was looking at everything, I was doing all the research because he thought he didn’t have to research as long as he felt good, everything was ok. He said, “I’m going to let you be the person that worries because I know you worry enough for the both of us.” And I did. I worried enough for everybody in the household and it was taking me down a path of being mentally, physically, emotionally stressed. And I had to step away and say, “Honey, I don’t need to go to all your appointments. I don’t need to continue to do this.” And that’s how I realized that I was doing way too much and that I was going to be doing a disservice to him – to everybody in my household.

Is There a Difference Between Care Partner vs Caregiver?

Is There a Difference Between Care Partner vs Caregiver? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

The term caregiver is generally more recognized around the world. Care partners Diahanna, Sherea, and Patricia share that being a care partner is generally more intimate than being a caregiver. Care partners are those who are taking care of family members and loved ones whom they’ve known before any initial diagnosis.

How to Seek Help as a Care Partner

How to Seek Help as a Care Partner from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When in need of help care partners Diahanna, Sherea, and Patricia share that you should not be shy. There is a tendency for care partners to deny help, but if you are burned out while caring for a loved one you are no good for them or yourself. Diahanna explains caregiving to be a very humbling and rewarding experience.

What Should Healthcare Providers Know About Care Partner Burnout?

What Should Healthcare Providers Know About Care Partner Burnout? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Care partners are often able to fill in any gaps at appointments with their loved ones. Sometimes information at a visit can go in one ear and out the other for a patient as it can be traumatic experience. Care partners Diahanna, Sherea, and Patricia discuss that providers should know that burnout is real and it is important to not only discuss the needs of your loved one, but discuss your needs as well.  

How an MPN Care Partner Handles Burnout

How an MPN Care Partner Handles Burnout from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN Empowerment Leads Summer and Jeff discuss care partner burnout. Jeff is the caregiver of Summer who is living with myelofibrosis. Jeff admits to doing majority of the research so he can properly advocate for Summer’s care. In this video, Jeff talks about various outlets he uses to counteract burnout such as photography, music and improv theater.

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatient.org or text EMPOWER to (833)213-6657.




Wake up. I’ve finished making your bonbons, Jeff. You said you wanted these.


Thank you, Summer. Mmm.


Is it delicious?


It’s delicious. Just what I needed.


Well, I’m glad I could please you.


Well, I’m Jeff.


I’m Summer.


And we’re your MPN Network Managers for the Patient Empowerment Network. We’re here to talk to you today about…


What caregivers do, and sometimes caregivers might get burned out. So, we’re talking about what you can do periodically to not get burned out, to keep going, and being great like you are. What are some of the main things you do, Jeff?


Well, I…one of the main things I do is try to remove myself from worrying about myelofibrosis and Summer’s disease. And I go out into nature and I take a lot of nature pictures. I go to National Parks, and take pictures of scenery, beautiful scenery, and big mammals and stuff, which I really really enjoy doing. It sort of clears my head and really refreshes me. I recently took a trip, as a matter of fact, to Yosemite. That’s one of the things I do.


And another thing has to do with music.


Yes, I love music and I play in a band. I play the keyboard and the guitar, and I do that once a week at my church and I really really…again it requires quite a bit of focus and it puts my mind in a completely different place. So I remove myself from the worries, is one of the things I do. I’m very fortunate because Summer is doing quite well and doesn’t need huge amounts of physical care.


Right, but you do all of the medical stuff because I can’t stand to hear about medical stuff, it’s boring.


That’s right. I do do a lot of the research and keep up with what’s going on in the myelofibrosis area and that’s kind of what my portion of the caregiving is. We’ve talked before about working with, dealing with these disease requires a team approach: the patient, the caregiver, and the medical team.




It’s very important.


And we also do improv. That really helps.


That’s correct. We’ve mentioned before that we run a small theater, and one of the things we do in the theater is improvisational theater. We make things up, now you’ve got to be in the moment, so your head can’t be disclouded and worrying about other things. It takes your mind off of the disease, and in my case, worrying about Summer’s disease and the caregiving responsibilities. So that helps us. It actually helps both of us a lot.


Right. So do you want any more bonbons or is that a no?


I’ll just take another bite. You know, if we keep going like this, you could become the caregiver and I’ll be the patient. So until next time, I’m Jeff.


I’m Summer.





A Year in Review: Looking Back on 2019 and Ahead to 2020 #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an #patientchat on A Year in Review: Looking Back on 2019 and Ahead to 2020. The #patientchat community came together for an engaging discussion and shared what was their mind.

