What is Caregiver Guilt?

Understanding Caregiver Guilt

There are more than 2.65 million unpaid carers across Australia.

That is about 11% of the population, and of those millions, roughly 860,000 assume the role of primary caregiver.

Carers Australia represents and advocates for the country’s unpaid carers. According to their data, the work done by unpaid caregivers is the equivalent of nearly $78 billion in paid services annually. To say that carers in Australia carry a heavy load would be an understatement, but to emphasise that truth, here are a few more striking statistics from Carers Australia:

  • One-third of primary carers provide 40+ hours of unpaid care per week
  • More than half of primary carers deliver care for a minimum of 20 hours per week
  • More than one-third of primary carers have a disability—twice the rate of non-carers

That final point, in particular, should raise some eyebrows. Why might primary caregivers have disabilities of their own at twice the rate of the non-caregiving population?

It’s a complicated mix of factors, to be sure, but caregiver guilt (or caregiver stress) is almost certainly part of the answer.

Caregiving presents an odd dichotomy: it is undoubtedly an act of love that can inspire you to be the absolute best version of yourself, but it can also erode your physical, emotional and mental health over time.

Carers come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Some people are family caregivers and deliver care at home for their ageing parents or an ailing child, while others deliver it in the workplace. There are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers across Australia, as well as culturally and linguistically diverse carers providing services in their respective communities.

More and more people are taking on caregiving roles these days, but one common denominator amongst all that variety is this: caregivers regularly hold themselves to impossibly high standards, no matter who they are or where they’re from. When they invariably fall short of those unrealistic expectations, negative emotions naturally creep into existence—especially frustration and guilt.

Caregiver guilt is a byproduct of caring for a loved one and the stress that often accompanies that monumental responsibility. It can manifest as depression, anxiety or any number of burdensome feelings. To be clear, occasional frustration is a part of life; caregiver guilt stretches beyond that, though, and impacts the caregiver’s own needs and the quality of care they provide.

Many unpaid carers feel like they need to do more.

Even when their loved one’s quality of life improves, and even when the people around them validate their efforts, caregivers can fall into distressful patterns that leave them feeling inadequate and exhausted. Put bluntly, caregiver burnout is real, and it begs the question: if caregiving can be this demanding, then who’s caring for our carers?

Common Causes of Caregiver Guilt


A caregiver’s to-do list ostensibly has an endless number of duties.

There are physical tasks, such as helping the care recipient with meal preparation, bathing and transport to and from appointments.

Other responsibilities, such as navigating complex government support systems and making important decisions, can be mentally and emotionally draining.

Ultimately, caregivers are simply doing their best in a difficult situation to rise to the occasion and deliver sufficient support to the person they’re caring for. Guilt can be a sneaky outgrowth of all that effort and manifest in numerous ways:

  • Feeling Inadequate: Caregivers tend to blame themselves for the state of their loved ones, especially if care recipients don’t improve under their watch. Feelings of guilt, anger and even helplessness amplify over time, driving carers to believe they aren’t doing enough and need to provide more.
  • Resentment: It is completely normal during a caregiving journey for caregivers to feel resentment toward the situation—or even toward the person they’re caring for. Many caregivers sacrifice opportunities to spend time with their family members and friends, advance their careers and accomplish their goals; caregiving often soaks up so much physical and emotional bandwidth, little space is left for anything else.
  • Need for Personal Time: In recent years, many people around the world have emphasised the necessity of a healthy work-life balance. Caregivers face a more complicated equation since for them, it’s typically a care-work-life balance. This juggling act practically squeezes personal time out of the picture, especially for carers who are also parents, spouses and employees—no one can effectively wear all of those hats at once while also tending to their own needs, so caregivers experience guilt over their lack of self-care.
  • Emotional Responses: When a care recipient’s health deteriorates further, or if there are minimal signs of improvement, carers can naturally feel impatience, frustration, anger, and of course, guilt due to an absence of progress. Placement in a care facility or nursing home might become inevitable, which can propagate caregiver guilt and feelings of inadequacy—even when it’s clear that professional help is necessary.

The Impact on a Caregiver’s Wellbeing


A growing number of caregivers are reporting declines in their general health and wellbeing; increasing amounts of psychological distress; increasing feelings of loneliness; and rising financial issues.

A study by Carers Australia in 2023 polled nearly 6,000 Australian carers. According to the findings:

“Carers are known to experience poorer wellbeing compared to other Australians, with the risk of poor wellbeing being higher amongst carers who have more complex, time-consuming or otherwise challenging caring commitments.”

The survey revealed caregivers are almost twice as likely (58%) to report low wellbeing compared to adults living across Australia (30%). Caregivers were also significantly less likely to have good or excellent health (19%) compared to other Australians (48%).