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Patients Own Their Data

Collaboration Means Everyone

Find Something You Enjoy

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Holiday Hacks: Tips for Coping with Chronic Illness During the Holidays #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an #patientchat on Holiday Hacks: Tips for Coping with Chronic Illness During the Holidays. The #patientchat community came together for an engaging discussion and shared what was their mind.

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Celebrate What You Can Do

But How Are You Really Doing?

Don’t Assume Anything

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Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) w/@askdrfitz and @HealthSparq #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an #patientchat on the social determinants of health (SDOH) with HealthSparq (@HealthSparq) and Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick (@askdrfitz). The #patientchat community came together for an engaging discussion and shared what was their mind.

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Social Determinants of Health Are A Systemic Issue

There Are Many Social Determinants of Health

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Patient Experience: Let’s Talk Patient Burnout #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an #patientchat on the patient experience and patient burnout. The #patientchat community came together for an engaging discussion and shared what was their mind.

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Burnout Is Real and Normal

Many Factors Can Lead to Burnout

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Beating Burnout: Self-Care Strategies for Patient Advocates

As patient advocates we are highly motivated to make things better for others. Our commitment and passion for the work we do can lead us to take on more activities with ever-increasing demands on our time and energy. All of this we do willingly, but this work doesn’t happen without a degree of personal cost. “If we are living with the condition, it is personal beyond measure,” writes diabetes advocate Renza Scibilia. “If we are caring for someone and advocating for them, there is a different sense of pressure and investment. And if we decide that this is ‘a calling’ and do it professionally, there is a difference again as we try to work within different parameters – the need to keep within the realms of what our work allows, and the less structured realities of actually living with a health condition.”

Commenting on the nature of patient advocacy, therapist Karin Sieger [1] points out, “this area can be heightened with emotions because lives can depend on it and often advocates themselves are directly or indirectly affected by patient care aspects or illness they are advocating for. It stands to reason that those involved in advocacy will be at the receiving end of emotional, mental and physically draining activities.”   Given this fact, it’s not uncommon to experience symptoms of burnout the longer we work in the field of advocacy.

“This is a real thing,” says patient leader and two-time cancer survivor, Shari Berman [2]. “Working without pay but as a patient leader is recipe for burnout especially when you feel like the needle isn’t moving.”  As metastatic breast cancer patient and advocate, Julia Maues [3] says, “Oh the burnout is so real and so unique. For once, many of us have the same illness as the people we are advocating for. It’s like advocating for better lives for prisoners while being in jail ourselves.”

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of chronic stress which occurs when we’ve taken on too much and in the words of Sieger, “overstepped our coping threshold.”  Scibilia describes how she has “found myself at that breaking point on more than one occasion when the system is failing me, and equally, when I see it failing others and I can’t help.”

One of the lesser acknowledged contributing factors to burnout, particularly in the field of cancer advocacy, is the emotional toll of losing friends to the disease. As Susan Zager, founder of the non-profit organization, Advocates for Breast Cancer (A4BC) [4] describes, “the biggest factor that’s caused me burnout is the intense loss and grief of losing so many friends and family to this terrible disease.” Research advocate, AnneMarie Ciccarella [5] agrees.  “I had to force myself to take a step back from actively supporting individual people in favor of more research advocacy because the losses became unbearable,” she explains. “There are times I’ll look at a particular blog post and start crying when I read the comments. I see comments from so many who are now gone and it’s heartbreaking.”

Pamela Katz Ressler, founder of Stress Resources [6], draws a distinction between burnout and compassion fatigue which can co-exist with burn-out.   “Compassion fatigue is generally rapid onset and often is the result of exposure to extreme suffering or witnessing traumatic events and situations,” she explains. “It can be one event or a cumulative exposure. Burnout can be described as emotional (and physical) exhaustion leading to withdrawal and disconnection from activities that once were meaningful. As advocates, we often expend energy, caring, and empathy as if it comes from a bottomless well.”

Spotting the Signs of Burnout

Burnout doesn’t happen suddenly. It creeps up on us over time, but our bodies and minds do give us warning signs. Symptoms can include physical and emotional exhaustion; impaired concentration; increased irritability or feelings of apathy, detachment or cynicism related to the work you are doing.  In the words of Scibilia, “I get tired. I get overwhelmed. I get discouraged. I get disengaged. I get disheartened.