Some of these gaps can be attributed to environment. For instance, carers who reported having a reliable support system of family and friends were significantly less likely to report low wellbeing (32%) compared to those who had no such support in place (75%). Indeed, the adage “It takes a village to raise a child” might also apply to caregiving.

Even with all of this data, however, the signs of caregiver guilt and burnout are often varied and subtle.

Caregiving roles can be so convoluted that experts break them down into different stages, from surviving to managing to thriving. Even after caregivers are relieved of their duties, many struggle to return to “normal” despite reporting improved quality of life. According to the survey by Carers Australia, more than 52% of past caregivers indicated difficulty adjusting back to life as normal following their stint as a carer.

Caregivers spend so much time focusing on the health and wellbeing of others that they lose touch with their own needs. Symptoms of caregiver stress can include:

  • Anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation, anger or frustration
  • Fatigue and sleep issues (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • Strained relationships with family members and friends
  • Feelings of burden and worry
  • Unwanted weight loss or weight gain
  • Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs (including prescription medications)
  • Loss of interest in previous hobbies and passions
  • Headaches, bodily pains and other health problems

The 4 S’s: Techniques to Alleviate Caregiver Guilt


If you are a caregiver, you are not automatically destined for a life of burden and guilt. There are strategies, resources and relaxation techniques to help you balance your carer responsibilities with everything else you need to manage.

Acknowledging those emotions is typically the first and most difficult step. After that, there are various levers you can pull to give yourself some relief and strike that necessary balance.


What are you feeling?

It requires a tremendous amount of vulnerability and self-awareness to answer that question honestly. Putting it into words can be a very helpful exercise: write down what you’re feeling or speak it aloud.

For instance, “It makes me sad to admit this, but Dad’s battle with Alzheimer’s has changed all of our lives and I resent that.”

Feelings of guilt and other painful emotions can be sneaky, but your willingness to name the sensation and acknowledge its existence will ultimately help you uncover its root cause—as well as a resolution.


A big part of effective self-care is focusing on what you can do, and what’s in your control.

It sounds so simple, right?

In practise, that might mean setting more attainable goals, breaking large tasks down into smaller ones, creating lists to stay organised and following a daily routine.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a support system of family members and friends, one list you can make right now is ways the people around you can help.

Asking for and accepting help with your caregiving responsibilities is not selfish, nor is it a sign of weakness. It’s quite the opposite. The more space you have to address your own needs and emotional health, the more effective you can be in your caregiver role.

Respite care can also be an instrumental tool in your care strategy. It provides short-term breaks so primary carers can focus on their own wellbeing—all while ensuring care recipients are left in safe hands. Respite services are flexible so you can mix and match them to fit your needs. Visit My Aged Care to learn more about eligibility and fees.

Seek Support

Many carers turn to therapists and mental health professionals to address the emotional side of caregiving. Working with such professionals can help you process, manage and reframe all of the complex emotions that accompany caregiving (such as guilt), all while empowering you to step away regularly and do something for your own health in a safe and supportive environment.

There is also a growing number of specialised resources for full-time caregivers.

As mentioned previously, Carers Australia represents and advocates for the country’s millions of unpaid carers. The organisation coordinates caregiver support groups in every state and territory.

Carer Gateway, meanwhile, organises peer support groups, including in-person gatherings and online forums. The “Looking After Yourself” section of Carer Gateway also lists numerous additional resources, including contact information for Lifeline and Beyond Blue in case you need urgent help or advice.

Here are a few more resources to explore:

Set Boundaries

Caregiving is an extremely important responsibility—no one argues against that.

However, it shouldn’t be your entire identity.

Your health and capacity to be an effective carer rely on your ability to balance your caregiving duties with your personal needs.

It’s okay to say ‘No,’ especially to non-caregiving requests that only further drain your battery. To that end, adjusting your expectations is imperative: caregiver guilt and burnout often occur when you’ve set the bar too high and push yourself to be the perfect carer.

As tempting as it might be (particularly in support-group settings), avoid comparing yourself and your specific situation to others. Every caregiving and home care scenario is unique, and measuring yourself against other carers only sets you up for more unwarranted self-judgement—and, of course, feelings of guilt that you’re not doing enough.

One Final Tip


Often, the most impactful thing caregivers can do is focus on the quality time they’re spending with the person they’re caring for.

Reminiscing, laughing, celebrating the small wins and focusing on the joy of being together can be a tremendously powerful practice for both parties. It’s easy for those moments to get lost in the daily routine of it all—and it’s most certainly easier said than done—but ultimately, the time spent together can be a treasure even if everything around it is a challenge.

Need help with caregiving responsibilities?

If you still have questions about providing home care or need help in any way, contact The CareSide on our website form or by calling 1300 85 40 80.

We are an approved provider managing home care packages and CHSP services. We understand how complex care can be. Our team can help you with your caregiving duties—we’ll answer your questions, explain complicated government language and assist you with whatever else you might need!

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