Looking at some of the common factors related to burnout, Sieger points to:

  • An inability to say ‘no’.
  • The fear of putting our needs first and in doing so letting others down.
  • Taking on too much because we want to please, need to control, cannot delegate, want to micro-manage, cannot trust anyone else to do things for or with us, or have no-one to share responsibilities with.
  • We are not sufficiently in touch with our bodies, minds, or emotions to see the tell-tale signs.
  • We think it is a sign of strength and authority to be able to take on more and more.
  • We are afraid of becoming replaceable.
  • We find it difficult to accept, that we can no longer take on as much as before.

If you recognize your own tendency towards any of these factors, you may be at risk of burnout. Katz Ressler advises that “the first step in preventing burnout and compassion fatigue is awareness and recognition that the well of empathy, energy and caring needs to continually be refilled.”  The following self-care strategies and tips can help you, in the words of Katz Ressler, “refill the well of empathy to maintain your ability to advocate effectively.”

14 Self-Care Strategies to Address Burnout

“Different people have different ways that work well for them, says Sieger.  “Self-care, keeping health boundaries, a healthy diet, limited stress, moderate exercise, sufficient sleep and quiet down-time are the essentials.”

Let’s take a deeper dive into these essential strategies and add a few more to our self-care toolkit.

1. Set realistic expectations. Patient advocate, Liza Bernstein [7], believes a key element in managing burnout is to set realistic expectations. “One key to mitigating patient advocacy burnout is to recognize our role and agency in trying to manage it,” she says. “It is not easy, once you’re diagnosed with and treated for cancer to reconcile your new physical and emotional reality with the non-cancer person you used to be. So we have unrealistic expectations.” Bernstein describes her “burnout prevention strategy” at the 2018 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. “It was a few months after a surgery and I wasn’t yet 100%,” she explains. “So I gave myself ‘The Talk’ and granted myself permission to do ‘as little as possible’ there; e., I paced myself, took breaks, and didn’t burden myself with ableist expectations. I did more tangible things tuning out the presentation & DM’ing people in my network to connect a distressed newly diagnosed person with a second opinion appointment. Seems like small thing but had big impact!”

2. Take breaks between big projects. Try to avoid jumping from one time-consuming project to the next in order to give your mind and body a chance to recover. “When projects turn into being a tedious chore, that’s a big sign of burn out,” says patient advocate Mary Pettigrew [8], who advises, “make it a habit to purge the unfulfilling, stressful activities, keep those of value and explore new territory/opportunities.”

3. Learn to prioritize. Ovarian cancer advocate, Dee Sparacio, wrote on her blog [9] about taking a step back from her heavy work-load of advocacy activities to focus on her priorities. She outlined a list of questions to help her decide which activities to prioritize:

  • How effective am I at doing that work?
  • Am I the only one doing that work?
  • If I am the only one can another advocate/person do it?
  • How much does the work benefit other survivors/patients?
  • How many people are effected by the work I do?
  • Do I ever regret having agreed to do the work and feel that way when I am doing it?
  • Does the work ever prevent me from doing other things – like hang out with my husband, grandkids, or dog?
  • Does that work bring me joy?

Remember, to quote Stage 4 melanoma patient, Kay Curtin [10], “it’s very easy to get caught up trying to fix everyone’ else’s priorities.” These questions can act as a helpful guide when it comes to reassessing your own priorities and what matters to you.

4. Say no. Self-care may involve you saying no more often, which, if you are like me, you might find challenging. There are always new opportunities or requests for your time, but an important element of self-care is the ability to pace yourself.  Before you say yes to the next request, look at the time and energy you have in a realistic way.  Follow Sparacio’s advice “I review my advocacy work and its impact once a year. I keep what brings me joy -not necessarily that which brings me exposure. The hard thing is learning to say no. If I say no I will provide the name of a new advocate voice. We need to cultivate new voices.”

5. Schedule time for yourself each day. “Schedule time to step away from ‘doing’ and shift to ‘being’. Take five minutes to turn off your phone, notice your breath and release muscle tension in your body,” recommends Katz Ressler. “I’ll hit the beach collecting shells to clear my head, but a simple walk around the block is helpful too,” says Ciccarella, “and when I have nothing left, I give myself permission to hit the sofa and turn on mindless, silly television.”

6. Feed your fighting spirit. Registered dietitian and founder of “Dam. Mad. About Breast Cancer”[11], Cathy Leman reminds us of the importance of good nutrition in maintaining a healthy balance. “Balanced blood sugar for sustained energy and optimizing your immune system so you stay well are just two benefits of nourishing your body with quality meals and snacks,” she says. “Dried, fresh and frozen fruit, nuts, pre-washed and bagged veggies, whole grains and good olive oils and flavored vinegars can help you pull meals and snacks together quickly and easily.”

7. Control your devices. iPads, computers, and smartphones are essential tools in the patient advocate’s toolkit, but they can consume large amounts of your time and energy. Get in the habit of turning them off as much as possible, particularly before you go to bed at night.

8. Slumber your way to good health. “With all you have to get done, getting adequate sleep may fall to the bottom of your list,” says Leman “But when you don’t get the sleep your body needs (and deserves!), your overall performance suffers.” A good morning, she advises always begins the night before. “Create an evening ‘sleep hygiene’ routine that signals to your brain and body you’re ready to call it a day. When you’re well rested, you’ll have more patience, clarity of thought and focus to do your important work. And as a bonus? Getting enough sleep helps you make healthier food choices, which supports good health all the way around.”

9. Exercise your body’s need to move. “You need mental clarity, focus and stamina, and regular exercise is a simple way to tap those reserves,” advises Leman. “Even a 10 minute walk can clear brain fog, deliver nutrients and oxygen to every cell in your body, and build physical endurance for the long haul. Combine strength training, cardiovascular, core, flexibility and balance exercises as often as possible for a well-rounded fitness routine that will keep you moving forward.”

10. Take time for reflection. Taking time, whether it’s sitting quietly on your own, journaling, or speaking with a friend or therapist to reflect on what’s going on for you is important. “It’s important for all of us in this space to pause, assess, and take whatever time we need to reboot,” advises Ciccarella, for whom writing is “a powerful outlet to deal with all of my feelings. Identifying my feelings and their underlying cause allows me to accept the feeling and FEEL it – whether it’s fear, anger, grief -really, any emotion that drags me down.”

11. Don’t go it alone. Whether it’s peer support, or a professional, find a group or an individual who can support you on this journey. “I would even go as far as saying that having another independent professional to support us is essential,” suggests Sieger, “like supervision for therapists and counsellors, where we can talk things over, an outlet for our pressure and feelings.”

12. Intentionally step away from your “tribe” for short periods of time to refill your reserves, advises Katz Ressler. “Detribe” is a term she coined a number of years ago that may seem counterintuitive. As she explains it: “How can we step away from our ‘tribe’ when there is so much to do? Research shows that by intentionally engaging in self-care activities (think meditation, a walk in nature, a cup of tea with a friend) burnout can be reduced or eliminated.”

13. Choose what works for you. “You have to find what works for you,” says Bernstein. “It might not be a massage/spa, it might be doing what you love, giving back, being in nature, taking a nap, patting your dog… it really means being compassionate to you, as if you were your best friend.”  Katz Ressler echoes this and advocates practising a spirit of loving-kindness. “Allow yourself to be as kind and empathic to yourself as you are to others. What ‘gift’ would you give someone else to show they are appreciated? Give the same gift to yourself,” she says.

14. Knowing when it’s time to quit. Sometimes the best self-care is to quit. Sue Robins [12]  took the decision to do just that. “I still do advocacy but on my own terms, through writing and storytelling and with individuals. I handled my burnout by quitting the ‘patient engagement’ world.”

Take-home message

“Burnout in patient advocacy is real,” says Terri Coutee, founder of  DiepCFoundation.org [13].  “It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and discipline with the potential of draining your personal emotional and physical energy.” But the good news is that burnout is reversible. By putting the focus back on self-care, you can learn to manage your energy, time, and personal resources better. Although, this too takes self-discipline. “I think it takes discipline (ie, effort) for many of us to remind ourselves we need to practice self-care regularly,” notes Bernstein.  As Coutee explains, “choosing the gym, saying no, and letting others take care of themselves are among the many actions requiring discipline. Choose the one that works for you so you can continue the work of patient advocacy with passion without burning out.”

Whichever path to self-care you choose, once burnout is recognized and attended to, it can become a chance to rediscover your commitment to the important work you do as advocates for better care for yourself, your loved ones and your community. Let these tips and techniques be a reminder that YOU are most deserving of the gift of self-care.

Resource Links:

[1] Karin Sieger

[2] Shari Berman

[3] Julia Maues

[4] Advocates for Breast Cancer

[5] AnneMarie Ciccarella

[6] Stress Resources

[7] Liza Bernstein

[8] Mary Pettigrew

[9] Dee’s blog

[10] Kay Curtin

[11] Dam. Mad. About Breast Cancer

[12] Sue Robins

[13] DiepCFoundation.org

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